One-and-a-half miles south of White Heath on 23 acres of partially wooded land there is a hidden treasure: the Broken Oak Art Gallery. 

The gallery was opened during the summer of 2000 at Judith Baker-Barrows and Lyn Barrows’ 600-square-foot drywalled space in the upper level of their barn, adjacent to the hayloft. At that time Judie and Lyn had retired from their business careers, and their children were grown. Judith was developing her photography hobby and Lyn was setting up a woodshop in the lower part of the barn to do wood turning. 

The beginning of this small spaced gallery and studio was originally created for themselves and simply to show their own artwork.  

Judith recalled she has always had an appreciation for those who had ability to create. As a child she loved to view photography in popular magazines her mother purchased such as LOOK, LIFE and National Geographic, especially the photography on those great magazine covers. In a recent visit to her gallery I asked what made her interested in art and making art. 

Judith answered: “I never thought of myself as a creative individual. However, photography gave me a starting place to try. 

“I was very excited about all the aspects of photography because of feeling the enthusiasm for getting that great shot sparked my eagerness for getting a different view of places, people, nature and unusual objects in our everyday life.”

Most of what Judith learned was self-taught, workshops and art classes offered locally through Parkland College. She continues to work on her art and learns as much as she can. 

After several years studying photography, Judith started to learn painting because she wanted to see if she could create a piece of art using her photography as a tool. She signed up for painting classes and had no idea how much she would enjoy painting. Now she paints in acrylic because it gives her more flexibility with her paintings.

“My art is for me personally first,” Judith said. I have to enjoy the process, like the photograph or painting, and if someone else likes it, too, you can’t get better than that. I hope to keep learning, applying, and appreciating art.” 

As far as influences in her art, Judith thinks her love of gardening and nature has been an influence. She was also inspired early on by her brother William C. Baker, who ran Studio B, in Champaign. 

“His love of all things in art pushed our creative juices. He was very supportive of the idea of me trying to do this crazy idea of an Art Gallery in the country thing,” she said.

Now they are approaching their gallery’s 20-year anniversary. During that time they have added to their space by remodeling the barn and utilizing half of it for the gallery and studio and added a new workshop for Lyn.  They have had many special events along with artist exhibits, and workshops. 

Judith’s philosophy remains to keep things simple and pleasurable for anyone wishing to make the drive and visit Broken Oak Gallery; to offer a variety in the artwork displayed so that young or old can enjoy the art and perhaps find something that becomes their treasured art piece, whether it be on paper, canvas, clay, metal, weavings, wood or combinations of those things. 

Judith had also hoped it would be a peaceful place in the country where people might chance upon something they thought was a great experience.  

It took several years for the gallery to become a destination. They have always wanted to keep the integrity of their home, gardens and peaceful surroundings. 

Lyn and Judith are continuing to develop their own art skills. Making art matter is special. Because of this small gallery they opened they have made some wonderful friends, met some wonderful artists and have many supportive patrons from their local municipalities to across the United States and from other countries.

The gallery is open most Saturdays, by chance, and by appointment. As a tradition, Judith and Lyn will have their annual holiday open house from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9. I look forward to it, and I am sure I will enjoy it as I always did.

Dr. Ian Wang is the curator of the Spurlock Museum and may be contracted by email at wangyu@illinois.edu