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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Lesbian couple find second lives as artists, shop owners
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2016-08-03

This article shared 958 times since Wed Aug 3, 2016
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In 2006, Chicago couple Shirley Guay and Rosalie "Rosie" Koldan embarked on a new adventure as shop owners in Amboy, Illinois—100 miles west of Chicago. Their shop—Amboy Arts & Antiques—sells a hodge-podge of antiques, collectibles and works of art including Guay and Koldan's pieces.

Ahead of their grand opening on Memorial Day weekend in May 2007, they did a soft opening in Nov. 2006 for the town's Christmas walk to take advantage of holiday sales and give people a taste of their store's wares.

"We'd been coming out here to Woodhaven Lake campsite," said Guay. "Rosie was working for the Cook County Sheriff's department at the time. When Sept. 11th happened, her job became extremely stressful. I was making plans to retire from teaching right around that same time, so we decided to look for a building near the campsite where we could open up a business and live above the store, which is what we did. From 2001 to 2006, we rehabbed the entire building and I shopped for stuff for our new store at estate sales and auctions. We filled up our suburban Chicago basement and in 2006 we moved everything out here."

"When we were looking for a storefront, we would've preferred a larger town because we thought we'd get more business," said Koldan. "We scouted locations in the area, including Mendota, which we thought would get commuters because the town has an Amtrak station; however, the businesses there were faltering. We went to a couple of other towns in the area and found the same thing. When this building opened up, we thought, 'Well, why not Amboy?' and the rest is history."

Guay and Koldan's journey as a couple and business co-owners began 23 years ago at a gathering at Guay's house in Chicago. Koldan was on the Paris Dance Club softball team—the Paris Animals—at the time. Her team was invited to Guay's house for a dinner party by one of Guay's tenants in the apartment building she owned.

"They were a rough group and very hungry from playing softball and ate everything in sight," said Guay. "After it was over, Rosie was the only one from the team that came up to me and thanked me for having them there. Her kindness and politeness stood out to me."

They've been together for 22 years. When Cook County approved domestic partnerships for same-sex couples, they were one of the couples who took advantage of that option.

"We've talked about having a wedding ceremony mostly when we're having cocktails but then the next day we say, well maybe not," said Koldan. "What we're thinking is having a wedding ceremony for our 25th anniversary."

Prior to moving to Amboy, they lived together for 11 years in Chicago and Forest Park, Illinois.

Guay was born in 1943 and grew up on the West Side of Chicago before moving to Lombard, Illinois as a teenager. She moved back to Chicago after her high school graduation and stayed for seven years.

"I went to Harold Washington College for a year and a half, taking general-education courses, but I didn't graduate," said Guay. "I left college to travel the country and lived in Maine and Independence, California for three years. I was a beatnik, hippie and got restless so that's why I moved away."

When Guay returned in 1971, she went back to Harold Washington College to take art classes—50 in total.

"My painting teacher, Annalee Hultgren, was my mentor and the reason why I took so many art classes," said Guay. "I was teaching arts and crafts to kids and I felt like a fraud because if I was going to have the word art associated with what I did for a living, I needed to really know something about it. I was determined to learn the techniques behind art and that's why I took those art courses and studied with Annalee."

Other than Hultgren, Guay counts her mom as her biggest influence when it comes to art and more specifically painting, which she's loved for as long as she can remember. In order to learn more about art, Guay took lecture classes when she was 11-years-old at the Art Institute.

Guay taught children's art for over 30 years, spending the majority of those years at North Avenue Day Nursery in Chicago, where she also served as the school's director. She retired in 2006 when they moved to Amboy.

Currently, Guay's art is on display at Art on Armitage in Chicago and she'll have a show at Woodlawn Arts Academy Nov. 2016 to Feb. 2017. Her work has also been exhibited at a variety of other locations since 2001.

Guay has won more than 20 awards since 2007—most recently the Jean Sieben Memorial Award for her painting "Universal Dance" at the Geneseo Art League's 37th annual Maple City Fine Arts Exhibit.

"It was a real pleasure to get the award because it turned out the table they sat us at included the three other awardees and the people who sponsored my award, including state Senator Todd Sieben," said Guay. "We had no idea they sat all of us together. It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed talking to them about my artwork."

Although art has been a through-line in Guay's life, Koldan's journey as a self-taught artist has been circuitous. Koldan was born in Chicago in 1959 and lived in the Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhood until she finished high school.

"I moved to Pittsburgh to attend college but I ended up coming back to Chicago," said Koldan. "I missed my family and friends here."

Koldan took a job at Ace Hardware when she moved back to Chicago and stayed there for 12 years. She was in management and liked running the various departments there. Koldan got laid off due to downsizing and was looking for work when her nephew—who was 18 at the time—told her about a job at the Cook County Sheriff's Office.

"My nephew called me and told me that he had an application for a sheriff's job but found out he had to be 21, so he asked me if I wanted the application," said Koldan. "That's how I ended up as a sheriff. I stayed there 11 years but all the while I knew it wasn't for me. I took it because I was out of work and wanted something more stable than the hardware store."

Koldan started doing her own 3-D assemblage art while working as a sheriff.

"I make boxes along the lines of the late Joseph Cornell," said Koldan. "I make art out of found objects. Sometimes they take on someone's personality or an environmental, political or social issue, or someone I admire. I'll be launching my own website soon and my work will be featured at the Freeport Art Museum in 2017."

Koldan's art has also been displayed at a variety of locations since 1997. She received an honorable mention at the Geneseo Art League's 37th annual Maple City Fine Arts Exhibit for her mixed media work honoring John James Audubon.

"I had the elements at hand and got energy from that material," said Koldan. "That's how the Audobon box came to fruition. Unlike in the city, we've received a number of awards since moving out here. We're pretty well received and it's nice to know that people are recognizing us and appreciating our efforts."

Since 2008, Koldan has received six other awards for her artwork.

In terms of how they see today's world, the thing they marvel at the most is how open the younger generations are in terms of expressing themselves publicly.

"I still don't overtly show my affection toward Rosie in public," said Guay. "I had an operation recently that requires me to carry a cane and it's great because I'm able to have Rosie on my other arm. People look at us and think the old lady needs help. They don't see a lesbian couple."

"Shirley probably doesn't even need the cane but she uses it anyway," said Koldan. "Although we have a 17 year age difference; both Shirley and I have experienced ageism, racism and homophobia at various times throughout our relationship."

As for what they do for fun, Guay played the guitar and loves listening to music while Koldan loves cooking and eating.

"I used to dance with a gentleman named Kim On Wong," said Guay.

"I live vicariously through Shirley's rich life," said Koldan. "Even when we vacation we're shopping for antiques for the store."

See www.shirleyguay.com/ and koldan-guay.blogspot.com/ for more information.


This article shared 958 times since Wed Aug 3, 2016
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