House of Tales

House of Tales

Lori Baum and Aaron Henkelman Addiction Sign

Lori Baum and Aaron Henkelman hang out beneath one of their Illinois home’s many distinctive features: a sign from an LA treatment center that they snagged at an antiques store in Santa Fe.

Joel DeGrand

For Aaron Henkelman and Lori Baum, a collection isn’t complete without the stories and memories that go along with it.

The midcentury home Aaron Henkelman and Lori Baum lovingly refer to as the “orange spaceship” of their Bloomington, Illinois, neighborhood definitely stands out on the block. Not least because the property – with its pink merry-go-round pony, antique crosses, and vintage sign proclaiming “addiction” on the side of the house – looks right onto the lawn of the historic home of David Davis, friend to Abraham Lincoln. 

Henkelman and Baum have lived here for four years, in that time further expanding their diverse collection of all things interesting. By day, he’s a title officer and she’s an escrow officer, but the art-loving couple has many missions in life, some of which include inspiring love of art in Lori’s grandkids, supporting the arts, and meeting the makers who bring so much joy to their home. 

You have an incredible home and art collection. How do you pick pieces?
Henkelman: We got hooked at the Sugar Creek Arts Festival in about 2003, where we bought three pieces, and after feeling guilty at not buying more, went back for the fourth. We haven’t stopped looking or collecting since.
Baum: Most often, we will walk to the same piece immediately; and if we don’t, we can usually come to an agreement pretty quickly. We incorporate art finds into almost all of our travel now. We just have so much fun doing it. 

It definitely shows. I see a theme of dolls – who is responsible for that?
Baum: We both love figures, but Aaron really loves dolls and doll heads. I even bought him an Amy Arnold doll that gives birth. 
Henkelman: I definitely appreciate found art, doll heads included. I found one literally in the garbage at a garage sale. It’s just fun to have interesting things around – if it’s a little weird or strange, all the better. 

You collect far afield, but also certain artists in depth. Any particular artists you have more than one piece from?
Baum: We actually have 22 pieces from Nicolas Africano. We’re kind of obsessed. And it turns out he lives here [in Normal, Illinois], although he’s known internationally. We also have quite a few from John Moran, who is one of the only artists who actually sculpts the glass while it’s hot.
Henkelman: One of our favorites is Comfy, a wire and glass piece that sits in our living room. He also has a knack for bringing tattoos to life. John is a great guy, and we’ve actually had him over for dinner. 

You mentioned that you enjoy meeting the artists whose work you collect.
Henkelman: It’s all about building relationships. If I find an artist I like, I try to follow them on Twitter, and maybe email them or contact the gallery.
Baum: We have such great stories and memories from our meetings with artists. 

What’s one of the most memorable stories?
Henkelman: Resurrection, by Robert Winslow, is a pretty great story. Winslow had a painting where a woman he had been dating looked, well, dead in it. This painting – Resurrection – was the answer to the previous one; he brought her back to life.Judith Ferrara, the owner of the Blue Gallery in Three Oaks, Michigan, where we purchased the piece, called and said the artist was in town. We got to talking to him, when a lady comes walking down the stairs and says, “Hello, Robert.” After she walked away, Winslow said, “Recognize her?” She was the subject of the painting! 

What are you on the lookout for right now?
Baum: We’re always on the lookout for light fixtures – a lamp that’s really more than just a lamp.
Henkelman: Grandkids and art — that’s what we spend our money on. We’ve started little collections for each of the three grandkids. We buy art not because it will be worth more later, but because we love it; we hope to instill that in them. 

I understand you’re also involved in bringing art to budding artists in the area?
Henkelman: Well, I’m very involved with the McLean County Arts Center. They have the Rover Mobile Arts Program, which is reaching out into rural communities and providing vital creative outlets for children and adults. MCAC sponsors artists to go and teach in the largest county, by land area, in the state of Illinois. 

It’s a wonderful program with a lot of interest. And kids are so uninhibited with their art; they just create. 

Do you ever worry about running out of space for your collection?
Baum: [Laughs.] We actually can’t park in our garage right now, we have so much artwork. We also have a place in Michigan and keep taking pieces to our office. Putting things up is half the fun for us. We have been in this house the longest of any; it’s just so perfect – I think we’ll find the space. 

Your home does seem ideal for your collection. Does it ever feel unusual to have such a modern collection with a view of the David Davis house, which is such a stately Victorian mansion?
Baum: The juxtaposition is one of the best things of this house – you can see the top of the mansion through the windows. Depending on the time of day, this place changes so much. 

If you were to give advice to someone hoping to build relationships with artists and makers, what would you tell them?
Henkelman: Read, research, ask questions – but mostly, just be nice and talk. And remember, there’s cool stuff everywhere. 

Caitlin McCoy is a writer in central Illinois.