Robin Springer enjoyed RV traveling and camping after she retired from Edwardsville High School, but she missed teaching art.
“When I was home, I was doing nothing,” she said. “I thought, ‘Did I retire too early?’ You’ve got this talent, and you’re doing nothing with it. You’re a slug. You’re watching ‘The Real Housewives.’ Live your own life.”
Robin, 68, of O’Fallon, was having these thoughts at the same time her daughter, Cory Hollerbach, wanted to start a new career and use her degree in art history.
The solution? Robin and Cory opened Art Gecko Creative Studio in O’Fallon, where they teach art classes, give private lessons and host art parties.
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“I can’t imagine doing this with somebody else because then you have different personalities and beliefs,” said Cory, 40, of O’Fallon. “Mom and I share the same brain. We seriously finish each other’s sentences and then laugh about it.”
The studio name is a play on “art deco” while also reflecting Robin and Cory’s love of the colorful lizards known as geckos. They have matching gecko tattoos, which Robin designed 22 years ago, on their feet. They collect gecko decorative items and wear rhinestone gecko pins on their art smocks.
“Every time we go somewhere, we seem to gravitate toward geckos,” Cory said. “They represent good fortune and good luck.”
Mom and daughter opened the studio April 4, so they’re still trying to increase awareness. Wyatt McClain, 6, of O’Fallon, was the sole student in a recent Art Curriculum class.
Cory helped Wyatt make a decahedron, a box with 10 sides, using colored markers to decorate each with a different design. Every few minutes, he would step back in his bright-orange smock and survey his work. “I think he’s got an artistic spirit in there,” said Robin, who was sitting at the same table, introducing watercolors to Wyatt’s brother, Eli, 3. “I would love to see where he takes it.”
At one point, Wyatt dipped his brush in water and swished it around on a blue and yellow abstract image. He called the effect “awesome.”
Wyatt’s mother, Leigh Ann McClain, is a home-schooler who also has a 1-year-old son, John. She signed up Wyatt for the class to supplement his academic studies.
“We’re really into a classical education, so we look at all of history, and art fits so beautifully into it,” she said.
“Last week, they studied Andy Warhol. He’s a modern artist, and we looked up his biography, and we found out that he was from Pittsburgh, Pa. We’re just expanding (Wyatt’s) knowledge so he can see how these people fit into the time line.”
Leigh Ann also likes the fact that Art Gecko is a locally owned, mother-daughter business in downtown O’Fallon.
Robin’s husband, Steven Springer, is a retired Air Force pilot. He was stationed in Alabama, Japan, Texas, Arizona and North Carolina before the family moved to O’Fallon.
Robin was a stay-at-home mom with Cory and son Noble, but she always was doing something creative, whether making play costumes or designing party invitations.
“Art is the one activity where I would forget to eat because I would get so involved in a project,” she said. “And that’s the sign of a passion.”
After the kids grew up, Robin returned to school and earned an art education degree at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in 1994. Then she taught 15 years at Edwardsville High School.
Meanwhile, Cory was working as a restaurant server, bank teller and animal hospital technician and taking her time earning an art history degree, which she finished in 2005 at SIUE.
Cory then worked as a mental-health caseworker while rearing her two children, Seth, 13, and Olivia, 3, with husband Ben. She jumped at the chance to go into business with her mother.
“She’s my best friend,” Cory said. “We call each other every day. If we spend the day together and then I call her later that night, my dad is like, ‘Seriously? You haven’t had enough?’ I feel so lucky to have my relationship with my mom.”
Robin and Cory opened Art Gecko with help from the Illinois Metro East Small Business Development Center at SIUE. The studio is at 125 E. Main St. in O’Fallon.
Offerings include classes on drawing, painting, printmaking and multimedia for children and adults. Robin and Cory hope to see it become a creative hub for the community. Summer art camps will begin in June.
“We kind of feel like we’ve been divinely guided to do this,” Robin said. “The people we have met have been absolutely fabulous.”