© 2023 Peoria Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
WCBU's ongoing series that helps Peoria's newest residents learn about the community as it exists, and empowers them to make it the home they want it to be.Welcome Home is made possible in part by The Mike Van Cleve Team with RE/MAX Traders Unlimited and Hoerr Nursery.

From newcomer to studio owner: How one transplant found her niche in Peoria

 The outside of Melissa Wood's studio Category-Art inside the Sunbeam building on Sheridan.
Melissa Wood
The outside of Melissa Wood's studio Category-Art inside the Sunbeam building on Sheridan Road.

A Peoria transplant is officially planting her roots in the River City with the opening of her new art studio, Category-Art.

Melissa Wood was initially interviewed by WCBU last October for the first story in our Welcome Home series. Originally from California, Wood said the cost of living in the Peoria area allowed her to return to her art full time, something she had wanted to do for about 10 years.

“I'd done it previously, and it was the most fruitful, inspirational time of my life to be able to just immerse myself in my work and in the arts. So, coming to Peoria has allowed me to do that again. It's very exciting for me,” Wood said.

The Peoria area has an expansive arts and culture scene, Which Wood quickly realized through her own research. She said the Peoria Riverfront Museum, ART Inc, and the Contemporary Art Center are just some of the organizations that inspired her to take the leap.

“Just was very impressed, you know, with the support for arts here. I had not really expected that necessarily,” said Wood. “And it made me feel at home, you know, to be with other artists.”

After discovering the Studios on Sheridan at the Sunbeam building, Wood knew almost instantly that she wanted her studio to exist in that space.

 Wood's artwork hangs inside her new studio Category-Art
Melissa Wood
Wood's artwork hangs inside her new studio Category-Art

“For me, it just felt magical,” Wood explained. “It's just like this little mysterious place with like a little passageway, you know, that you might see in Paris or something where you just, you go in and there's all kinds of different shops and different artists.”

After a conversation with the owner, Wood was quickly able to secure a studio space that she worked to redo entirely. She said it’s exactly what she was looking for.

“Something small, and yet big enough to have classes, you know, just two or three students. Big enough for me to work in and demonstrate and to have exhibits, but not too big (it) doesn't feel you know, overwhelming. So, it's a wonderful little space. And I just thought, you know, the timing is right. I'm just going to go ahead and do it,” she said.

The journey from newcomer to studio owner in Peoria was easier than expected, said Wood, who attributes this to taking roughly a year to get settled, observe and research the arts scene in Peoria without being directly involved.

“I just feel very welcomed here. I've met several artists…and just have met so many wonderful, welcoming people…people just have led me to where I needed to be,” she said.

Wood studied printmaking at Washington University in St. Louis before moving to San Francisco, where she lived for a decade. Throughout this time, she explored many different types of media in her art, including painting and assemblage work. After moving around California, she landed a residency at the Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco where she was tasked with her first public demonstration. Though Wood had exhibited art many times, making art in front of people was a new challenge.

“At the time, I had been reading a little bit in the news about the honeybee colony collapse, and they weren't calling it that at that point. They were just talking about the fact that honeybees were disappearing and becoming sick, the beekeepers were having lots of problems keeping their hives, and I really became very interested in that,” said Wood.

Thus, the idea for her public demonstration was born.

“It became this amazing immersion that I did for myself into honeybees and honey. And I made the whole residency that I did all about honeybees and honey in all kinds of different ways. And I created work using all kinds of different mediums that I had never used before in order to bring that vision to the public, and it was just a kick. It was so much fun,” Wood recalled.

It was at this point that Wood found herself open to exploring any and all types of materials artistically — and where the name for her new studio, Category-Art, originated from.

“People at that point begin to have a hard time knowing where to place my work. Is it this? Is it that? Is it landscape? Is it animals? What is it? Well, it's a lot of that and a little bit of each of that...And so it's hard to categorize my work, and so I just thought, you know, what? The category is just art. It's creativity. It's not categorized,” said Wood.

There are many plans in the works for Category-Art, including pop-up shops where other central Illinois artists can sell their work, and workshops and classes a bit later in the month.

“One of my workshops I'm excited about is called assemblage portrait. So, I'll use my experience and knowledge about assemblage work and help people bring their own items that maybe they've collected, or they've inherited, they found, and bring it into becoming a portrait in a box,” explained Wood.

The studio will operate as a non-judgmental, intimate space where people can learn, ask questions, see demonstrations and view work in progress, as well as exhibitions from Wood and eventually other local and visiting artists. In fact, she already has some other shows planned out.

 A sneak peak inside Category-Art
Melissa Wood
A sneak peak inside Category-Art

“I'll be bringing some Western artists in…contemporary West Coast, and then I also have a small collection of work that I've collected through the years of different West Coast artists, so I'll be showing that,” said Wood. “And then I'll have animals in architecture, and that's a big theme in my work. So, I have a lot of work that has photographs and allusions to architectural references and then animals that relate to that.”

Of particular interest to central Illinoisans, Wood plans to dedicate a whole show to prairie restoration.

“All the different prairie habitats that you have here are just fascinating to me, and so I'm really inspired by that...I want to have an exhibit that really encompasses my feelings, as well as other artists' feelings about the prairie, what that means, and then the hive installation. I want to bring my hive installation to that space at some point,” Wood said.

For now, she hopes the community joins her at Category-Art’s opening reception from 3 to 8 p.m. on Friday, March 3.

“Meet me, say hi. Introduce yourself. I want to meet you,” said Wood.

Category-Art is located in the Sunbeam building at 929 N Sheridan Road, Gallery 3a. For more information, visit the studio’s website.

We depend on your support to keep telling stories like this one. You – together with donors across the NPR Network – create a more informed public. Fact by fact, story by story. Please take a moment to donate now and fund the local news our community needs. Your support truly makes a difference.

Jody Holtz is WCBU's assistant program director, host of WCBU's newsmagazine All Things Peoria and producer of WCBU’s arts and culture podcast Out and About.