Every morning at Art Camp, the bell rings at 10:30 and nearly 30 kids from Rockford and Peoria gather in a circle and "sing hello." That means every child is musically greeted by their name so they know they are welcomed, recognized, and loved. After the song, the campers break off into groups organized by age. They learn different disciplines of art including dance, drama, visual arts, gardening and cooking. This is Ann Rundall's Art Camp.
Many of the camp leaders are children or grandchildren of Ann Rundall. She is the camp creator. There are four generations of families and friends involved with Art Camp. Everyone pitches in, and the entire camp takes place outside, even if it rains. (Exceptions are made for lightning and thunder.)
Ann says it's not expensive to run the camp because so many people donate time and supplies. The camp is free to attend, and no child has ever been turned away. I asked her if she would ever turn a child away.
She said, "Why would we ever do that? Even if a child has a behavioral problem, we would not turn him or her away. We would give them more love."
Ann and her husband Dick Rundall have been hosting Art Camp every August for several years, but they've been together for decades. They met at Illinois College in Jacksonville and got married the day Ann received her diploma. When Ann was in her twenties, she began her formal training as an artist. Prior to that, she had never taken a single class.
"I grew up in an all-white small town in central Illinois during an era when art wasn't offered in public schools." She added, "I must have been learning as I was living."
After she started training, it wasn't long before she developed a reputation as a talented batik artist. Ann explained how it works.
"Batik is the process of painting hot wax onto fabric. The color comes from the fabric dye. It's a wax-resist process. In the end, you take all of the wax out of the fabric and the design remains."
After completing those steps, Ann said she would add calligraphy around the matte that framed the batik. Dick was the wordsmith. She said, "I did the calligraphy, but my husband gave me the words because I am not a writer. I am a visual artist."
Ann talked about her inspiration. State of the Artist is founded on following artists to the places that inspire them, but Ann said locations are not what inspire her. Ideas inspire her, specifically ideas that express the principles of the Baha'i faith.
Ann explained, "The principles include the oneness of humanity, the equality of women and men, and the beauty in nature."
She spoke about nature's influence on her art. "I did a whole series of wildflowers where I wrote information about each flower around the edge of the matte."
"Nature has always spoken to me. I believe nature reflects the characteristics of humanity. There are beautiful flowers of all different colors, just as there are beautiful faces of humanity that are all different colors."
Interestingly, and to her point, Ann's artistic depictions of people are silhouettes. She does not paint skin tones. "Silhouettes express the oneness of humanity," she said.
As we meandered through her house and looked at her art, Ann discussed the theme of Art Camp: "This year's theme is 'Dream.' I think too often children get told what their dreams should be. We are trying to draw the dreams out of the children, and encourage them to dream for themselves."
I asked Ann if she was encouraged to dream for herself when she was a little girl.
She laughed and said, "I had a wonderful family. I had one sister, and a mother and father who were very kindhearted and very involved in their community and church. I grew up going to Sunday School every Sunday and was taught that little song:
Red and yellow
black and white
all are equal
in God's sight.
I don't think the people who taught me that song understood what that song would mean for me. Those words were engraved on my heart. Hopefully my life reflects that song."
Ann talked about her child-rearing days. She said, "I wanted to be home with my children, so I stopped teaching for about 20 years. I was sitting around one day, and because I wasn't working we didn't have a lot of money. I was sitting around being depressed and my mother said to me, 'Why don't you make some things and go to one of these shows and sell some things? You could make some money that way.'"
Ann remembers looking at her mother and saying, "Well, it costs money to buy the supplies." Ann said, "My mother looked at her purse. She had $50 and she handed it to me and she said, 'Here, go make some stuff.'"
Ann credits that moment with her mother as the beginning of becoming serious about creating and selling art. She also said that traveling the country and selling her art truly did help support her family.
She said, "For many years, I probably made as much money, sometimes more, by selling my artwork -- even more than I did as a teacher. We'd just throw the kids in the van and take off for art exhibits in Florida, Arizona, Virginia Beach, Wisconsin, or Michigan. We were hippies back in the day."
Ann said she stopped traveling with her kids when they got older because, "They didn't think it was so much fun to leave their friends and travel around the country with Mom.”
After her tour concluded, she became the education director for Rockford Area Arts Council. That led to a position with Rockford Public Schools. She said her title was Fine Arts and Multicultural Curriculum Coordinator. Then she moved into a staff development position and curriculum director. As good as those jobs were, she said something was missing from her life:
"All the while I kept thinking, 'I want to be a principal. I want to be a principal because I need to have children in my face. And they finally allowed me to be the principal of Haskell for seven years," she said.
At that point, it was time for the campers to rotate to the next art station. Ann rang the bell and the kids moved to their new spots. We talked by her car.
I noticed her license plates.
"It spells RT ATAK, because I believe that we can attack the problems of the world through the arts," said Ann.
Ann admitted that she considers herself a world citizen first, and an artist second, but the two are not mutally exclusive. For instance, a piece of her art with the words WORLD CITIZEN is prominently displayed inside her house. She said, "Art is a tool to communicate ideas."
This segued into her sharing some of her global concerns. She said, "The whole world is really my country. I need to be thinking about what's good for the whole world, not just what's good for the United States of America."
She said she understands that some people feel that's a radical idea, but stated, "We now know so much about the whole world. How can we turn our backs on the poverty and the problems anywhere in the world? What's good for Kenya is good for America. What's good for Vietnam is good for America. What's good for any place in the world is also then beneficial to the United States of America."
Art Camp wrapped up for the day and similar to how the kids "sang hello" to each other, they also "sang goodbye." After everyone left, Ann had some time to show me some of the places that are meaningful to her. Our first stop was Haskell Elementary School.
Ann spoke quietly but clearly. "We're standing here by a piece of playground equipment that was dedicated to a third grader named Taevious Coleman, who was just playing with a friend when they found a gun. Somebody had stashed it behind a garbage dump. And the child just playing, pointed the gun, and shot and killed Taevious. So we dedicated a piece of playground equipment to him. He's never very far from my thoughts. Every Sunday morning when I pick his brothers and sisters up for Sunday school. I think of Taevious because I used to pick him up on Sunday mornings."
Some of Taevious' siblings attend Art Camp.
After we left the playground, Ann and I drove to another place that holds meaning for her; the roundabout at North Main and Auburn Streets in Rockford. It is officially known as Veterans Memorial Circle. The speed limit is 15 miles per hour, but many motorists notoriously go above that. Still, Ann was pleased to be there.
Ann said, "I'm looking at this roundabout and it is absolutely gorgeous. The neighborhood has come together and planted flowers on this corner. And it is just breathtaking. And for me, this says there is hope. When people come together, you can turn something that's notorious into a thing of beauty."
As we drove out of the roundabout and back to her house, Ann spoke about Eliminate Racism, an effort that endeavors to eliminate racism and create a community where everyone feels valued. The group meets regularly to read books, discuss films, and share ideas about racism.
Years ago, Ann's mother gave her 50 bucks and said, "Here, go make some stuff." So she did. So she does. You are invited to experience some of the "stuff" at Art Camp on Friday, August 9 at 1:00 p.m. at 413 Stiles Parkway. This event is free and takes place outside.