Located at the end of a strip mall that faces Route 120 in Grayslake is a hidden gem that you may have never seen before. It is the Neil Estrick Gallery.
This is Neil Estrick's passion, teaching people how to make pots and cups, plates and bowls. He shows students how to work with the clay, transforming it from a nondescript gray lump into a beautiful, handmade item. (See video.)
"This is what I love doing," Estrick said. He said there were about 150 pieces of pottery in his electric kiln, ready to be glazed at 2,250 degrees.
Some of his students now sell their pottery at art shows. Some are making a living at it. Estrick also works with scout troop workshops, birthday parties for kids, summer camp workshops and parties for adults.
In general, adult classes run for eight weeks and cost about $200, plus $55 for the tools and the clay. This includes the open studio time, glazing and firing.
One of his students, Jill Leipprandt of Grayslake, has made pottery for years at the Neil Estrick Gallery. "I stumbled across this place and it is the best thing that ever happened to me in Grayslake," she said. "Neil is a fabulous teacher, possibly one of the only in Illinois who allows his students to have open studio time."
She said that makes the gallery unique.
"You are not going to find that anywhere else," added Leipprandt. "There is also this incredible energy here."
Michelle Smith of Gurnee said she had been coming to the gallery for more than a year.
"I always liked to do crafts," Smith said. "This is something totally different. You have to get the feel for it. Neil is very talented. It's nice that we can come into his studio and work on whatever we want."
Without this gallery, people who wanted to learn how to make pottery had two options, Estrick said: a beginning-level class through a park district or an intensive class at the college level. He offers classes right in the middle, tailored to the needs and interests of the individual students.
"Here, it is a nice middle ground," said Estrick, who is qualified to teach at the college level but prefers to work with his diverse students.
"The class size is small enough where I can keep track of everyone's progress on their own projects," he said. "I work with students in levels from beginning to advanced."
The gallery originally was located for four years on Whitney Street in downtown Grayslake, before Estrick moved into a smaller 1,650-square-foot studio in the strip mall across from Jewel on Route 120.
"This becomes a gathering spot," said Leipprandt, as she put the finishing touches on a teapot. "Class members come here to work on our projects and to catch up with each other. It's is like a coffee shop, without the coffee!"