When Nicole Roberson attended Minooka Community High School, she won a contest and was thrilled to have her black and white drawing titled “Dream World” published on a website.
She also was presented an academic achievement award from officials in the school’s art program. And she worked on the Minooka Senior Class mural for 2002.
Today, she is a 29-year-old mother, part-time aesthetician and recycling buff. She is living in her “Dream World.”
When she’s not treating patients with dry skin at the Naked Sun salon in Diamond or looking after her daughter, 2-year-old Bianca, she is up-scaling trash and salvaging discarded pieces of auto glass or stained glass.
She turns old junk into and new furniture art and mosaics that draw regular responses from customers that run along the lines of, “Wow, I can’t believe you did that.”
Roberson sells her works as fast as she produces them in the basement of her mother’s home off Chipwood Drive—but not in a storefront, rather online via etsy.com or through her Facebook page: Nicole Marie Artistry.
Her mother, LeAnn Halweg, said she was destined to be an artist. And forget that Niki was doodling from the time she could hold onto a pencil. She comes from a line of talented craftsmen and artisans that extends back to her grandfather.
The late-James LaPaso was a carpenter and painter who built many of the cabinets in the Minooka home where Roberson grew up. His son, Jim, is a kinetic sculpture artist in Austin, Tex., who sells his wares on lapaso.com.
Roberson’s aunt, Veronica Brandolino, is a painter. Her sister, Leah Jerome, who lives in Channahon, plays the piano and sings. And her aunt and mother used to own a boutique in Minooka—Timeless Memories. Her mother still paints and makes pottery.
“We did a lot of shows, so we had to do mass-production of things,” LeAnn said. “Niki would base-coat our wood. So, she was always pretty involved. She’s surpassed me when it comes to art. She’s more creative.
“She gets her vision and just goes with it. That’s kind of how artists do their work. It’s almost like with me—with pottery—I always say that the piece that I make tells me what it wants to be.
“And I think that’s probably how it is with her, although she probably doesn’t even realize it. You see the glass and all of sudden you get this vision and you just know what it’s got to be.”
Life's Journey: From Then to Now
Roberson earned her associate’s degree in art at Joliet Junior College. She and her husband, Rob, bought her grandma and grandpa’s old home in Elwood shortly after they were married. She cleared out a bunch of stones from the garden.
And, while doing so, she cleared a path to a new career in the process.
Roberson turned those stones into mosaic art pieces by adding paint and bits of broken glass from her mom’s china collection.
“It exploded from there,” she said.
Her cousin, Jack Polcyn, and his family own Rendel's and Rendel’s West Collision Center in Joliet. He gave Roberson’s mother a container full of shattered car windows as a gag gift one year.
“My mother said, ‘You know, this would be pretty if you put this kind of glass in your mosaics,’ ” Roberson said. “So, I fell in love with it. That’s how I started with furniture. I picked some of the furniture pieces out of the garbage. Some of them I found at garage sales.
“I use a lot recycled material instead of buying new. That can be pretty expensive.”
“The mosaics from auto glass are really great,” said Roberson’s friend, Brian Moyers. “I never would have imagined auto glass could get recycled in that manner.”
“Yeah, I am (in awe),” said Roberson’s husband, Rob. “I don’t really help her out that much. I’m like the ‘grunt.’ We go get the stones. I usually seal them for her and bring them in, and she does the rest.”
Roberson “works” on Wednesday nights in the basement of her mother’s home—where she was raised—and occasionally on weekends, too. Her part-time job is not so much a chore as it is a labor of love.
“Actually, with my art and my aesthetics, I do everything I want,” Roberson said. “I enjoy being a mom. I never work a day in my life, and I love it.”
She acknowledges that “probably” there are those jealous of her arrangement.
“But anyone can accomplish what they love to do,” Roberson said. “They just have to decide what it is and make a path—make a goal—and get there. I’m 29. And I don’t think you’re ever too old.”
COMING SATURDAY: Log on at 6 a.m. Saturday to see how Minooka Community High School grad and Elwood resident Nicole Roberson turned a vegetable gourd into a bird house.