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Artists of the Andersonville Galleria 

Independent and creative minds fill the streets of the Chicago neighborhood Andersonville. The area is casually known as the “shop local capital of Chicago.” The Andersonville Galleria, located at 5247 N. Clark St., showcases the area’s local artists in a three-story building filled top to bottom with handmade art. Vibrant paintings line the walls, unique sculptures crawl out of their frames and one-of-a-kind jewelry sparkles as if it were made of magic. Creativity decorates every inch of the Galleria.

Around 100 total artists sell their work at the store throughout the year, with three to four new artists rotating in and out each month. Throughout all of the featured artists, each has a unique story that shines through in their work. 

Paintings by Andrea Cook. | Photo by Maya Liquigan.

On the third floor of the Galleria, the vibrant colors and spontaneous paint strokes of Andrea Cook’s artwork attract the eyes of visitors. Cook is a current Chicago resident who creates women-empowering art. Her work has led her around the world and each city she visits inspires a new facet of her creativity. Originally from Indiana, Cook moved to Chicago to start her career in the communication field and later moved to New York where her artistic pursuits took off.

“I moved to New York City to find work in digital marketing,” Cook said. “I kind of had a creative burst of energy.”  

Cook focused her “creative burst of energy” on her hobby of doodling. The doodles turned into precise, detailed line art. While living in New York, she sold her first art piece. Cook said that after beginning to sell work she was inspired to find more ways to display her work to a bigger audience.

When Cook began to sell her artwork, she also adopted a street-art style. If someone saw the stickers she made on the street and later accused her of vandalism, she would say she only sold the stickers.

“When you do street art, it’s illegal unless it’s commissioned art, like a mural. When you put up graffiti, tags, stickers, any of that, that’s vandalism,” Cook said. “I was kind of obsessed with sneaking out. After I would go to bed, I’d lay in bed and then I would sneak out and put art up on the street.” 

Cook started selling more of her work and tagging the streets with her art. Her popularity grew and went viral on social media. She received invites to display exhibitions in galleries all over the world, which led her to places such as Miami, Montreal, Berlin and France. As she traveled, she adopted new styles and techniques into her art. She noticed how New York was far more fertile for street art, as compared to a midwestern city such as Chicago. 

After 10 years of being a professional artist around the world, Cook found herself back in Chicago and is currently studying to be a mental health professional. Upon visiting the Galleria, Cook said she fell in love with the environment of the gallery and created a bond with the owners. She admired the variety of art and the talent of the local artists. The owners later invited Cook to start showing her work and she fell in love with the place even more. 

“I’m really glad to be part of it. Every time I step into that store, I’m just kind of overwhelmed with the humor and the uniqueness of it all,” Cook said. 

Cook hopes to incorporate the use of art in her studies to help people with mental health struggles. She wants to help destigmatize mental health conditions and give hope and encouragement to the mental health community. The money she makes off of selling her work goes towards her career and also gets donated to help organizations that support mental health such as Sarah’s Circle, an organization to help homeless women, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“Shopping small” and supporting local artists can enable these creatives to further pursue their dreams. The passion that comes with creating art is evident in the Galleria’s wide offerings.Crochet dolls and animals made and sold by Molly LeCaptain represent her motivation for her art. Since being diagnosed with colon cancer in 2021, she said that she has only created things that aim to spark joy. 

Artwork by Molly LeCaptain. | Photo by Maya Liquigan.

LeCaptain is a singer at heart and performed in school concerts, musicals, show choir and church growing up. She studied musical theater at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay and moved to Chicago afterwards in search of professional theater opportunities. The COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on her singing career and when the pandemic lockdowns began to lift in the summer of 2021, LeCaptain went to the doctor for a urinary tract infection.

“Five days later, I believed it hadn’t gone away,” LeCaptain said. “So, I went to my gynecologist and she said ‘No, this is definitely a UTI.’ She prescribed me 10 more days of antibiotics and 10 days later it had gone away for the most part. But, then I felt a hardness in my abdomen which was not normal.” 

When visiting the emergency room for a scan, they found a 14-centimeter mass on her ovary. She was diagnosed with colon cancer which had spread to other parts of her body. She underwent surgery to remove the mass. LeCaptain moved back to her parent’s home in Green Bay, Wisc. to recover and start chemotherapy. Since then, she has moved back to Chicago and eased back into her prior “normal” life. She hangs out with friends, dates and lives with cancer.

In her recovery, LeCaptain vowed to only do or make things in life that will spark joy. Crocheting has helped her remain motivated and calm during her recovery. 

“Sometimes with crocheting it makes it easier for me to do because I’m just sitting here. Other times, mentally, I don’t want to do anything… It’s kind of give or take sometimes,” LeCaptain said. 

LeCaptain first taught herself how to crochet eight years ago and began selling her work to friends and family as a way to make some extra cash. She opened her Etsy shop in 2015 and witnessed her sales begin to take off, selling work that uses popular celebrities, TV characters and more as inspirations. She creates anything that comes into her mind and commissions personal pieces by request. 

The winter after LeCaptain was diagnosed, she was introduced to the Andersonville Galleria. Her first visit left her wanting more and soon the Galleria became her favorite place. 

Crochet projects made by Molly LeCaptain at the Andersonville Galleria. | Photo by Maya Liquigan.

“I ended up going all the time. Just go and waste time and look around. I never leave empty-handed because I just love everything so much,” LeCaptain said. 

A year later she reached out to the Galleria owners and was granted the opportunity to sell her work. LeCaptain has been successful there, selling her creations all of 2023. She also continues to sell pieces on her Etsy shop, but favors the work she does at the Galleria because of the creative freedom of being allowed to put up any work she wanted.

“Making something come to life that was once in my brain, and then seeing it in my hands is just the coolest thing,” LeCaptain said.  “There were so many projects where I was like ‘Wait, this is the weirdest shape ever. How did I do that? I don’t understand,’ but I love it.” 

LeCaptain and Cook’s stories are just a few of the many honored at the Galleria. The building’s staff consists of a close-knit group of six, including the owner’s daughter, Paloma More. 

More always greets customers with a welcoming smile and helps shoppers in any way possible. She started working at the Galleria after being intrigued by the new opportunity it provided for her parents, and was excited to be a part of the family business. After four years of working at the Galleria, More has found a new appreciation of the work they sell.

“My favorite part about working here is just all of the different things that you get to see,” More said. “ I am not personally an artist myself, but it gives me this whole newfound appreciation. I admire the art and it takes a lot of work.”

The first floor of the Andersonville Galleria. | Photo by Maya Liquigan.

The Galleria is a platform for all kinds of art. It is the home of many stories and inspirations, a place for creativity to grow. More believes it is important to support local artists because the money goes to real people, not big corporations. The heart behind the Andersonville Galleria comes from the direct support from local customers to local artists.

“The things that you get and buy every day can be made by real people. You don’t always have to support or resort to big stores,” More said.“When you’re looking for gifts or even the smaller practical things that you use every day, those can be made by real people. This is the place to start.” 

Those interested in visiting the Galleria or learning more can visit the store’s website or Instagram (@andersonvillegalleria). 

Editor’s note: Molly LeCaptain died prior to the publication of this story. ChicagoTalks sends its condolences to LeCaptain’s family.

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