Nothing’s Really “Free” These Days, Right?: Surprising Artistic Innovation, Inspiration & Education at the Free Foundry Art Centre


Once in a while you’ll stumble upon free entertainment that gives you. . . well, exactly what you paid for. You’re unimpressed, and worry that you’ve wasted your time on a film, or  performance, and you realize you can’t get this wasted time back. Maybe it’s a gallery opening that’s a flop, or free admission to the “cutting-edge” exhibit at your city’s modern art museum that leaves you questioning the curator’s qualifications.

This is not the feeling you’ll have at The Foundry Art Centre, in Historic St. Charles, MO.

Instead, you’ll be welcomed to the building, and encouraged to experience all that’s available at the center, at no charge, by none other than Vincent Van Gogh. Galleries, gathering spaces, and gift shops await! Once inside, Frida Kahlo will point the way to the second floor, where you can view, purchase, and learn from the art created by a juried selection of fine artists, in a variety of visual media.

If you don’t live in a city that places value on the artistic community, then a couple of disappointing experiences with “public art” might turn you sour, or turn you off from finding out what more your local community has to offer. But don’t let these bad experiences keep you from discovering what you have access to at little or no cost, when traveling to new communities.

Digging in, and experiencing an artist’s work at a deep level, his motivation, technique, and style, doesn’t have to be cost prohibitive. Exploring the unknown, and coming away from the experience transformed, knowing something about yourself that you didn’t already know, certainly isn’t cost prohibitive.

When you find yourself in a new city, on a work trip with little free time, or even when you are just passing through, on your way to your final destination, find out what free creative adventures you can get into, even if it’s just for a an hour or two. What difference does it make how much time you have, after . . . it’s free!

Van Gogh’s sign reads: “The Foundry Art Centre is FREE and open to the public! I know, right!! “Gogh” on Inside!

“The Foundry Art Centre resides in what was once a train car factory; a 1920’s structure formerly owned by American Car & Foundry. Rather than demolish the 36,800 square foot building, the community of St. Charles worked tirelessly to complete a 2.2 million dollar renovation and opened the regions’ premiere, interactive, interdisciplinary art center in the spring of 2004.” (The Foundry Art Centre website)

The uniqueness of the building strikes you as soon as you enter, with colorful banners hanging from the second level, a ceiling draped with long, swooping stretches of fabric, and remnants of the train car factory standing out, in bright yellow and black stripes, high above, near the building’s ceiling.


I accidently stumbled upon the center; it was a Tuesday night after a long day of filming training videos had wrapped; I found myself approaching the building just a little before the center’s 8 pm closing time. If I’d had the foresight to turn to the internet, for popular tourist activities in St. Charles, I would have discovered that The Foundry is ranked as #1 on Yelp’s list of The Best 10 Art Galleries near St Charles and Saint Louis, MO.

Truth be told, there was something magical about stumbling unexpectedly across the art space, just as the sun was setting. I was out for an evening stroll, through the quaint town, making my way down its brick streets. Just prior, I’d been exploring the nearby bike path, which hugs the Missouri River, planning on renting a bike the following day, and wondering what I’d find along the path.


As I approached, Van Gogh’s greeting made me chuckle. Even though the center’s doors would close just an hour later, I was pleased to find that there were activities going on, scattered throughout the building, some of them tucked away in quiet corners.

Downstairs there was a gathering of art enthusiasts; they seemed to know each other well, as if they had been discussing art together for a very long time. They were using an enclosed gallery space as a meeting and conversation space. Conversation was lively, but respectful of the resident working artists and the couple of art patrons, like myself, quietly checking things out.

In a 2nd floor studio, an art class was in progress, with just 5 – 6 participants, and I was invited to watch for a bit. Each of the budding artists was working in their own medium, and the instructor was demonstrating blending techniques to a 1st time oil painter, in an attempt to teach her how to give her work a more realistic look.



Another artist’s studio was crammed full of ceramic figures, looking like tiny monsters that you wouldn’t mind meeting. . . whether they were under your bed or elsewhere. The artist appeared to be working alongside his daughter, and two young granddaughters. I watched the interaction for a few minutes, and was enjoying that backstory, so didn’t inquire – I just sat back quietly, to observe.

A couple of minutes later, after I’d moved on, the entire building came to life, with stifled snickers, whispers and giggles. The two girls were playing a kind of hide and seek. They thought they were expertly hidden, behind the large pillars that support the old building, but their excitement, and accompanying laughter, gave them away.

It was Mom and Granddad they were hiding from, but they couldn’t resist peeking out from behind the pillars from time to time, just to check in,  to see if they had been discovered. They were sneaky, crafty, and clearly up to their own form of mischief.

The monsters (the ceramic ones. . . I’m not calling the two young girls monsters. . . ) were keeping an eye on the activities in the large space at the center of the building, where musical performances and artist demonstrations often take place. The girls were making their way around the 2nd floor, past one artist’s studio space, then another, more interested in their own cleaver stealth than the art they’ve grown up around.


At this time of the day, many studios are dark and quiet, but not empty, by any definition. The artwork on display, in all stages of completion, gives each artist’s space a vibrant and unique life. The studios face toward the center of the building, with a wall of class windows allowing visitors to The Foundry Art Centre to watch the artists work.

