Local Artist Feature:  Charles Fach

by Chuck Wemstrom

Charles Fach Portrait

When people live out here, they tend to take the shops in Galena and Elizabeth for granted. They say, “Oh yeah, that’s for the tourists.” Every time area residents drive up and down Main Street or zip up Highway 20 on their way to Galena and then on to Dubuque and drive right by the art galleries, they’re missing a wonderful experience. They don’t always know what the tourists know. The tourists know that there are folks out here who make magic with their cameras, potter’s wheels, and paint brushes. And Charles Fach is one of them, one of the best.

You must go now, make a special trip to Stone House Pottery and Gallery. Start with the gallery. No, wait. Before you go in, check out the twin dogs guarding the entrance. Open the door, step in and focus your eyes on the floor tile. Once you’re in the galleries, take your time. There are two big rooms. The main room is an exhibit space mainly for other artists—Richard Pearce, Barbara Baird and Brian McCormack are just a few artists whose works have been showcased over the years. Right now, go and see Pearce’s photographs. The pictures in SCOUT and on our website and the ones on Richard’s own website are good; but to see the pictures the way they were meant to be displayed is breathtaking.

The smaller room has a wonderful assortment of Charles Fach’s ceramics and sculptures for sale. However, he is a bit modest when it comes to his own work. The spotlight is on his friends and fellow artists. But a sample of his work is there, including the small sculptures, the small brandy goblets, the napkin holders—they’re all perfect. The last time we were there, his wife Sandy had just brought over from the studio two classic casseroles. Charles did them in the lovely ageless, earth tone colors of the 1970s.

If you are interested in pottery and you would like to learn how to throw and fire your own work, Charles offers basic classes in slab work and thrown pots. It takes a skilled artist to center a piece of clay and open the ball and turn it into a bowl or beer stein. If you’re still drinking beer straight out of the bottle, grow up, buy a stein or two from Charles, learn how to pour a glass of beer to achieve a perfect head. Charles has a variety of steins, some he’s made for special orders and he might have an extra, he has steins celebrating the Galena breweries, U.S. Grant and now he’s working on the Nine Generals. He has some magnificent two-liter steins which are simply to die for. If you don’t see a shot glass, ask. If he’s out beg, plead with him to make you a set. We already have our Christmas order in.

And then there is glaze and graze. The first night you get to decorate a three-piece set of dinnerware and then you come back the next night after the plates have been fired for a complete dinner in the barrel room, a cave carved into the limestone hill by the owners of the original 19th century brewery.

Check out the webpage for the details, dates and costs. And finally (Well not finally, but I don’t have enough space to tell you everything) I can’t tell you about the antique and historic bell, the crane, the mini foundry, the electric and gas kilns, the multiple workshops, the drawing room, the student potter’s wheels, Charles’ own handyman projects which would put a craftsman to shame or the history of the brewery and the wonderful lady who bought the brewery and later sold it to Charles and Sandy.

Charles and Sandy also run a B&B. Patty and I have stayed there. First of all, it’s gorgeous. There’s a full kitchen, a private and unique one-of-a-kind bath, a separate little sitting room and the big room with the raised bed. There’s also a six person whirlpool and a full size sauna. What’s really special is the hand-forged bed frame with a nymph atop each of the four bedposts guarding and protecting you while you’re asleep (perhaps bringing you a bit of luck). There’s also a wood burning fireplace tucked into a tiny corner of the room surrounded by a handmade tile firewall. Dog lovers will go crazy. Dozens of different dog tiles.

So go, take your check book and your appreciation for the beautiful. You will be amazed. Back home, each time you use a stein, a vase, or a casserole, sit and contemplate the shape and form; admire how the colors work and you will begin to see everything around you differently.

Q&A With Charles Fach

Q. Could you describe your experience at UCLA? Did you major in art with a focus on ceramics? What did you say to people who said, “There’s no money in art. You can never make a living making pots?”

