As an artist, Monique Cagle has learned to work wherever she can find spare space in her Brown County, Indiana, home. Bits and pieces of art work and supplies lay scattered in her bedroom, kitchen, and living room.
“I’ve got work stuff spread out all over the house,” she says. “I really need a proper place to work.”
Looking out her bedroom window, Monique had a blast of inspiration. Why not turn the old metal grain bin in her back yard into an art studio?
“I’ve seen grain bins on line that had been converted into something else like B&Bs,” Monique says. “I thought why not turn mine into an art studio?”
Working with a limited budget, Monique considered ways the project could go from a dream to a reality. The answer, she thought, also might be right under her nose. Why not ask Brown County High School students studying building trades?
“I talked to Chris Todd, the building trades teacher at Brown County High School, and he said he’d take a look at the grain bin and let me know what he thought,” Monique says. “He came out, looked, and said they could do it. He said it is in remarkable shape for its age. It would keep down the costs significantly for the students to do it and it would be a great learning experience for them.”
For a ball park figure of about $15,000, the students will frame the bin, add drywall and insulation, electricity, windows, two doors, and a floor. The bin offers about 600 square feet of space with walls that are 12 feet tall and 28 feet across. It will be handicapped accessible.
“That’s $15,000 for the basics. And they can use some reclaimed and recycling materials which will help cut the costs and help the environment,” Monique says. “It will be an interesting project for the students because they’ve never done anything like this before. They will be building from the inside out and since the grain bin is round they will literally have to think outside the box.”
When it is done, Monique envisions the grain bin art studio as a place where other artists can gather and teach classes in workshops. She also sees it as a way for visitors to connect with her art and see where she is coming from in what she creates.
“I live on a beautiful small farm out in the county where I’ve got gardens and chickens, goats, dogs, and cats,” Monique said. “Those are the views that have inspired many of my paintings.”
Project on fast track for completion
The project is expected to get under way this spring and be completed by the time school is out. So confident is Monique with the way the project is moving along, that she has signed up for the annual Back Roads Studio Tour in Brown County in October. “This time I will not only be a guest artist but I also will be an artist with a studio,” she says. “I have a couple of guest artists lined up who will be here in the grain bin with me for the Back Roads Studio Tour.”
To help fund the grain bin renovation project, Monique turned to GoFundMe.com which had already raised $12,480 when this article was written. Different levels of donors get various “thank-you” items from Monique, such as a crocheted felted hedgehog for a $24 donation and a 7-by-5-inch print of Monique’s drawing of the grain silo studio as she envisions it to $25 donors, plus having donors’ names written on the studio wall.
Funds above the construction cost will go toward furnishing the studio with cabinets, work tables, chairs, better lighting, countertops, and basic art materials for students. Indoor plumbing for the studio is too expensive and not possible at this time but, perhaps, in the future.
“I have been very surprised and humbled by the support I’ve gotten,” Monique says. “I’ve been getting donations from other artists, from friends, and from complete strangers. It makes me so happy that they believe in my project and my art.”
Although she took a few detours along the way, Monique has always been interested in art. Born in Bloomington, Monique and her family moved to Yellowwood Road in Brown County when she was three months old. Her father, Bill Cagle, worked at Lilly Library where he later became the director. Her mother, Dorothy Stewart was an artist, president of the Bloomington Area Arts Council and president of the Brown County League of Women Voters.
“My mom always encouraged us to enjoy art,” Monique says. “There was always stuff laying around for art projects. We lived out in the country and didn’t have a whole lot of money. Didn’t have a TV. Didn’t have computers back then either. So when we got bored, it was up to us to find something to entertain ourselves.”
After graduating from Indiana University, Monique worked in retail until her mother died in 2000. Then Monique felt drawn to return to art.
“My mother always wanted me to be an artist. As a child, I fell in love with book illustration and with writing but I went off in other directions. After my mother died, I started getting back into my art because I knew that was what she wanted.”
Returning to family roots
Returning even closer to her family roots about 15 years ago, Monique and her husband Eric Shawver – a graphic artist at Cook Inc. – bought an old farm near Yellowwood State Forest. “It’s just a hop, a skip, and a jump from where I grew up,” Monique says.
Built in the 1890s, the farm has nine acres. Adding to the family menagerie are Winnie the goose, Rudi the shepherd mix dog, Molly the lab mix dog – all rescues from the animal shelter, plus some ducks and chickens, along with “barn” cats that seem to find their way to Monique and Eric’s home.
A major boost in knowing that her decision to return to art was the correct one came when Monique entered one of her paintings in the prestigious Hoosier Salon. “I won an award and took that as a sign that I should concentrate on art,” she says. “I think that returning to art was therapy for me, my way of dealing with the grief of losing my mother.”
Along with painting, Monique creates jewelry, fiber arts, photography, painted glassware, bookmarks, and other items. A devoted animal lover, she also accepts commissions for animal portraits with a portion of those sales donated to the Brown County Humane Society. As a salute to her feline friends, Monique named her business Sleepy Cat Studio.
“When the grain bin is done, I will be so glad to have a real studio,” she says. “It is just beautiful out here in the country and it will be wonderful to walk out the door of my house every day and go to work … I think the grain bin studio is going to be a great addition to the Brown County arts community.”