By Carol Flynn
Daily Southtown | Jan 04, 2021 at 3:23 PM
Didier Nolet, a painter who lives in Evergreen Park, needed to find a new studio last year. The storefront he leased on Archer Avenue was no longer working for him. The rent kept increasing, and his van was badly damaged while parked on the busy and noisy street out front.
An artist’s studio is a sacred space. To one, it’s “a place of creative incubation.” Another described his as “a space for the spirit to breathe.” Terms like “sanctuary” and “refuge” are often used. A studio is not only a workspace, but a source of inspiration.
Relocating a studio can be a daunting task for an artist, from finding a place that feels right to packing and moving supplies and artwork.
Nolet heard about art lofts being built in the historic Pullman community on the Far South Side. He checked it out and liked what he saw, and eventually moved into the new space last February.
Pullman Artspace Lofts, at 11137-49 South Langley Ave., is described as a mixed-use affordable live/workspace complex for artists and their families. The development consists of a newly built apartment building flanked on either end by smaller, free-standing historic buildings, for a total of thirty-eight units. Gallery space for exhibits and a communal lounge for gatherings are included on the first floor.
The Pullman area is one of Chicago’s most historic locations, established as a company town in the 1880s by George Pullman for the employees of his Pullman Car Company, which manufactured railroad cars including his famous passenger sleeping cars.
Sections of the area have been designated historic preservation sites by federal, state, and local authorities. Included are the Pullman National Monument, a part of the National Park System; and the Pullman State Historic Site, owned by Illinois. The Pullman Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is also a Chicago Landmark District.
The site selected for the lofts originally had a large, central apartment building in between the two smaller buildings, but that was torn down in the 1930s, leaving a vacant lot for over seventy years. Restoration of the two end units was a major part of the project.
According to Ann Marie Alspaugh, a Pullman resident for 10 years and an architect with a background in preservation and adaptive reuse of historic properties, the lofts grew from the vision of PullmanArts, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization that promotes the Pullman community as an arts hub.
“The goal was to establish a community where artists could live and work in a supportive, creative environment, in context with Pullman’s history,” Alspaugh said.
PullmanArts partnered with Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, a nonprofit corporation that revitalizes neighborhoods throughout Chicago, and Artspace Projects, Inc., a nonprofit organization that develops, owns and operates affordable spaces for artists and creative businesses throughout the U.S., including several other properties in the Chicago area.
Artspace is the controlling owner of Pullman Artspace Lofts. The architectural firm VOA Associates Incorporated designed the project, which cost $15 million. Funding came through tax credit and other government programs, private philanthropy, and a conventional mortgage.
Alspaugh was president of PullmanArts at the time of the construction, and oversaw the vision becoming a reality.
“The Pullman Artspace Lofts project was not only the opportunity to restore two vacant historic structures and bring a long vacant lot back to life, but also the chance to propel historic Pullman’s legacy of artistry into the future by bringing new affordable artist live/work apartments and a gallery space into our community,” Alspaugh said.
Almost a year after moving into the new studio, artist Nolet is content with his decision.
“I think this place is right for me. You can always use a bigger space. But the price is right, and I love the neighborhood, right in the heart of the Pullman Historic District,” he said.
A diverse population of artists live in the lofts. Since moving in, Nolet, 67, has befriended several other painters, a photographer and a performance artist/musician.
“It’s a nice community of artists. Some people are very friendly and sociable. Everyone has been supportive and kind,” Nolet said.
Born in Paris, France, Nolet brings an interesting background to the mix. He holds the French equivalent of a U.S. master’s degree in fine arts with honors from the prestigious Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, whose graduates include Oscar-Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Nolet has an extensive resume of exhibiting and teaching, and his work is in more than 40 collections.
Nolet moved to Chicago in 1979 to be with his future wife, Nona Rubinelli, from Beverly. They married in 1980, and Nolet became an American citizen.
Known primarily for his landscapes and nature paintings, Nolet works in soft and oil pastels, and oil and acrylic paints. He converted the second bedroom into a storage space for his paintings, some of which are large canvases.
Nolet and Alspaugh noted that the lofts have been affected by the pandemic. The gallery and lounge areas on the first floor remain locked but they are hopeful that there will be activities in 2021.
Pullman Artspace Lofts is a case study in community involvement, investment, and preservation. The Commission on Chicago Landmarks recently awarded the development team a “Preservation Excellence Award” for its work to preserve Chicago’s architectural and cultural heritage.
More important to artists like Nolet, they also established a safe haven for creativity.
Original article: chicagotribune.com