A. I majored pictorial arts, painting & drawing. I graduated with a BA. I took one course in ceramics my, last semester at UCLA. No one ever questioned making a living in the arts – if they had questioned it, I would have gone into law. Q. Have you always been on your own? No partners? No shared studio space? A. Always on my own. Q. Why did you move to Galena? A. We were looking for a space where I could live, work & sell — to be in a tourist oriented area & near a library.

Q. Would it have been better to have moved to a more arts-focused community?

A. Possibly, there would be a wider clientele.

Q. You seem to be very gregarious. You’re on the Galena City Council, for example. Is it hard being in your studio all day?

A. No. I love what I do. I listen to a lot of music & the radio while I work. (Charles has a great vinyl collection along with his CDs)

Q. When I look at your floor tiles in particular, I sense a strong identification with nature. How did your love and appreciation for nature develop?

A. I come from a family who appreciated nature – loved trees, birds, flowers

Q. When we visited the ceramic show at the Galena Arts Center, we saw your drawings on the history of brewing beer. I never realized that you’re a wonderful artist with a pen and pencil as well as with clay. Do you a lot of drawing and sketching?

A. Not as much as I used to. Unfortunately, time doesn’t allow me to do much of it now. I truly miss it. At one time, I started each day by drawing for an hour.( He promised to show Bridgette and Patty his drawing some day. He has drawers full of beautiful sketeches/works in progress. )

Q. Most ceramic artists confine their work to the potters’ wheel. You seem to be just as versatile doing slab work like your lovely tiles or doing molds. Charles, you seem to always be experimenting. Every time I visit your studio you’re using a different glaze. Just one example: your beer steins always seem to have a different shape or a different handle. What inspires you to keep exploring and innovating?

A. I get bored easily. I love a challenge and I’m interested in improving and learning something new – never satisfied with my work. It can always be improved.

Q. What mental adjustments to you need to make when you go from functional to decorative? What do you say to folks who say that most functional work is decorative (art)?

A. Most functional work is decorative art – what? ( I think Charles means that in his mind there is no distinction. A point many critics love to debate. And if you look at anything Charles has done, you know the distinction is silly.)

Q. In addition to ceramics you’re also a sculptor. Where did that come from?

A. I was an art major and I always wanted to take a sculpture class. However, I never was able to get into a sculpture class – didn’t have the money to pre-register & the classes were always filled by the time I registered. Consequently, I’ve been seeking out sculpture ever since. I started by doing sculpture in clay, wood and stone. When we moved to Galena, I audited one class in foundry work (pouring bronze) at UW at Platteville. I have been doing bronzes ever since. As an artist this was a natural development. I’ve always had an interest in the foundry processes. It was just natural to develop in this area.

Q. On your web-site you have photos of some of your wonderful bronze sculptures. What inspired those pieces?

A. I always liked figurative sculpture in bronze work. But I do have a hard time finishing a piece, because I always see more that could be done. The older I get the more detailed my work becomes. I’ve made many molds for the lost wax process in bronze making, but I’ve done less work in the development of molds for pottery pieces. Lois Mihok, another Galena artist has been very generous in sharing her vast range of knowledge of the ceramic mold making process with me. I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to talk to Lois and then later having her trouble shooting for the casting &ceramic mold making process.

Editor’s Note: When we were touring Fach’s Studio and Gallery, he graciously showed us to his private workplace. It was a treasure trove of endless talent and wonderful art. I could have spent hours in there. In the middle of the room there as a large blank canvas on an easel. I asked Charles what his plans were for the canvas and he said this to me: “Bridgette, I can’t tell you that. If I told you what it would become, it will never be. Art has to be realized. I won’t know myself until I get started.” This comment really stuck with me, and I think of it often when toying around with my own art.



