Fine Line opened its doors in September of 1979 as a small gallery on James Street in Geneva, Illinois. The founder, Denise Kavanagh, belonged to the School Sisters of St. Francis, an order of nuns devoted to teaching children and supporting women. She had been a school principal and after retiring at the age of 40, went on to pursue her dream of exploring her creative spirit. As a student at Northern Illinois University she quickly discovered that weaving was her passion. She brought a loom to the gallery and soon visitors asked if she would teach them to weave. That was the beginning of Fine Line as a teaching center.
By the second year there were 40 students, and classes in knitting and painting were added. A few years passed and Denise and her community of artists had outgrown the gallery and moved to a store front in Geneva. In 1986 another move was in order and the Fine Line moved to a restored barn on four acres in the St. Charles countryside. The acreage and barn were donated to the School Sisters of St. Francis by Lawrence Dempsey. There, Denise was joined by two fellow School Sisters of St. Francis, Geraldine McGovern, business and facility manager, and Peter Julian Werner, resident graphic artist. Students kept coming, more classes were added—crochet, spinning, papermaking, pottery, basketmaking — and fundraising efforts increased.
In December the first Christmastime in the Barn: Members Show and Sale (now known as Christmastime at Fine Line Holiday Show and Sale) drew hundreds of people. Every October, a national juried show, Uncommon Threads, features the work of fiber artists from across the country, and attracts as many as 600 art-to-wear enthusiasts. Over 100 volunteers each year combine their talents to make this event a breathtaking success.
In 1999, another of Denise’s dreams came to fruition with the completion of the Kavanagh building that houses the Kavanagh Gallery and five additional studios.
Denise passed away in December 2002, following a long battle with cancer. She was a force of nature—an enthusiastic teacher who encouraged all who knew her to be passionate participants. Her joy at finding her own creative spirit and her willingness to share her gifts and her great sense of humor affected the lives of all who knew her. She left behind a gift to the community.
Today, Fine Line is one of only a few regional art centers in this country. Internationally known artists teach a variety of workshops. The membership draws from the Chicago area and surrounding states. There are as many as 1,300 students a year, a teaching staff of 45-plus and well over 200 class offerings a year. So passionate are her friends, students and supporters that the center is run almost entirely by volunteers.