The Spotlight – A Place for Artists to Share Their Stories and Their Work

Duffy Armstrong Farrell thank you for sharing your story, beautiful artwork and for allowing us to publish all you have shared.

Our Spotlight this month turns to Duffy Armstrong a multi media artist from Illinois.

Duffy’s Story – In Her Own Words

Drawing Photography Printing Painting

I grew up in the Chicago area. Music was my first “love.” I played piano and studied classical music for five years through the Sherwood School of Music until I was 12 and discovered I was unable to perform in front of a large audience. My focus shifted to visual art. I received a BFA from Bradley University, focusing on drawing, printmaking and photography. Minor White, while a visiting artist at Bradley, critiqued my first two-person show. To this day his encouragement and inspiration influence me. Others who have significantly and personally guided my art are Kim Mosley, Dow Mitchell, Nita Sunderland, Art Sinsabaugh, Luther Smith and Francois Deschamps. It’s only now, in these later years, that I have returned to making art. My daughter is grown and successful. My professions – museum education, gallery directing, corporate sales, financial advisement, marketing, public relations and fundraising – no longer consume my time. My work? Query what you see. Think. Talk. Have fun. Learn. I like landscapes, the figure and abstract or intuitive images. That said, I make human marks that can be interpreted anyway you like.


Duffy Armstrong Farrell Art, LLC/ Member of CIAO/ Studio at Contemporary Art Center of Peoria/ Exhibit A Gallery, Peoria Heights, Illinois

Here’s “Self Portrait” that I did the other night for fun.  My paternal grandfather used to hold the record for the largest Northern Pike. He taught us to fish.

Self Portrait

Our Spotlight this month turns to Julie Towe a multi media artist from Iowa and my Auntie.

Julie Towe’s Story – In Her Words

Julie enjoys many genres of art including crochet, wood burning, flower arranging and painting. She and I speak often, critique each other’s work and share creative brainstorming. We are trilled to share her story and several of her works of art with all of you.

Creating and crafting is a way to relax and unwind for me. Sometimes I start with an idea and other times I let whatever I’m working on create itself as I go along. Of course, there’s a lot of undoing, rearranging and fluffing. But that’s what makes it fun.

I learned crochet from my sister. My mother, bless her, tried to teach me but I couldn’t learn sitting next to her. We were both right handers. My sister is a lefty and it was easier to sit across from her and follow along.

Once I had children of my own I picked it up again and made them hats for winter and “spirit wigs” for home games during school days.

Then my grand babies came along and I’ve been going strong with hats, mittens, dolls, blankets and scarves.

I’ve done several craft shows over the years, but I mostly make coffee sleeve cozies for a shop near me. They saw my daughter’s coffee cozy and it’s been a partnership ever since. Four years now! My daughters and their friends are some of my best customers.

My best friend and neighbor also create wreaths, wood signs and wood ornaments to sell. We have a blast laughing, talking and creating. We love re-purposing old used items into beautiful treasures.

Julie Towe

Me&T CraftNanas

Tom’s Story – Thank you to Thomas Pries for giving us consent to publish his story.

Our Spotlight this month turns to Thomas Pries. He is a jeweler and a painter.

Thomas Pries Story – In His Words

My first inspiration is Mother Nature & her constantly changing display of color, texture, & abstract composition. I once lived in an apartment that had a very large rectangular frame around the sky. This frame was created by two walls and an outdoor ceiling (so to speak) that covered the adjoining back stairwells of three apartments. When sitting under this high ceiling of sorts, the sky looked like a huge framed painting that was “ever changing, never repeating, yet always balanced, Abstract Painting.” It was fascinating to study God’s daily brush strokes that evolved & changed by the minute or even by the second. And as I said, each frame, although it was often moving/changing in the blink of the eye was just as balanced, beautiful, intriguing as the next whether it had one perfectly placed cloud that quietly moved into another perfect position, or a beyond dramatic array of clouds & light that again moved constantly into an endless number of beautiful compositions. It was this “Frame” that taught me, or rather helped me understand composition in a new or greater way. The frame did as it’s named suggested, it framed a small piece of the sky’s action & allowed me to watch what Mother Nature was illustrating in a more understandable confined space. I miss this “Frame.”

Thomas received his Bachelor’s Degree at Illinois State University, where he credits professors Naomi W. Towner, Ed Neimi, and Joel Myers (to name just a few) as great influences and inspirations in his lifetime pursuit of art development. In Chicago, the Robert Daskal Co. employed Thomas as Art Director/Production Manager. Robert Daskal sold hand painted silk ties and scarves nation wide to Norstroms, Marshall Fields, and countless boutiques.

Painting on silk is considered one of Thomas’s greatest joys, lessons, and expressions of design, line, and color. Co-designing a hand painted silk evening dress with world renowned photographer Victor Skrebneski is considered by Thomas as a highlight of his career. Thomas also now works with sterling silver, crystals, and semi-precious stones to create jewelry.

Please see The Spotlight Gallery for unique and original works created by Thomas Pries. If you are interested in purchasing a piece of Thomas Pries artwork he can be contacted on Facebook or by email: & his blog is

Our Spotlight this month turns to Heather Mileur. She is a multi-media artist.

