"Rakow Arts: Works from the Family Room," a diverse, mixed-media exhibit featuring work by Gallery 200 member artists Mandy and Christine Rakow and their husbands, John and Jim, is on display through the end of the month at Gallery 200, 200 Main St., West Chicago.
John and Mandy Rakow are married and live a short distance from his parents, Jim and Christine Rakow. The four artists work independently of each other in various art forms and styles, but draw inspiration from each other.
John Rakow describes himself as a social worker who also is an artist. Although he pursued an art degree in college, he picked social work as a career choice.
His position with the health department has him visiting people living outside of the traditional social boundaries. He may help the homeless find a place to live, direct them to a local food pantry, find resources for clothing and medication or simply help them to cope with their circumstances.
John's passion for people is evident in his artwork, which almost is exclusively about people. Artwork and poetry have become his way of channeling the emotions he experiences through his work, as well as validating the human nature of his clients.
"My clients are very compassionate and interesting, yet often they are not validated. They have emotions and feelings like we do," John said.
The diversity in his mixed-media artwork, which often includes words, poetry or found objects, stems from his connection to people with disabilities.
"My artwork involves human nature, justice or grief. There are often elements of humor. It is not meant to be disrespectful -- it's just my way of coping," he said.
His interest in art began with a strong family connection in his youth. He worked with his mother, Christine, to create elementary school theater sets, and his aunt was a professional artist. His style continues to develop as he finds himself using more color -- an influence he attributes to his wife, Mandy.
Mandy Rakow's art generally revolves around two themes -- music and whimsy. She considers her life to be very organized and structured, and attributes the whimsy in her art as a way to display playfulness.
"As a person with many responsibilities I might be described by some as a workaholic, but art allows me to break the rules and explore some of the absurd ideas lurking in my mind," said Mandy, who currently works as a coordinator for international short-term mission trips.
A color design course she took in 2001 was her first experience with acrylic paints, and since then she has enjoyed working in the medium. Much of her work is bright and colorful; more recently, she's started including mixed media and found objects as a result of her husband's background in sculpture and their influence on each other's artwork.
She and husband, John, both joined the local artists' co-op, Gallery 200 in West Chicago, when it opened 11 years ago. That is when she began creating art for public display.
"Gallery 200 is a very supportive environment for local artists. Along with John's support, it gave me the confidence to go back and finish my art degree," Mandy said.
Music became a part of Mandy's life at a young age -- she grew up singing with her family in Wheaton. She has played cello since age 9, and learned to play guitar from her father. She began writing songs in junior high school and continues to write music; her husband, John, contributes the lyrics.
Mandy was appointed to the West Chicago Cultural Arts Commission in April 2009, and her primary goal has been the development of Local Music Night -- an evening devoted to live, local music.
Mandy was among the original performers, and the event was so well received that the free evening of music featuring local and regional musicians now takes place once a month. Any musician interested in being a part of Local Music Night should contact Mandy Rakow at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christine Rakow's interest in art began as a child; she was always drawing. She said that her grandfather was a specialty artist who painted and repaired scenery on fire curtains at theaters on the East Coast, and painted miniature portraits. She began taking art classes in high school, and was encouraged by her teachers to continue her art education in college.
She pursued a degree in education and took few art classes, because it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. After years of self-reflection, Christine later realized that her sister's determination to become a professional artist may have kept her from pursuing her own art degree.
"I didn't want to take away from my sister's dream of becoming an artist," she said.
When her children were in elementary school, Christine used her artistic abilities to create sets for the school's theater performances. She and her son, John, recall one particularly special set she painted of Noah's ark, including many of the animals. John fondly remembers his mother creating sets and other items, such as three-dimensional trees with free-standing papier-mâché bases.
Christine has since become an award-winning artist. She credits her success to her son's insistence that she enter West Chicago's Fine Arts Fiesta in 2008, where her painting "Minnesota Sunset" won second place. She is a two-time winner in the juried Community Banner Project sponsored by the West Chicago Cultural Arts Commission. A painting featuring baby owls was chosen in 2010; this year's winner, a photograph of a waterfall titled "Strahl Overflow," is on display in downtown West Chicago.
She now considers herself a mixed-media artist, and works primarily in watercolor combined with India ink and colored pencil. Christine continues to produce framed art and prefers to paint scenery, flowers and nature subjects.
Jim Rakow is the patriarch of the family, and he has enjoyed photography as a hobby since his parents bought him a Kodak Baby Brownie film camera as a child.
He now uses a Canon A100is digital camera mostly to photograph people, nature and unusual things. He particularly enjoys photographing people at the Feast of the Hunter's Moon, a festival re-enacting the annual fall gathering of the French and the Native Americans during the mid-18th century in Indiana.
While Jim confesses he enjoys photography, he admits he is not terribly serious about it. He displays his photographs as they were taken, without the aid of computer software.
"What you see is what you get. I want to remember things the way they are, as opposed to how I want them to be," he said.
Gallery 200 is open from noon to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For information, including a complete list of art classes and upcoming exhibits, call (630) 293-9550 or visit gallery200.org.