“Ended up being a good place”

There were skeptics when the Mainstreet Art Center opened in downtown Lake Zurich 28 years ago.

“I still remember this man coming through the back door and saying, ‘What’s going on here?'” recalls owner Frankie Johnson. After learning that it would be an art school, the man asked, “Do you think people will come?”

Indeed they have. Three hundred students of varying skill levels are now enrolled in a variety of weekly classes. Some have been coming for decades.

“It ended up being a good place,” Johnson said. “We liked being on a small main street.”

So much so that the next chapter unfolds alongside with the opening of the Mainstreet Gallery, featuring artwork by over 40 artists.

The grand opening is from 4-8 p.m. on Friday, April 29 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony the following day. With the new venture comes a fortuitous twist, as the gallery is located at 18 E. Main St., where the art center opened and operated for 20 years.

Eight years ago, the company moved next door to a larger space at 20 E. Main St., to add a third classroom. The same owner owns both buildings. When the lease was not going to be renewed in his original home, the landlord contacted Johnson and her husband, Jay, a retired structural engineer.

“It wasn’t on my radar because I was so stretched out,” Johnson said. By then, her daughter-in-law Kari Johnson had been hired as business manager.


“This space became available and we felt that if we ever had to have a gallery, it couldn’t be more convenient,” she said.

Johnson has painted since she was a girl but did not attend college or have an art degree. She honed and expanded her skills while working at private art schools in Wauconda and Long Grove before striking out on her own.

“That’s where I was educated,” Johnson said. “I learned from the best people…out there in the art world.”

The Mainstreet Art Center offers courses in the basics of drawing and painting, providing a classic foundation in artistic principles to build on, according to Kari Johnson.

Oil is Frankie Johnson’s favorite medium, but she also works in watercolor and pastels. Johnson is a member of the Oil Painters of America, the American Impressionist Society, and the Portrait Society of America.

She now teaches seven classes a week, chooses artists for workshops and will be the gallery’s curator. Mainstreet Art Center has a faculty of seven professional artists who compete nationally in shows and events.

A gallery seemed like a natural extension of the school, according to Jay Johnson.

“She has a lot of connections,” he said of Frankie. “It was not difficult to find artists.”

The gallery will exhibit and sell traditional and contemporary works of art, including paintings, clay, glass, wood, fiber, jewelry and mixed media. Several nationally recognized artists will be featured along with local artists and faculty members.

The two buildings occupied by the art school and the gallery were built in the 1890s. Village officials have worked for years to revitalize the town center. A number of new offers have opened or are pending.

“We are optimistic,” Jay Johnson said. “It’s been a long time coming.”