Heather’s Story – In Her Words

I developed my love of fiber and crochet sitting at my Grandma’s feet. She would crochet granny squares to create afghans for her grandchildren and to me it was magical to watch her begin with this strand of yarn and create this beautiful block. She taught me the basics with a “G” hook and her scraps of yarn. I would sit on the floor in front of her and mimic her stitches. Over time i was able to crochet on my own, but I loved sitting with her and crocheting together.

My Grandma also taught me about beads and buttons. Weekends were spent at Grandma’s with my parents, my sister, Mom’s siblings and their children. It was magical to be there with everyone. Grandma had this butter bowl full of beads and buttons. The favorite of the beads sparkled with fine glitter and had island scenes. My cousins and I would sit on the floor and string the buttons and beads to make jewelry. The rule was we had to share and we could not make a permanent piece. We carefully created our pieces and when play was over we took apart our jewelry and placed everything back into the bowl. Each time we created we made something new and different.

My Aunt Julie taught me cross stitch and embroidery. I spent summer time with her and we created for hours a day. She also taught me to sew by hand. If we were not working on cross stitch or embroidery we crocheted. We still crochet together on weekends spent at her home. Aunt Julie and I also brainstorm on ideas and send pictures of current work for critiques. She and I have sent “girl weekends” creating and sharing time and taken vacation together.

Mom introduced me to calligraphy and gifted me my first quill, ink and parchment. I loved it so much I used all the parchment within two weeks time. The book she gave me showed how to hold the quill and to write several different types of font. Mom’s handwriting was beautiful and artistic. I enjoyed watching her write and listening to the stories she wrote as a hobby.

A few years ago I was given the opportunity to learn sculpting from Preston Jackson. He had offered a class in sculpting so I messaged and was accepted to come and sit in on the meeting before classes began. I met Nikole and Eric Cooney at this class. The couple had decided not to participate and I was invited to be in the 12 week course. We learned how to create a low to mid rise relief with water based clay, a four foot figure sculpture and a mask. It was challenging, interesting and a great learning experience. I still sculpt to this day, I enjoy the feel of the clay and fresh clay on a board with infinite possibilities.

Jewelry became an interest of mine around eight years ago. I wanted to use wire and glass beads. My hands worked the way they did years before when my cousins and I strung beads and buttons on thread. It was relaxing and enjoyable. The skill is self taught and I have purchased a few books to help this skill set grow. My favorite is still bracelets and I love crystals and beads with sparkle.

I also dabble in photography and truly enjoy taking road trips with my husband to take pictures. We enjoy stopping along the way when we see points of interest and capturing the moments on our cameras. Many times I create sculptures from photos I have taken.

My creations are generally based on memory or memories. For instance, I may create a bracelet with many strands of beads that remind me of creations made with my cousins. In clay I create moments with my children and grandchildren, other times things we have talked about I put into the clay. Fiber art is my own patterns, I do not always know how it will turn out I am only creating what I feel at the time. I guess you could say it is about my emotions at that time.

Our Spotlight this month turns to Kevin Mileur. He is a brilliant photographer that captures tremendous beauty through his lens.

Kevin’s Story- In His Words

I got my love of photography from my mother, Louise Mileur, who always had her camera to record our lives growing up and our adventures. During my time in the Marine Corps, I rekindled my love of photography by buying my 1st 35 mm camera. I learned thru trial an error and lots of money, buying film and having them processed to find out how to take pictures. I never had any formal training for photography. Once I arrived in Hawaii I bought my 1st Canon 35 mm film camera, and a couple of different lenses and filters. I spent the next few years learning more about how to take pictures that I found interesting. My taste in photography ranges a wide variety of interest, I take pictures of what catches my eye, it might be wildlife, nature, people or things.

My belief is that God creates the picture, I just take them. I do not do any Photoshop on my work, I don’t believe I can improve on what God has given the eyes to see.

After leaving the service, I entered the work force again at the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, then the Murphysboro Police Department where I did a lot of photography of crime and accident scenes. Not the prettiest scenes to see but learned to view where even the smallest details were important. After several years working in police work, I changed careers to work at United States Penitentiary Marion Illinois, where again I used my skills to photograph crimes scenes. After spending my adult life seeing the ugly side of life I knew I have to change. I bought my 1st digital Canon camera and set out to see something besides the ugly side of life. I retired in 2012 and set out to find beauty and peace. I found that exploring nature with my camera, showed the beauty around us everyday. I could take pictures of things we all take for granted. I took a picture at my brothers home and when my sister-in-law saw it she exclaimed how beautiful it was and asked where did I find such a picture. When i told her it was at the end of her driveway and she drove by it several times a day, I realized how much beauty we all miss in our everyday lives. I tried showing the world the beauty I find with my camera, wither it’s a bird on wing, a sunrise or sunset, a bug on the ground or a leaf on a tree, there is beauty to fill the soul. I enjoy going to events and photographing the people while they experience life. I am not much on posed pictures, but want to capture real life.

I love sharing my work to the world, hoping that others can find joy, hope, peace thru the pictures I take, to see the worlds true beauty that I see everyday now.

Kevin out on a photo shoot in Lacon, Illinois
December 2018 – Kevin posing with two of his beautiful pieces while on exhibit at Studios on Sheridan in Peoria, Illinois