Tia Jones is back ... no strings attached

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Tia Jones needed a break. The first artist to have a gallery on Harrison Street in the early 1980s, Jones says she took the last four years to "regroup" and find her creative spark again.

Mission accomplished. No lie. Every room in Jones' Oak Park coach house is filled with her work, from the painted glass in the front door to the stick sculpture hanging on the bathroom window. The walls are covered with an eclectic mix of her sculpture and paintings. No simple canvas here?#34;Jones' artwork includes all kinds of objects and materials, and no two are alike.

"Every room has a piece of me in it," she says. Her work goes under the heading, "Whatever Comes to Mind Studios."

Jones has also revamped and revived her puppet theater, a project she started years ago with a partner. This time it's definitely a one-woman show, with the neon-bright puppets created and operated by Jones, in a set built by Jones, with voices, sound effects and story supplied by Jones.

The puppets present the African folktale, Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears. Jones will perform it on Jan. 17 for the Oak Park Public Library's School's Out for Martin Luther King Day programming.

Not surprisingly, the puppets are all different. Some are hand puppets, built out of cloth and stuffed with pillow material, others are made from paper-mache. Some operate with rods. The two "narrators" are clay marionettes capable of a range of complex motions.

Jones built the set from two exercise bike boxes she cajoled out of Sears, then cut out and painted. She uses a variety of tricks to operate the whole thing sight unseen from behind.

The story, familiar from the award-winning book by Verna Aardema, follows what happens when a mosquito tells a foolish tall tale to an iguana, setting in motion a string of unfortunate events. "I've modernized it, giving the characters character," says Jones.

The elephant now sounds "New York tough." The iguana ignores the mosquito not by sticking sticks in his ears?#34;the original version?#34;but by putting his headphones on and dancing down the road.

"The kids love that," notes Jones. "And I love to mesmerize the kids."

She also teaches them. Jones has a Saturday morning art class for kids 9 and up (call 383-5402 for information), and has taught mask-making and puppet-making in a number of places, including District 97 schools.

Although the kid stuff is fun, Jones admits that she has more serious art on her mind. Real studio space?#34;something she hasn't had for the past three years?#34;will be necessary soon, since "I need to paint bigger, and I need to be able to be messy," she says. No gallery, though.

"When you have your own gallery, you're not forced to get your stuff out into other galleries. Oak Park's not really going to get you to expand. You need Chicago and New York," she explains.

One of Jones' paintings, "Passing," was purchased by the Oak Park library for its permanent collection. See it on level three, in group study room B.

Jones' future could include anything from puppet theater for adults, where she feels she could "really express myself as an artist," to a three-month fellowship in Rome, one of a number of grants she's just now applying for.

"I'm back," she says.

Jones will present Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears on Monday, Jan. 17 at 10:30 a.m. at the main library, 834 Lake St. It's free, but tickets are required. Call 452-3420 or pick up tickets at Children's Services on the library's first level.


?#34;Laura Stuart

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