As you pull into the small town of Palestine in Crawford County, Illinois, one of the first things you will notice next to the town’s wood-carved welcome sign is a peculiar metal face with the word “WHY” written beneath. It’s nothing you would expect to see in a rural river town in middle America, but it’s an intriguing sight that draws you into the city’s charm.
What the average traveler may not realize is that the welcome sign and strange “WHY” face have one thing in common – they were both created by a folk artist named Steve Meadows.
A shop owner in Palestine, Meadows has been creating what he refers to as “Junk Art” or “Recycled Art” for over 15 years. Prior to this form of art, Meadows primarily focused on wood carving and even has a “Patriotic Uncle Sam” cane in the Smithsonian Institution.
Meadows opened S.D. Meadows Folk Art Gallery over 30 years ago in downtown Palestine. He refers to his shop as, “A gallery outside the box. Original, one of a kind folk art pieces and a fun selection of collectible items, primitive furnishings, pottery and accessories.”
Meadows’ creativity and affection for interesting artwork is something he hopes will bring visitors to the small town of 1,366 residents. He has several pieces of his metal faces around town, including one of the most memorable in the downtown area – a sculpture Meadows calls, “Revenue.” When asked why he refers to the piece as “Revenue,” Meadows said that these sculptures are an effort to bring in tourism, saying, “If you have an inviting downtown area, people will want to keep coming back.”
There are other works of Meadows’ around Palestine, as well. There is a giant frog face with a giant pink ironing board tongue and several pieces in the Village Inn that Meadows donated last year. Next summer, he plans to erect a 12ft piece of art using recycled bottles, too.
As you leave Palestine, you quickly realize the message Meadows is trying to convey through his art. “Why not?”