Billie Brannon stands next to a metal man that is among hundreds of unique items in the Southern Illinois Artisans Shop. It is one of three such centers operated by the state of Illinois that features works by craftspeople across the state.
Billie Brannon stands next to a metal man that is among hundreds of unique items in the Southern Illinois Artisans Shop. It is one of three such centers operated by the state of Illinois that features works by craftspeople across the state.
WHITTINGTON, Ill. — In the modern world of mass-produced goods sold in huge chain stores, craftsmen still toil away in home workshops, creating unique works of art. Much of that output may be found — and purchased — at state-operated shops across Illinois.

The Southern Illinois Artisans Shop here is one of three in the state — the others are in Chicago and Springfield — that display the best of locally made treasures.

“We are all about supporting the artists and having their work on display, but also educating the people on the history of the craft that I don’t believe everyone in Illinois knows exists,” said Billie Brannan, assistant manager. “A lot of people have forgotten that people make things by hand. Craft is alive and well in today’s world.”

Indeed, the southern Illinois shop is a browser’s delight. More than 700 crafters are represented in the attractive building, located at Rend Lake, a popular recreation destination.

While art may mean different things to different people, there is certainly something for everybody here. The variety of goods is eye-opening, from homemade knives to miniature trains made entirely of wood.

“We have a lot of functional items that would be considered fine craft,” Brannan said. “We also have a lot of paintings, glasswork and other things. Before I worked here, I didn’t realize that the fiber arts were as viable as they are. People come in and buy things that are handmade to wear in their everyday life.”

Items with practical uses represent the majority of sales at the Whittington location.

“Ceramics are our top sellers,” Brannan said. “People like to have something functional. The price ranges are right for people to give as gifts. Jewelry is right up there, too. Every piece of jewelry is unique. That says a lot to people purchasing jewelry. They want something handmade, where you can see the hammer marks. The third would be a tie between glass and wood. We have a lot of wood items — bowls and such.”

While the average sale price of an item is under $30, some go for much more. Several products have sold for tens of thousands of dollars.

All products are under consignment by the artisans, with a 50-50 split on sales. And unlike many flea markets or antique shops, the artisan shops have strict acceptance guidelines. Juries comprised of other artisans and experts in art are held statewide twice a year.

Those submitting work must live in Illinois. They submit eight slides of their products for a specific category.

“They select only about a third of the people (submitting their work),” Brannan said. “They’re very strict. Craftsmanship is really important. We support them by putting their work out not only in our shop, but in Chicago and Springfield, so we want to keep the quality up.”

The three shops are operated by the Illinois State Museum Society, under the umbrella of the Illinois State Museum. That, in turn, is a part of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Like the state fairs at Springfield and Du Quoin, the artisan program is more about providing a service than making money.

“The shop has to be self-sufficient,” Brannan said. “We are completely non-profit. It’s difficult to break even, but that is the goal.”