Richard Pearce is a scholar, scientist and artist

by Chuck Wemstrom

When my wife Patty and I first moved to the area, one of the first people we met was Richard Pearce.  He was showing his work at the Grace Episcopal Church Rectory in Galena. We fell in love with his work. We had never seen such beautiful photographs. We were going with friends to the showing before dinner and drinks. We had no intention of buying anything.  We didn’t know that it was possible to capture such lifelike reality. We immediately bought two photos. One is a painted lady butterfly on flowering moonseed taken at the Witkowski Preserve on Black Jack Road. The other is called Maple Thorpe, an unusual name for a simple picture of maple leaves.

Since then, we’ve kept in touch and watched his work grow. In the Q&A, Richard talked about how his work has changed over the years because of technology. But a bigger change is his ability to capture the finest detail and make the plant live. His images teach us to go back outside and look again and then to look again more closely at one flower or the one butterfly who lands for just a second on a blossom.  And then when the butterfly leaves to look again at the flower.

Richard is a scholar, scientist, artist and friend. And we are lucky to know him and fortunate that he has shared his art with us.


CHUCK – Richard, Patty and I were at the Longbranch Gallery in Mineral Point last week and Sandy Scott, one of the owners, told us how excited you were. She said that you had just discovered a species that is rarely if ever found in NW Illinois. Could you tell us about it?

RICHARD – It’s not altogether so unusual to find a plant that’s not been reported in a county or that is rare throughout the state or, in the case of the Royal catchfly (Silene regia), the entire country. The species is listed in Illinois as endangered and in Indiana and Arkansas as threatened and in Georgia it’s classified simply as rare according to the USDA. In Tennessee it’s apparently gone altogether. However, the specimen we are talking about was found not in a native area but in a restored prairie site. So it had been planted there. But still, in the entire five or six acres of restoration it was the only plant of that species in bloom that we saw (I was with a friend from California). Moreover, these rare plants, even when planted in the restored prairie, don’t always take. And besides I’ve never seen one personally so it was just a joy and pleasure to locate even this single example of Silene regia. Fortunately, it was close enough to the edge of the vehicular access path, not in the middle of the tallgrass prairie, that I could approach it carefully and image it with my scanning technique.

CHUCK – When I tell folks that you use an office scanner and a computer with an old car battery to take your photos, they’re incredulous. Could you describe the process?

RICHARD – It’s basically just like it sounds. I take a flatbed scanner into the field along with a power pack and a laptop computer — everything the smallest size possible. I can position the scanner using C clamps or some other way that gets as close to the flower possible without touching it.

CHUCK – You told me once that the number of pixels that you can capture on a scanner is greater than on a standard camera; why is that important?

RICHARD – Yes, it’s actually way greater than the standard or even advanced professional digital camera, having a 300 megapixel capacity or larger. Compare that to a digital camera 6, 8 or 16 megapixels. For one thing this means the image can be printed at mural size, several feet by several feet, without losing any detail. In fact, the larger you go the more detail that is revealed. But at the same time, it has the resolution of the best macro lens — about 8 to 10 times life-size — which means you can see, for example, the surface of the tongue on a butterfly or the pollen grains on the tip of a stamen.

CHUCK – Where did the idea even come from? I understand that now it is a pretty common practice to use a scanner, but weren’t you among the first?

RICHARD – Scanners are being increasingly used in science and imaging in the field. For example, archaeologists use it to document on the site the artifacts they find. And botanists are using scanners to document the leaf type for a species. Some artists have taken to using scanners to image everything from feathers to bones and flowers from the garden. I believe I was the first to image flowers of any kind and certainly native plants growing in the field. I began imaging local native flora in 2001. I just tried scanning one night with the top off the scanner and was amazed at the depth of field and resolution. I turned to Yahoo Groups, thinking there would be lots of folks doing this but couldn’t find any. Soon, however, there was a National Geographic article on the scanning of moths captured at night and scanned in the studio. I have scanned insects but they are for the most part living and afterwards released.

CHUCK – Could you describe briefly how your work has changed over time?

