By Kelly Pollock, feature writer for the Buzz Cafe
Ann Viernes recalls loving both science and art from a young age. “I can remember in kindergarten always wanting to paint on the easels, but I don’t think I ever actually did it. I was very, very shy. But all through school my two loves were science and art. The gifts I always got from my parents were things like a microscope or art supplies.”
When it came time to choose a college major, Ann decided that she could best serve humanity working in science while continuing art as her hobby. She chose to study biology at DePaul University and spent more than 30 years working at Rush University Medical Center until retiring in 2013. “I always thought that I would continue to use my Doctor of Health Sciences degree, but after my husband died in 2012, I just felt lost, and I only continued working for another year.”
Ann eventually met her partner Frank Fletcher and later moved to his home in Oak Park. “This summer marked seven years since I retired and I decided to take a sabbatical from my retirement. I went up to my hometown of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, with all my painting supplies and stayed for ten days right by the lake. Then, when I returned, I was walking through the Arts District and I saw this space for lease and I thought, ‘This is it. I’m not in healthcare anymore. I’m an artist now.’”
Ann considered almost 50 names for her new business before making a final decision. “I was going to call it Blue Friday because my favorite color is blue and my last name means Friday in Spanish.” But ultimately, it was Ann’s love of “purple sun glass” that inspired her to choose Purple Sun Arts for her new space at 142 Harrison Street.
Ann has been collecting purple sun glass for 40 years. During the Civil War, the lead that was used in glass manufacturing to make it clear was needed for ammunition so the manufacturers switched to making glass with manganese. What no one realized was that, over time, sunlight would react with the manganese and turn the glass purple. “Much of it is well-used and has nicks and scratches and so it’s not really that valuable,” says Ann. But the fact that glassmakers used manganese for only about 50 years gives purple sun glass a rarity value and charm that has made it a popular collectible.
Ann has been painting since she retired and her work was stacked up in her basement. Now it’s hanging on the walls of her new space. In addition to her paintings, Ann also makes jewelry and greeting cards. She is selling the vintage glassware and jewelry that she has collected for years and she recently added jewelry made by Sandra Dee, one of her former teachers.
Ann is passionate about intentional creativity and plans to host workshops in art journaling once the pandemic has abated. She is in the process of becoming a certified instructor of Cosmic Smash Booking. “You use a composition notebook and start by making a cover and by writing your intention for the book. You then write and write about whatever is on your mind. You have to cross the middle and write across both pages and then you pray over it. You then write ‘help me, teach me, show me’ over everything you wrote. Finally, you cover all the words with white paint and paint images or collage over the page.”
Another important step that Ann describes is that you crumple all the pages to “crush the perfection” out of them. “It’s not about perfecting your art skills,” says Ann. “It’s very tactile. All the senses are in there. It’s just what you feel and what comes out of you. It answers the question, ‘If you could taste the rainbow, what would it taste like?’”
Ann is environmentally conscious and is trying to minimize the impact of her space. “I don’t paint with oils because they are hard to dispose of. I use only water-based paint and I let the solids settle to the bottom of my paint water. The water can then be poured off and the solids can be disposed of in the trash once they’re dry.” She also made sure to use energy-efficient lighting and recycles or composts everything she can.
Ann calls her space “an art gallery, studio, boutique, and creative learning space.” She believes that serendipity led her there and she is excited to share her vision of channeling creativity and beauty with the community. Purple Sun Arts is located at 142 Harrison Street and is open Wednesday through Saturday from 1pm-5pm. The phone number is 708-948-7443 and the website is www.purplesunarts.com.