“Of all man’s works of art, a cathedral is greatest. A vast and majestic tree is greater than that,” 19th-century minister, preacher, and social reformer Henry Ward Beecher once wrote.
It is the hope of the Highland Arts Council (HAC) to merge the creations of man and All Mighty in what would be a one-of-a-kind art gallery.
The HAC Board has long wanted a gallery of its own. But HAC members wanted something unique. It had to be a space that would not only show artwork, but also become a destination just to experience the building itself.
“We came up with the idea of having a gallery in a treehouse,” said Lynnette Schuepbach, HAC president.
The original concept was a two-story gallery/workshop.
“After a conversation with Dan Hurford, an architect from Glen Carbon, he adjusted our idea to be in the trees, but (people would also be) able to walk into it from the ground level, so that it would be ADA compliant,” Schuepbach said.
The plan is to have the gallery at Lindendale Park, the privately owned park that also serves as the home of the Madison County Fair and HAC’s annual Art in the Park festival.
“The Helvetia Sharpshooters are very excited to have us on their property. The entrance would come off of the south side of the back parking lot on the opposite side of the Madison County Fair Exposition Building,” Schuepbach said. “It would reach into the trees and around the trees but not be attached to or dependent upon the health of the trees.”
Park Hill Drive (the street that leads to the VFW) would be on one side, and the road that leads back to the race track would go around the back of the building.
“We would be renting the ground from the Helvetia Sharpshooters, just as the Madison County Fair Board does. We hope to work with other organizations in Highland for ways to make the landscaping as artistic as the building,” Schuepbach said.
The plan is based on a 40-by-40-foot open space for the main part of the building.
“The plan is to have one room in an upper area to be used as an office, or a living space, should an artist in residence need a space. Or an artist could rent the space to do some creative work,” Schuepbach said. “We’re not sure of all of the possibilities yet for that room.”
Two large decks would surround the building. Windows and decks would make it easy to appreciate the nature surrounding the building, and windows would create lots of light inside.
“The space is all open,” Schuepbach said.
HAC would like to use the gallery for exhibits, workshop space, Art of Soul classes and a new program to show off youth art, as well as music and performances.
“We would hope that the Highland Community Chorus, Hard Road Theater, and the community would use it for rehearsals, smaller plays, recitals, literary readings, book clubs, receptions, showers, reunions, weddings or any event that would fit into the space,” Schuepbach said. “We have a serving kitchen built into it so that caterers can serve food at any of the events.”
A large deck could be used as a stage for outdoor performances, weddings, receptions, etc.
“We are working with two artists, Michael Anderson and Gary Karasek, to design a tree sculpture around the outer part of the building,” Schuepbach said. “They would be working with Dan Hurford to complete the design. This sculpture would be the base for adding leaves with the engraved names of the donors who made the building possible. Not only will it be within the trees, but a tree would be part of the building design.”
There are no exact cost estimates. However, Schuepbach said the building would be more than $1 million.
“We will need some serious fundraising to get it off the ground, but with the help of the community, we hope it can be completed by the end of 2017,” Schuepbach said.
HAC hopes to establish an endowment that would be used to maintain the building and hire personnel to manage.
“We are working on some grants and have received two donations from individuals already,” Schuepbach said. “We will probably do a fundraising event in early 2016 to kick it off, and you’ll probably see some online crowd funding in 2016 as well.”
The design work will also begin in early 2016.
“The city is excited about the possibility of this becoming a unique destination, so that people will come to Highland to see this unique art sculpture/building and shop and eat while they are here,” Schuepbach said. “There has been conversation about reinstating the tours of unique places in Highland, and this would certainly fit.”