Exhibit at Riverside distillery puts artistic twist on bourbon bottles

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John Rice

Contributing Reporter

On Sunday April 26, at 3 p.m., the Quincy Street Distillery, 39 E. Quincy St. in Riverside, will witness a "marriage of art, bourbon and history," said owner Derrick Mancini, as he and artist Heather Hug host a "Handmade Bourbon Bottle Exhibition." 

There will be sneak previews during tours on April 24 and 25. The show will close April 29. 

Hug is responsible for the art, recruiting 12 artists to create distinctive ceramic containers. Mancini is supplying the bourbon and history. 

"Prior to the Civil War bourbon was sold in ceramic containers," he said. "There were no glass bottles until after the war."

Mancini is a well-informed history buff, who's a proud producer of "historically inspired" spirits. Illinois was once a center of bourbon production but, as Mancini noted, Prohibition destroyed distilleries. 

"Hiram Walker was based in Peoria but moved to Winsdor, Ontario, across the river from Detroit," Mancini said.

Mancini is also up on local history, naming his aged whiskey Laughton Bros. after a 19th-century tavern that once stood in Riverside. His Bourbon Spring whiskey is named for the spring in nearby Swan Pond Park.

Hug has been teaching ceramics at the Riverside Arts Center since 1996. She taught Mancini and his daughter, and was instrumental in Mancini's decision to locate his distillery in Riverside rather than near his vacation home in Michigan. She pointed out to him the building on Quincy Street that is now home to the distillery.

The artist might have a sharp eye for real estate, but she didn't discover ceramics until she pursued her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of Evansville. 

"I fell in love with it. I liked the tactile aspect and the freedom of expression with clay," Hug said. 

Hug feels so freed-up, she created the exhibit's two most "whimsical" pieces. One vessel combines clay with found objects and sits in a wagon. It's titled "About to Fall Off the Wagon." The other has eyeballs all over the cups and bottle and is called "Here's Mud in Your Eye." 

Hug did not know the source of this curious toast to someone's health and success but, according to "The Dictionary of Clichés," it means that "mud would blind one to the bad things nearby, as a series of drinks would." 

Hug appreciated the meaning because she creates pieces that "comment on human behavior." For patrons of the distillery, the modern expression might be "bourbon goggles." 

Besides creating crazy containers, Hug loves being an artist, teacher and massage therapist.

"I sculpt clay and people," she said.

She enjoys the small-town feel of Riverside but hasn't forgotten her southern Indiana roots. Two of the artists she recruited for the exhibit are University of Evansville alumni: David Bolton, head of ceramics at the College of Lake County, and Steven Cheek. 

Her colleague at the arts center, Shawn Vincent, is also contributing pieces and had her students make bourbon bottles. Hug estimated that 25 to 30 pieces will be on display in the distillery's barrel room. They will be for sale, ranging in price from $75 to $175.

During the show, Mancini will be mixing cocktails in his "speakeasy" bar room. He sees the exhibit as a way to support "Artisan Alley," the stretch of Quincy Street that is home to Higgins Glass Studio, the Riverside Arts Center (four of the artists are associated with the center) and Metal Mites Auto Body. 

"The owner used to make metal sculptures of insects, called metal-mites," Mancini explained.

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David Moreau from Riverside, Illinois  

Posted: April 26th, 2015 11:46 AM

I'm sure Colorsmith Stained Glass studio in the Quincy Street side of the Arcade building doesn't appreciate being left out of your article on "Artesian Alley."

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