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Artists transform Old Courthouse

Published: Friday, June 20, 2014 4:16 p.m. CDT

Two area artists want to bring new life to Woodstock's Old Courthouse.

Artists Gregory Gantner and Gabriel Karagianis see a realm of possibility in the building, which dates to 1857 on the Woodstock Square.

Through a new exhibition, they hope to not only display the work of talented artists, but also inspire future use of the space and perhaps even help it further blossom into a modern cultural center for McHenry County.

"We hope to bring a touch of creativity to this eccentric, but vital building," Gantner said.

He and Karagianis are hosting "The Summer Solstice 2014 Art Exhibition" through July. Sponsored by the Northwest Area Arts Council, the show is free and open to the public from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the courthouse, 101 N. Johnson St., Woodstock.

The art exhibition features their work as well as the work of some of their favorite artists.

"We pretty much show people's work that we admire and we know well," Karagianis said.

The two first began showing work in 2006 at the Starline Factory in Harvard at a time when the building had yet to be renovated into the space it is today. The Starline now regularly hosts art studios, musical events, weddings, galleries and more.

Originally from Chicago, Gantner stumbled upon the Starline, a former factory for manufacturing farm equipment, after moving to the area. Orin Kinney had bought the building, saving it from demolition, and followed a vision to create a space for artists and their studios.

Gantner was among the first few artists to display work there.

"Most of the building was a pretty fascinating place for an artist," he said. "For the general public, it was pretty rough, rundown."

He met Karagianis, and the two began hosting regular art shows at the Starline.

"Each time we did it, we seemed to kind of push into another zone in the building," he said. "It had a nice rawness to it, freshness. … Each time we did it, more people would come in. People requested more studio space. Just having a lot of people show up for an event put a lot of energy into the building."

Both still have spaces at the Starline, but see the same sort of potential in the courthouse. Once sheriff's house and jail building, the building was vacated in 1972 and scheduled for demolition.

Saved by Woodstock residents Cliff and Bev Ganschow, the building is now occupied by galleries and La Petitie Creperie, a restaurant housed in the building formerly known as the Sheriff's House.

Original pressed tin ceilings and massive iron vault doors – now decorated with hand-painted murals and floral motifs – remain in the building. Artists' studios occupy the south wing, formerly the jury sleeping rooms.

Karagianis likes that the gallery space in the courthouse is somewhat more traditional when it comes to displaying artwork.

"It's nice to be at a new venue," he said. "It's just more of a traditional presentation that I feel more comfortable with. It's straight-forward. People coming into the gallery will know the drill. At the Starline, it's a little more rough around the edges as far as trying to maintain a space that's so massive and draw people into the work rather than the space."

With a theme of "Siderealistic Timesters," the exhibit will feature a variety of different forms of artwork. With a shared interest in the natural and cosmic worlds, Gantner and Karagianis have come together through the years to host a series of exhibitions being on or about the summer and winter solstices and the spring and autumn equinoxes.

The courthouse exhibit is billed as "an artistic show for artists and the artist in everyone."

The pair already has planned a future exhibit with a theme of "The Great American Makeover," featuring quilt work, tattoo designs, graffiti art, "more like an 'Easy Rider' version of Americana," Karagianis said.

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