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Thursday, Aug. 19, 2004 03:54 pm

He got his start with living-room art

Marc Zoschke of Art Concepts
Photo by Job Conger

One of the longest-lasting galleries in Springfield evolved not from dreams of framed immortality but from the desire to put down roots in a relatively small Illinois community. Art Concepts is a greater leap from owner Marc Zoschke's past than the distance down Interstate 55 from Chicago suggests.

After graduating from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale with a degree in product design, Zoschke worked in Chicago for Academy Arts, a company that sells paintings to the furniture industry -- art that's mounted behind sofas and chairs and intended to help sell furniture. "I designed framed art for these stores," he says.

His father was a civilian employee of the military, so Zoschke saw a lot of the world before he finished high school, never putting down roots anywhere. Soon after arriving in the Windy City, he decided it was time, and he started looking for a place to launch a business of his own. The move coincided with a workforce reduction by his employer that led to his purchase of a large amount of art-framing and other production materials from Academy Arts.

Art Concepts opened at Springfield's Fair Hills Mall in 1986 and moved to its current location in the Town & Country Shopping Center in 1989.

"There's nothing wrong with Chicago, but my wife, a nurse, did not want to raise a family there. Her family and mine were living in Litchfield. She took care of the family, and I commuted to the gallery." After her death, about eight years ago, Zoschke moved to Springfield.

"The frame shop is the main business," he says. "The glassware and other art objects have been popular, too. The framed art was always slow, and I wanted to increase that volume." In the front of the shop are products he buys from art companies and individual artists. "Two Art Concepts employees, [watercolor and mixed-media artist] Tracy Tester and [potter] Chery Miller factor prominently here."

The photography is new. "I didn't start doing it until about two years ago," Zoschke says. "Since I've always loved photography, I framed some of mine and started off with one small wall here. It has sold well since then, and now everything in the back is all mine." He works exclusively in large-format negative-type cameras, nothing 35mm or digital. Most of his subjects are nature and landscapes.

Zoschke says a great deal of his time in the summer is spent on the road, selling his matted photographs at art shows all over the Midwest.

Early experience producing art for living rooms has helped his evolution as an artist.

"Capturing the image is relatively easy; composition is the key. And there is a difference between residential art and commercial art," he says. "My art is intended to be soft and relaxing. For the typical customer, it must be instantly recognizable as conveying that kind of mood."

Today, besides traveling to sell his art, Zoschke travels to create it. He explains that he is packing for a major nature-photography shoot. His destination? Hawaii.

Art Concepts is located 2411 S. MacArthur Blvd., 217-793-1600.

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