RICHARD – Scanners have stayed about the same, but the computers have gotten a lot faster and the storage medium cheaper so that I can retain larger and larger images and acquire them at much faster rates than before. I remember when first starting out that I may have had to take a 15 or 20 minute scan, now it’s rare to require more than 7 minutes to acquire a high resolution image. One of the advantages of using the scanner, even with all the equipment you need to take into the field, is that it is independent of the lighting of the day and if there’s a small breeze, which is the bane of wildflower photographers, it’s not a problem because everything is covered either with a cardboard box or a drapery of some kind.

CHUCK – Like your good friend, Barbara Baird, you choose to spend a lot of time outdoors. How have your ideas about nature evolved over the twelve years you’ve spent in the field?

RICHARD – Well, they say you have to stop and smell the roses and I have had the satisfaction of literally doing just that. Writing up the plants on the webpage and learning more about nature, which I had to do because I was completely ignorant of it having arrived from the city, forces one just to slow down and that in turn allows for more enjoyment frankly. But it was amazing to me that how much is unknown even in one’s own backyard. Especially in certain areas such as insect visitors to plants. And of course things are changing. For example I have not seen monkey flower or cardinal flower, both plants that prefer wet soils, in 7 to 8 years, probably because the shoreline of the waterways, particularly of the Mississippi, have high water continuing well into the summer. The waters recede but not in time to allow for full plant growth as in previous years.

CHUCK – Could you briefly describe your webpage?

RICHARD – Yes it’s a half-baked catalog of plants that are native to our region, the Driftless Area. I say “half-baked” because a true index of plants should contain at least 300-350 species. I have only a little over 200. But I have a backlog of about 50 species scanned and these I write up during the winter months. So in another few years the web page might be considered more or less “fully baked.”

CHUCK – Could you describe the writing process, what’s involved timewise—research, writing a draft, finished copy?

RICHARD – I was in biology and medical research most of my life but I knew absolutely nothing about botany so to force myself to learn I decided to write about each species that I scanned. I thought it was going to be a chore. But to my surprise this has turned out to be the most fascinating part of the entire process. Each wildflower, it turns out, has its own peculiar story — even weeds. Some like monkey flower, gooseberry, Solomon’s seal, fog fruit, lupine, and smartweed have interesting names and derivations that are fun to explore. The prevailing explanations are frequently wrong! Others have interesting behaviors like the rose mallow which, if it has not been fertilized by an insect carrying pollen from a different plant by high noon, will begin a process of self fertilization, with its stamens arching 180 degrees backward to deposit pollen on itself. This more or less guarantees that seeds will be produced.

CHUCK – In the past, we’ve talked about Climate Change and how that has motivated your work. Do you continue to worry about climate change? And do you see any effects of climate change when you’re out in the field?

RICHARD – Climate change needs to be arrested or at least attenuated, mainly to protect global food production both on land and in the oceans. Carbon dioxide is acidifying the oceans and affecting organisms at the very bottom of the food chain. As a society we’ve managed to take action before to combat pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, CFC propellants and refrigerants that were dissolving the ozone layer, and even cigarette smoke in public places. Cigarette smoke was certainly man-made and nobody ever tried to argue that it wasn’t. Some did claim it was harmless and even beneficial, but those voices have long since disappeared. Each of these issues was politicized for a while but the science and reason eventually won out. We need to take care of the world we inherited, there is no back-up planet. To mitigate climate change, fossil fuels will need to be replaced by clean, unlimited energy. Presently that looks like solar with fusion energy necessarily coming along in 10-20 years. Fusion energy is presently, I believe, grossly underfunded. We can easily correct that.

To see Richard’s work, check out his webpage. And don’t believe him, there is nothing half-baked about his webpage. Yes, it is a work in process and as he says he’s always adding new species and updating the site but everything about the site is professional and gorgeous.:

Richard Pearce

And please visit these galleries

Stone House Pottery & Gallery

Longbranch Gallery

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