Sightseeing in Champaign

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Sharon Owens lowers the bulb of an ornament into the sharp blue flame of her workstation’s torch, heating the glass until it glows a vibrant yellow. Applying the skills she learned in her schooling at Purdue University, her three-year apprenticeship, and her studies with a host of artisan glassworkers, she presses her mouth to the piece’s hollow stem. Whatever shape it will take, only she knows.

This scene has been a regular occurrence at Inspired Fire since 2002, when Sharon founded her studio in her hometown of Lafayette. The workshop is equipped for all manners of projects, including 4 kilns, 12 torches, and, most importantly, air conditioning. The shop’s staff oversees classes for beginners and advanced glassworkers, as well as offering the space for crafters unable to find the “glass” setting on their microwaves.

2124 State Road 25 West
Lafayette,
IN
US

At Lala Gallery & Studio, creative types collide, from local artists displaying and discussing their newest exhibits to kids and parents bonding over the clay wheel. Studio classes include afterschool programs for grades 1?12, adult classes geared toward clay throwing, and drop-in sessions for one-off lessons. Inside the gallery, work from regional artists dresses the walls, which inspires visitors? art projects and gives people something to look at other than the backs of their weird, veiny hands.

609 Main St
Lafayette,
IN
US

Less than 90 minutes from St. Louis, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum houses the world’s largest collection of original Lincoln artifacts, complete with the Gettysburg Address. A life-size replica of Lincoln’s log cabin set back in a forest of artificial trees stands 40 feet tall just like the President’s iconic top hat. The museum also houses a re-creation of the Presidential Box at Ford’s Theatre, where the president was assassinated, and the state-of-the-art Union Theater, which projects films such as Lincoln’s Eyes, a broad overview of Lincoln’s personal and political life with a special focus on slavery. In the Ghosts of the Library exhibit, transparent phantoms of Lincoln and his contemporaries drift around powered by Holavision technology. Youngsters, supervised by parents, can try on period dress, pose for photos with life-size cutouts of young Abe, or reenact historic scenes in the Lincoln Home dollhouse located in Mrs. Lincoln’s attic, the hands-on learning center. Before heading home, patrons can browse the museum store—more than 3,500 square feet of artifact replicas and Lincoln-themed merchandise.

112 N 6th St
Springfield,
IL
US

Across two floors and 6,700 square feet, KidsWork Children's Museum's prompts hands-on play with scores of new exhibits. A table-top interactive computer, or SMART table, stimulates kids' brains with interactive puzzles and games. A weekly music class on Wednesday mornings at 10 a.m. invite kids to make some noise with instruments made from recycled materials. Interlocking wooden builder boards encourage open-ended play; there's also a floor piano, an interactive ATM, and story time at 10 a.m. on Tuesday mornings. The museum welcomes field-trip groups and birthday parties to explore its innards as well as special-needs families, members, and walk-in visitors.

While large groups are welcome, each child is celebrated through hands-on play. Just look at the gigantic, three-dimensional Pinscreen exhibit, a jumbo version of the classic toy that uses sliding pins to create a 3-D impression of whatever you press into them—in this case, your entire body. Along with the Lincoln-Way North Key Club, the Frankfort Fire Department helped construct the three walls by painstakingly inserting nearly 200,000 pins by hand. Their effort resulted in one of the museum's most popular interactive displays. More than that, it reflects the sense of community, curiosity, and creativity that the museum strives to engender in its patrons.

11 S White St
Frankfort,
IL
US

By highlighting the goings-on in the community of Joliet, The Joliet Area Historical Museum scans the entirety of American history from the perspective of the town's inhabitants. Housed inside the former Ottawa Street Methodist Church, multimedia exhibits artfully assembled from audio-visual displays, touch screens, and life-size models illustrate the stories plucked from the eventful timelines of the town and its people. Occupying two full stories, permanent exhibit The Soaring Achievements of John C. Houbolt honors the life and work of former resident Dr. Houbolt, who had a primary role in NASA's race to the moon. The exhibit's life-size Lunar Lander even allows guests to step inside and glimpse the accommodations and controls, revealing a control panel more complicated than a single button labeled "Go to Moon." In addition to its permanent collection, the museum also keeps an active calendar full of special events; check the schedule for a complete list of programming.

204 N Ottawa St
Joliet,
IL
US

The Illinois Theatre Center enthralls audiences with a wide range of theatrical performances that range from offbeat musicals to retellings of classic dramas. The Spitfire Grill, a musical adaptation of director Lee David Zlotoff's award-winning film, revisits the tale of a young woman recently released from prison who gets a second lease on life and a studio apartment. Wistful comedy Heroes centers on the lives of three war veterans living in an old folks' home who spend their final days reminiscing about ration-packet picnics. All performances are held in an intimate 179-person theater.

371 Artists Walk
Park Forest,
IL
US