The Springfield Art Association is at the heart of Springfield’s thriving arts and culture scene. Boasting two art galleries, an art school, a Lincoln-era historic house museum and a calendar packed with family-friendly events, there is always something to see or do at the SAA.
For history lovers, the Art Association offers the opportunity to tour historic Edwards Place. This antebellum mansion was the Art Association’s headquarters in the early 20th century and has recently undergone a full-scale interior restoration to its 1850s appearance.
Today, visitors to Edwards Place will see the house as it appeared when it was owned by Benjamin S. Edwards and his family. Benjamin was the youngest son of Illinois territorial and third governor, Ninian Edwards. His brother, Ninian W. Edwards, was married to Elizabeth Todd, Mary Lincoln’s oldest sister, making the Edwards family relatives of Abraham Lincoln through marriage. The Lincolns were frequently guests at the Edwards’ elaborate dinners, parties and picnics.
No Lincoln buff should leave Springfield without seeing the “courting couch” or “wedding piano,” both now displayed in the Edwards Place front parlor. Both originally belonged to Mary Lincoln’s sister Elizabeth, with whom Mary lived before her marriage. Lincoln and Mary would sit together on the sofa while they were courting and listen to Elizabeth play the piano. In 1842, both the sofa and piano were silent witnesses to the Lincolns’ wedding ceremony, which took place in Elizabeth’s parlor.
You won’t find velvet ropes or designated pathways in Edwards Place. Rather, you are invited in without boundaries to fully explore the house’s history and secrets: fragments of original wallpaper and plaster left in place and on display, original family furnishings and archaeological artifacts recovered on site. There are also regular special events designed to bring the past to life, such as visits from Abraham Lincoln, tea parties, piano concerts, plays and even murder mysteries.
For the art aficionado, the Springfield Art Association offers two galleries that are open to the public free of charge. The M.G. Nelson Family Gallery keeps its finger on the pulse of contemporary art by hosting monthly exhibits featuring local, regional and international artists. Highlights in 2019 include What Art Feels Like, an exhibition designed for the visually impaired, yet intended for all to experience through touch, rather than sight, a national juried exhibition of work by women inspired by issues of equity and social justice and the citywide amateur art competition On My Own Time.
In the mood to see or buy what central Illinois’ top artistic talent has created? Head downtown to the Art Association’s Collective at the Hoogland Center for the Arts. The Collective showcases the work of more than 80 member artists in all media, including painting, photography, ceramics and jewelry. It’s the perfect place to go for a one-of-a-kind gift.
If you are looking for a unique experience, the SAA offers “One Nighters,” these one night workshops are a chance to make something in one night in the new ceramics, metals or glass studios on the SAA campus.
The Springfield Art Association’s main campus and historic Edwards Place are located at 700 N. Fourth Street. Parking is free in the adjacent lot or on the street.
The M.G. Nelson Family Gallery is open Mondays-Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and admission is free.
Historic Edwards Place offers tours March through December on Tuesdays-Fridays at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. and Saturdays at 12, 1 and 2 p.m.. Tours are $5 per person; children 10 and under are free. Tours by appointment in January and February.
The SAA Collective is located in the H.D. Smith Gallery at the Hoogland Center for the Arts at 420 S. Sixth Street. It is open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursdays-Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Check www.springfieldart.org and www.edwardsplace.org for more information about the Springfield Art Association, Edwards Place and all the events they offer.