After first meeting in ceramics class at Waubonsee Community College nearly 20 years ago, Sue Norris and Mary Jordan today operate Crow’s Nest Studio and Gallery, tucked inside a former chicken house on the grounds of Spring Bluff Nursery in Sugar Grove.
The studio specializes in wood soda-fired pottery that creates “a different, interesting surface,” according to Norris, whose family also runs the adjacent nursery.
The pottery is often a choice for wedding gifts or Christmas presents.
Each year, the two artists make a few hundred pieces of their pottery, including mugs, plates, vases, and decorative items, which are sold on-site.
Many pieces have outlines of birds, including the store’s namesake, in the designs, because Norris said, “I like crows. I like their personalities — they are tough and noisy.”
The two women had a wood kiln built on the nursery grounds, and guests often come to see the firing process.
“It is something very unique around here,” Jordan said, because most pottery today is made using an electric kiln.
The studio also sells homemade soy candles from SK Candles and soaps made by Norris and her sister under the name Two Sisters Soap Co.
Crow’s Nest Pottery is part of a growing network of artisans who have made the greater Fox Valley region their home.
Located in Big Rock, Esther’s Place offers classes in knitting, crocheting, and felting to create artwork or wearable items and sells kits for many different types of fiber crafts.
For Natasha Lehrer Lewis, owning Esther’s Place has been a dream come true.
Twenty years ago, her family first ventured out to the Aurora Municipal Airport from their Oakhurst home in a quest to find a rainbow ultralight glider.
“We fell in love with the landscape,” Lehrer Lewis said.
Hearing of a farmette – land that is over 5 and under 50 acres — up for sale, her family made an offer and, despite higher bids, the farm was theirs and became home to Lamb of God Farm and Big Rock Organics.
The family quickly purchased two sheep — Lily and her baby Tulip, and added Rosy a few months later, Lehrer Lewis said. “They became our little flock” which has grown to 23 sheep.
Living on the farm since she was nine, Lehrer Lewis said, “I fell in love with fiber arts when I was a teenager. It was really just my thing. I loved to knit.”
The original owner had a dream of owning sheep, so Lehrer Lewis already had a loom. “She also had all of these supplies. Someone else gave me a spinning wheel,” she said.
Sitting down at the wheel, she said, “I just sort of figured it out.”
As Lehrer Lewis, who was homeschooled through 12th grade, began to mull over her career or post-high school education options, she said she decided, “I would love to have a spinning and weaving shop.”
Farming sheep for wool, Lehrer Lewis explained, “just wasn’t profitable. It costs $4 or $5 to pay someone to shear a sheep, only to receive $1 for the wool.”
She then pursued and received a state matching grant to add value to an agricultural product and connect agricultural to education.
In 2006, Esther’s Place was born with a mission of taking fiber, processing it, and marketing it.
“Our focus is to provide classes in a fun and relaxing environment for all ages and skill levels,” she added.
In the shop, craft kits designed by Lehrer Lewis are available for purchase — many of which come with online tutorials.
In addition, two rooms are available to rent upstairs for a mini B&B.
Esther’s Place also has a “farm-based focused” and hosts farm- to-table dining events, cheese-making, and canning classes.
Lehrer Lewis also frequently conducts classes at area libraries and local community colleges.
“It is a wonderful community that we built here,” she said. “On Fridays, I have a group of regulars who come sit and stitch. They are welcoming and kind to newcomers and always bring food.”
ARTISAN SHOPS IN THE REGION
Hours: Tuesday, Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 pm.
Closed Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday.
Upcoming Events (Fee required)
Sunday, Aug. 11, 1 to 5 p.m.
Free-Form Crocheted Flower Pin
Friday, Aug. 16 10 a.m. to noon
Natured Inspired Art
Unicorns/Zoo Pocket Pals
Friday, Aug. 16, 1 to 3 p.m.
Children kindergarten through 8th grade.
Sheep to Shawl Spinning
( including lunch),
Thursday, Aug. 15, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Crow’s Nest Studio and Gallery
41W130 Norris Road, Sugar Grove
Hours: Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.,
Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
David L Pierce Art and
Aurora Historical Society Gift Shop
20 E. Downer Place, Aurora
Hours: Wednesday to Saturday noon to 4 p.m.
The gift shop features one-of-a-kind City of Aurora apparel, books and gifts.
Olde Farm Creek,
10151 Lisbon Road, Yorkville
Hours: Friday and Saturdays from 10 a.m. .to 4 p.m.
and Sunday noon to 4 p.m.
Features farmhouse, vintage inspired décor, made by local artisans. Open two weekends per month and every weekend in December.
The Tea Tree Shop,
29 N. River St., Batavia
Seventy-five varieties of fresh loose-leaf teas, balsamic vinegars, olive oils, freshly ground and blended spices, and essential oils are available.
Vintage 71 Shops
10711 State Route 71, Yorkville
Shop includes an assortment of vintage, retro, off-the-wall salvaged and repurposed items for your garden, home, or wearables from artisan consigners.