Member Spotlight March

John Abel

John was born in 1943, and grew up in Reseda, California, in the San Fernando Valley, where his parents had a commercial rabbit farm. His first career was in restaurants, beginning at 15, working from dishwasher to cook, and ultimately to sous-chef.  He served in both the Army Reserve as a medic and the California Air National Guard in flight training.  At 23 he joined the Peace Corps and was sent to Morocco to work in a veterinary clinic but ended up raising chickens, which he found to be both interesting and delicious. 
Most importantly, while in Morocco, John met Carol Lee White, an ex-Peace Corps Volunteer teaching at the American School in Rabat.  Returning home, they moved to San Francisco, where John finally graduated from San Francisco State University (History and Philosophy of Science). He was awarded the Rockefeller Fellowship of American Civilization at the University of Iowa and completed the MA and Ph.D. there in American Studies.


John had begun grant writing in Peace Corps, to fund his chickens, and by accident that evolved into a career as a general writer and editor. In addition to academic work, he wrote on contract for social service agencies, testing services, educational design groups, university administration and development departments and private public relations/media firms. John calls himself a pen for hire. During the last fifteen years of his working life he was a freelance writer/producer, specializing in media for non-profits. At Fine Line, we have been fortunate to have the benefit of John’s expertise in grant writing as well as writing for some of Fine Line’s publications.

John and Carol were volunteers for their local libraries over the years. Drawing on early training in technical theater, John was a designer/set builder for Winnetka Community Theater. Carol was the artist liaison and John did logistics for the St. Charles Fine Art Show for many years. John, Carol, Elizabeth Bellaver and Sue McDowell founded the St. Charles Arts Council. John first learned of Fine Line when he met several members the year the tornado destroyed the Fine Line tent at the Fine Art show, and convinced the show committee to do the demo tent starring Fine Line the following two years. Fine Line member Ellen Ljung recruited John for the Board in 2014, where he served as Vice-President until January, 2018, following Carol’s death. John was also a member of the Development Committee then and since that time as an adjunct member serving for writing and editing assistance.  He has assisted Executive Director Lynn Caldwell with grant writing the entire time he has been with Fine Line.


John has always been a student of art, and he and Carol were lifelong collectors. With the example of a resourceful father with many trade-level skills, John was also a fair carpenter and amateur woodworker. So, when John and Carol moved into their 1870’s house in Wilmette, at Carol’s “suggestion,” John bought a book, How to Make Furniture, retired to the basement, and taught himself joinery. For the past 34 years John has continued to practice and learn, to create a body of work that includes furniture, built-in cabinetry, and finish carpentry. He has made benches, cabinets, and display pieces for the new studios at Fine Line as well as for the barn entry and the shop. He has found great satisfaction in developing these skills, and considers himself a craftsman, or a maker, in current terminology. John’s work appears in the Dempsey Gallery, he had a table and chairs (Best of Show) in the tabletop show in the Kavanagh Gallery, and he has shown at Water Street and at several of the St. Charles Arts Council pop-ups.


John came to Fine Line, and has remained, because he thinks it is a fine example of the small arts organizations that are essential as civilizing factors in our communities. At the street level, he says, we need the everyday experience of teaching, learning, and experiencing art, and Fine Line does this very well and does it with professionalism, open-arms, and good humor. Fine Line also serves a population of older learners—a bonus and a unique resource to this community. Being at Fine Line keeps him immersed in the world of art, with a group of very agreeable people. He brings to it his varied—and useful—experiences and skills.