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updated: 2/28/2012 9:27 AM

'The Artist' a real-life daily drama on streets of Geneva

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  • Feeding off his view of Geneva from the easel in his storefront, Len Bielefeldt, owner of Art Box, says people who pass his store also have an appreciation for art.

       Feeding off his view of Geneva from the easel in his storefront, Len Bielefeldt, owner of Art Box, says people who pass his store also have an appreciation for art.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Sitting at his easel in his Geneva storefront window gives Len Bielefeldt, owner of Art Box, the "energy" he needs to paint Monday morning.

       Sitting at his easel in his Geneva storefront window gives Len Bielefeldt, owner of Art Box, the "energy" he needs to paint Monday morning.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Catching the light from his storefront window, Len Bielefeldt, owner of Art Box, paints in his Geneva store Monday morning.

       Catching the light from his storefront window, Len Bielefeldt, owner of Art Box, paints in his Geneva store Monday morning.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Geneva artist's No. 1 book

 
 

During this recession, lots of storefronts sport signs of desperation, with messages such as "50 percent off" or "Everything Must Go!"

Look in the storefront window of the Art Box in Geneva and you see the artist, Len Bielefeldt, sitting at his easel, painting a tranquil farm scene.

"There's just that energy, that life that comes along on a busy street like this," says Bielefeldt, 44, who looks to the window to nourish his art. "It just feeds me all the time."

Whether he'll continue to be able to rent the storefront at 514 W. State St. is in doubt as the city weighs the competing economic and historical interests of a proposal to tear down an old building next door that houses The Pure Gardener and turn the spaces of both businesses into a bank with a drive-in window.

A drive-in window is so much different from the picture window where Bielefeldt looks out on the street with his artist's eye.

"I didn't focus that much on the window until the thought of losing it came up. That's what got me more emotional than anything," Bielefeldt says, recounting the colors of the changing seasons he sees through that window or the passers-by who turned into spectators earlier this winter when he was painting a portrait of Santa Claus.

"It's definitely a powerful thing," Bielefeldt says.

Art is a powerful thing in Geneva.

"It's definitely part of the Geneva community," says Kristin Behmer, an Art Box patron and former school board member from Batavia. "We're proud of that. Art is definitely a part of making your community whole."

The Art Box is hosting a reception from 6-9 p.m. Friday to celebrate The New York Times best-selling children's book, "Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site," written by Chicago's Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrated by Geneva artist Tom Lichtenheld. The artist will show his original artwork at the Art Box and, at 6:30 p.m., will demonstrate the "dark field" technique he used to make the drawings.

Geneva is filled with artists and art-loving people worthy of celebrations, and "that's why we need this art district," Bielefeldt says of his block that features plenty of examples.

"I started looking for local artists and I found artists whose work I really love," says Heideh Fardi, an interior designer who hosts similar receptions and art shows at her Simitree home furnishings and consignment furniture shop just a few doors down.

Fardi, who was born in New Jersey and grew up in California, says her parents, who now live in Naperville, always brought home art from their travels around the world. Her store features an eclectic mix of art, including jewelry, paintings and wood works from 10 local artists.

"It really is a passion. That's the beauty of art," says Kim Zachary, a longtime employee at Artemisia, just a couple blocks away at 101 S. Third St., which also hosts shows for local artists. "These people are just so passionate about what they do. It's who they are."

Bielefeldt is the owner of an art supply store that offers many classes to children and other aspiring artists. But he's a portrait painter.

"I have to paint every day," Bielefeldt says. "That's what I do."

A self-trained artist who dropped out of high school during his childhood in Rockford, Bielefeldt remembers catching the art bug at age 11.

"I took watercolor lessons from an old guy who taught in his barn -- me and 15 gray-haired old ladies," Bielefeldt remembers. At one point he made money painting large portraits in acrylic and oil for people who had money to spend on portraits.

"I've always been a painter. It's a trippy little business. It sucks up your life," Bielefeldt says. "But I really feel loved here. As artists, we all try to find that thing that will keep us behind the easel."

And in front of the window.

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