Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
Sporting a pair of paint splattered overalls, a silver pin reading ‘artist’ and tight, shoulder length curls, Palestine, IL artist Steve Meadows is the picture of eccentricity. But perhaps the most distinctive component of his style is his artwork’s uncanny resemblance to himself.
Locally, Meadows is appreciated for his “junk art,” an artistic practice in which recyclables and household items are transformed into newfangled masterpieces. Among his favored materials wooden boards, discarded paintbrushes, door knobs and knockers, old combs, mason jar lids, just about anything he can get his hands on. Meadow’s typical approach involves making faces out of found objects; he can recall seeing faces in inanimate objects from a young age, influencing him to incorporate them into his later work. Today, first time visitors to his store might be surprised to find dozens of the artists faces staring back at them. The pieces in his shop are abstract portrayals of himself: coiled pieces of wire for hair, rake or push broom ends a mustache and small wheels or circular objects for his thick-rimmed glasses.
Meadows’ drive to create was largely self-inspired; his middle school and high school did not offer many art classes, so save for his brief sketching course, he was entirely self taught. Although his mother was a “gifted artist,” Meadows was not raised in an especially creative household–– children his age helped with family work.
“Us kids had to work all the time. When school was out, we had to work, and there was no playing or anything like that.”Meadows said. “Very very little playing.”
During high school, a counselor asked Meadows to pinpoint his vocational aspirations. His answer was simply, “Well, I’d like to go to a school that taught nothing but art.” According to the counselor, there was no such place. During his college years, Meadows did one semester at Eastern Illinois University consisting of two pencil drawing classes, a jewelry class and a sculpture class. By the time he reached his twenties, he opened up his own arts and crafts store because he believed it would compensate for the lack of creative time in his childhood and because it would give him time to decide on a definite career path.
“The definition to me as an artist is somebody who lives off their art,” Meadows says of his decision to open the business.
Yet after some time, he was still unsure of which creative field he wanted to enter. About 15 years ago, after doing contracting work for 13 years followed by 25 years of woodcarving, he decided to take the plunge and explore the world of junk art.
To this day, Meadows is still doing art shows and galleries, promoting and selling his own artwork in booths at different events. Additionally, Meadows actively mentors aspiring artists in hopes of promoting a future for them in art.
There’s a lot of competition out there,” he says of the industry. “If you can just encourage just that one child [to pursue art]”
Meadows’ devotion to his craft is evident through his desire to instill the same love of creation in those who have the rest of their lives to dabble in the opportunities the creative field has to offer.