Everything is 'one of a kind'


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By Michelle Dybal

A warm wool car coat with cozy and flexible knit sleeves and a Chicago skyline etch-a-sketch-style silhouette on an art glass platter are a couple of the more than 600 offerings at the One of a Kind Show and Sale at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, Dec. 1 through 4. What's special about these is they're created right here in Oak Park.

Coat Check Chicago was launched in September by Liz Williams, who designs and creates prototypes of dress coats out of the back of her Oak Park home. A few years ago, when Williams wore her handmade, camel men's wear-style coat when she went out to eat, the coat check attendant said she had been looking for something just like it. When Williams received the coat after dinner, she later found a note in the pocket that read, "interested buyer," which encouraged her to move forward on starting her own business. Williams, who also teaches Fashion Design at Columbia College, says she employs the same advice she tells her students, "Strive to make pieces different, not part of the sea of sameness." She spent two years creating her line and another year working on the launch, which includes having her coats made ethically just 6 miles away in Chicago, and selling them at reasonable, not high-end designer, prices.

Williams will be showing her winter wear in the Emerging Markets section of the One of a Kind Show, which is an opportunity she is excited about because it's in an area where attendees check out what's new. Coat Check designs are also sold online, and at five boutiques in the Chicago area. She hopes to have her coats featured locally at some point.

Laurie Freivogel has been making screen-printed fused glass in her Oak Park basement studio, Kiku Handmade, for 12 years. Freivogel finds the benefits of living and working in Oak Park to be twofold. "It's an amazing community," she said. "You get an artists' vibe here that you don't feel in other communities. I have friends who are artists. And people who live here understand the need to buy local and handmade to keep money in the community." Her friends who are artists not only exchange ideas but participate in art shows together.

Freivogel is showing at the One of a Kind Show for her sixth year. She is inspired by patterns, Japanese and Scandinavian design, and pop culture. Besides exhibiting at the One of a Kind Show, her work is sold all over the U.S., including the Smithsonian Museum Store in Washington D.C., the Chicago History Museum, several neighborhood shops around Chicago, and she is currently busy preparing orders for the holiday season.

Three other local artists and designers are exhibiting at the show. Nancy Gardner Ceramics features whimsical floral motifs on hand-shaped terra cotta pitchers, vases, cups, and other household items. Gardner works from her expanded garage in Oak Park alongside husband Burt Isenstein, who is a professor at the School of the Art Institute. Gardner has been a potter for 41 years and is attending the One of a Kind Show for the fourth time. She will also be at the Chicago Art Girls Show the following weekend with her neighbor, Laurie Freivogel, and mainly distributes her work through art shows. 

Carol Ryan, an acrylic artist who lives in Oak Park, paints abstract canvases, evoking emotion through color and shape. She has shown her work at the One of a Kind Show for more than 10 years. Ryan also sells her art through galleries in the Chicago area and Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and exhibits at art fairs. 

Takara Gudell, of Takara, located on Harrison Street in Oak Park, will be showing her fashion designs at the show. She has been a designer for 40 years and has had a presence in Oak Park through her boutiques for more than a decade.

At the Gourmet section of One of a Kind, River Forester Elizabeth Madden's Rare Bird Preserves will offer seasonal fruit preserves with unique combinations as well as curds.

For more information on the One of a Kind Show and Sale go to oneofakindshowchicago.com

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