A small collection of little lambs adorns the window sill of the textile artist’s space. The ceramic figurines won’t be providing any wool for the artist’s next piece, but I’m sure they are a whimsical bit of inspiration. They face in towards the studio. . . as if they need to keep an eye on the artist’s progress, rather than monitoring the rest of the building, the way the monsters are!

I’m lucky enough to be in the building during the “golden hour,” as it is called by Professional Photographers. “In photography, the golden hour is a period shortly after sunrise or before sunset during which daylight is redder and softer than when the Sun is higher in the sky.” (Wikipedia)


The studios on the West side of the building glow with warmth. Under these creative conditions, paint brushes wait in anticipation. You can’t help but wonder at what beauty will be created with these simple tools. Various sizes and brush styles stand at the ready, waiting for the artist’s muse to inspire.

Or they wait for a “blocked” artist to just come in and do the work, as they must sometimes do. Art and creativity don’t necessarily come easily – the hours need to be put in, just to keep creativity alive. . . .to keep the artist making art!

While the wheel is quiet, clay waits for the hands of the ceramic artist. Spatters of clay have dried on the wheel, on the floor, and on the tools, as they did that morning on the artist’s hands. The artist’s latest piece is shrouded in plastic, and won’t be adorned or embellished until the morning comes.



There are opportunities to become a member of the center, and receive special benefits and access to special openings and performances. The building can also be rented for your special events. There are special exhibits and special workshops. This is an extraordinary place, very special, and worth supporting!

The public’s active participation continues to make The Foundry Art Centre successful in our mission to connect people with the Arts through Exhibitions, Studio Artists, Performances, and Education. (Foundry website)

Volunteers play an important role, in all areas of the art center. They are public-facing, assisting visitors, as well as working behind the scenes, to assist in the daily operations of the facility, and in promoting its programs.

The center’s website lists the following volunteer opportunities: Volunteer Coordinator, Visitor Services Assistant, Special Event Ambassador, Exhibitions Assistant / Artist Ambassador, and Special Projects Ambassador. There’s a lot of work to be done, requiring many volunteer hours. The center could not function without the assistance of its volunteers. (See below for info on this week’s national recognition of volunteers for Volunteer Week.)


“As a vibrant home to the arts, The Foundry Art Centre raises awareness and appreciation of the arts throughout the region. Alive with activity, the Centre’s programming reinforces the importance of the arts and helps ensure that arts and culture remain vital. Artists, patrons, young people and the community at large continually find new ways to interact at this unique facility.” (Foundry website)

Classes are taught by professors and instructors who are well-known in both local and national art communities. Classes offered include the following: Botanical Art and Photography, Pottery Class, Drawing & Painting, and Felting Class. There’s even a book club – it’s next meeting is May 8th, to discuss Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan.

In the Baue Family Children’s Gallery, artwork is on display from students in over 200 schools. The community has a reputation for arts education, and the youth in the community are carrying that reputation forward! (Riley Lauer, grade 12, S.C.H.S.)



Volunteer Week: Special Notes about Points of Light, founded by George H. W. Bush, with the goal of acknowledging and celebrating Volunteer Week: National Volunteer Week is an annual celebration observed in many countries, to promote and show appreciation for volunteerism and volunteering. In the United States it is organized by the Points of Light foundation (Wikipedia)

National Volunteer Week, powered by Points of Light, is an opportunity to celebrate the impact of volunteer service and the power of volunteers to come together to tackle tough challenges, and build stronger, more resilient communities. Each year, we shine a light on the people and causes that inspire us to serve, recognizing and thanking volunteers who lend their time, talent and voice to make a difference in their communities.

National Volunteer Week was established in 1974 and has grown exponentially each year, with thousands of volunteer projects and special events scheduled throughout the week. Plan or attend an event to celebrate the impact of volunteers in your community, and inspire others to serve.

As former President Bush explains:

“A volunteer is a person who can see what others cannot see; who can feel what most do not feel. Often, such gifted persons do not think of themselves as volunteers, but as citizens – citizens in the fullest sense; partners in civilization.”

~ President George H.W. Bush – Founder, Points of Light (

Volunteers keep the Foundry Arts Centre open, and up and running. Talented artists bring their spirit to the work! I encourage you to visit the center if you make it to St. Charles. But don’t forget to look for free art opportunities wherever you travel. . . and give your home town art scene another chance!

Join me on my next adventure,

~ Kat

Related Links:

Foundry Art Centre:

Visitor’s Guide to Foundry Arts Centre

Yelp – The Best 10 Art Galleries near St Charles, Saint Louis, MO:

St. Charles, MO:

Foundry Centre Amazon Wish List:

One comment

  1. What a treat for the eyes! And no “spirits” needed, at a price, to take part like the “lush with a brush” as I like to call them. They’re great, but how amazing to be surround by the spirit of creativity whether participating or just drinking it in. I’ve always dreamt of a more artistic life for myself. Note to my younger self….don’t be afraid, take that class at the local high school, park district, whatever, you will awaken your inner self. Maybe it’s not too late! This has been inspiring.
    BLOG ON!


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