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Frankfort 'Curiosity' shop feeds creativity and inspires

Evilena’s Red Dresser owner Jan Sabey (left) welcomes Cathrine Schipman (center) Tracy DeGraaf as artists her Frankfort shop. Schipman DeGraaf

Evilena’s Red Dresser owner Jan Sabey (left) welcomes Cathrine Schipman (center) and Tracy DeGraaf as artists at her Frankfort shop. Schipman and DeGraaf created the Hopes and Dreams birdhouse concept, where repurposed items are turned into works of art intended for people to write down their hopes and dreams in a cathartic and prayerful exercise. | Submitted photo

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At A Glance

Evilena’s Red Dresser is at 59 W. Bankview Drive in Frankfort. Hours vary. For information, call 815-464-4426 or visit

Updated: May 9, 2012 10:10AM

FRANKFORT — Three years ago, when Jan Sabey opened Evilena’s Red Dresser, an upscale furniture and consignment store in Frankfort, she did so in the spirit of her 94-year-old aunt, the ultimate example of repurposing and recycling.

Sabey recently launched a new product line, Cathrine’s Curiosities, an inspirational trash-to-treasures home-decor collection by two Monee residents, Cathrine Schipman and Tracy DeGraaf,. The line is specially designed to feed the soul and nurture creativity.

The name Cathrine’s Curiosities is reminiscent of Charles Dickens’ novel “The Curiosity Shop.”

“It’s also a way of sharing our faith,” Sabey said. “Art is like therapy. I think as people become more creative, they feel more energized.”

Each item is handmade using secondhand materials and includes an inspirational story and instructions for use. In many cases, this means jotting down hopes and dreams, negative thoughts and precious memories and placing them inside.

Some of Schipman and DeGraaf’s products include Hopes and Dreams Birdhouses, wooden birdhouses covered in recycled amber, blue, green and red colored glass; Trash Talk Bins, metal cans that swallow up negativity; and Remember to be Thankful Boxes.

“It’s exciting and challenging to come up with new ideas for items, but I also love the history behind them,” Schipman said. “I love looking at something, especially a knick-knack, and wondering how people used it and what they thought about it.”

Getting started

For the 12 years before formally initiating Cathrine’s Curiosities, Schipman was collecting and reusing materials. She transformed a dresser into a bathroom vanity, hockey sticks into curtain rods, skis into shelves and fireplace mantles into headboards.

One day Schipman shared with her neighbor, DeGraaf, the fruits of her hobby. DeGraaf, who in 2010 had published a collection of essays on raising five boys, titled “Laugh Anyway, Mom,” was impressed with the artistic quality of Schipman’s work. She was confident others would feel the same way.

So Schipman, who had dreamed of commercially producing her unique works, took a 12-week course at Evilena’s, The Artist’s Way, and learned how to release mental blocks and harness confidence to move forward with her plans.

Schipman’s creativity inspired DeGraaf, who, like many people in the area, was becoming discouraged by the recession. DeGraaf decorated one of her son’s Cub Scout birdhouses, then wrote down her hopes and fears and “let go and let God,” by leaving that slip of paper inside the birdhouse.

“I now know we will come out of our struggles, that this is just a season and that this is not forever,” DeGraaf said.

DeGraaf had been searching for the perfect gift for her in-laws, who moved to Florida five years ago. Mindful of her tight budget, DeGraaf headed for Evilena’s, where she found a wooden box painted in Christmas colors.

“I wanted to nurture our connection across the miles, so I created a pretty box with memories written inside,” DeGraaf said. “We all got teary-eyed as they read them aloud on Christmas Day. It’s a gift we will all remember.”

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