Retrospective celebrates Camp Point artist’s career | Illinois News
CAMP POINT, Ill. — On their first date at Illinois Wesleyan, Jeff and Shelly Rasche decided he would write children’s books and she would illustrate them.
He did some writing over the years, she did lots of illustrating and while that hoped-for teamwork didn’t happen often, they want to celebrate what did — seeing thousands of her illustrations grace products around the world from greeting cards and ornaments to stuffed animals and yard flags before dementia led to her retirement from commercial art.
A three-week retrospective art event kicks off Friday night at Windsong Acres, the couple’s home, studio and event center.
The event features art from Shelly’s childhood, college and professional career, tours of the couple’s home and a silent auction with proceeds earmarked for a new scholarship for art students.
“Mostly we just feel grateful, and we felt we should just celebrate the fact she really wound up having a quite remarkable 38-year career in commercial art,” Jeff said.
“I’m excited about it, but also there’s a layer of grief under all of it just because you know how it is — you lose somebody a little at a time.”
Building that career some four decades ago took a partnership of her artistic abilities and his marketing skills. “I thought there must be a way to illustrate children’s books,” he said.
A call to directory assistance got the phone number of the publisher of one of their baby son’s books. An art director there said Shelly needed a portfolio, and their first trip to New York from their then-home in Pleasant Hill, where he pastored the United Methodist Church, didn’t lead to immediate success.
“Turns out the way to get known is to aim at children’s magazines. Children’s books watch children’s magazines for upcoming talent,” Jeff said. “Along the way, they said try greeting cards.”
They sent out packets of designs each week for two years, all rejected, while Shelly continued to refine her work. On their fifth wedding anniversary, Shelly sold her first design to Taylorville-based Sangamon Co., then one of the country’s largest greeting card publishers.
Working with Vermont-based Art Licensing International, Shelly still has more than 700 designs marketed for a wide range of products.
“We’ve both been able to enjoy this together. It’s resulted in lots of trips, shared joys, high fives,” said Jeff, who also pastored in Camp Point before joining Chaddock, then retiring in 2020 to spend more time with Shelly. “I still get excited if I see something of hers in a store.”
He’s just as excited pulling together the retrospective and unpacking items from some of those original rejection letters to sample items sent by companies that licensed one of Shelly’s designs and boxes moved from Shelly’s parents’ home.
“We opened a box that had 45 really beautiful watercolors in it. We’ve been married 40 years. I’ve never seen them. That was a happy discovery,” Jeff said. “We found another envelope her mom had saved that had several early illustrations of Shelly’s, really cute drawings of puppies and kittens.”
The retrospective show and sale provides a way to steward Shelly’s artwork, “to be respectful of what it is and share it with people to enjoy,” Jeff said.
A complete schedule of events for the celebration of Shelly’s artistic career is available online at windsongacres.com.
The event, which continues through Aug. 14, fits neatly between weddings scheduled at Windsong Acres and the studio’s pottery sales.
When the dementia started affecting Shelly’s ability to draw in certain perspectives, she wanted to return to working with pottery, which had been her major in college, so the couple took classes at the Quincy Art Center.
“I learned to do pottery. Just before the pandemic, we got the studio space seet up with a wheel and a kiln and knew how to use them,” Jeff said. “A lot of pottery that we’re selling is pottery that I’ve made. She is still doing some. For two years, I was throwing pottery, with nothing to do but put it on a shelf. That’s why we started having sales.”
Jeff doesn’t consider himself an artist like his wife.
“I learned to make a round bowl. I could make a lot of them. She did things that were really artistic, creative,” he said. “During the pandemic, she was making animals. They still have that character, that cuteness. Their facial expressions just make you laugh or smile.”
Now the couple hope to laugh and smile with family, friends and area residents as they celebrate her artwork.
“We’ll see a lot of friends, people I’ve known from the churches. It’s better to do that when you can than wait and do it someday and find out someday was too late,” he said.
“It’s a story to tell. It was a real gift in our life, our marriage. I’m a storyteller by nature. I feel like it’s good to share if it inspires somebody else to value artists and support them.”
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