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D300 students get a feel for art on Elgin alpaca farm

Alpacas graze Wednesday WaldrGrove AlpacFarm Elgin's southwest edge. District 300 high school art students are farm this week working projects

Alpacas graze Wednesday at the Waldron Grove Alpaca Farm at Elgin's southwest edge. District 300 high school art students are at the farm this week, working on projects using alpaca hair. | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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For more information about the District 300 Foundation for Educational Excellence, visit

For more information about Waldron Grove Alpaca Farm and Susan Waldron’s art, visit, email or call 847-888-3934.

The Waldron Grove Alpaca Farm also will host an open house from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, and Sunday, Sept. 25, at the farm, 39W856 McDonald Road, Elgin.

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Updated: November 30, 2011 12:28AM

ELGIN — Sitting cross-legged in the grass, eating a picnic lunch while watching 35 alpacas grazing in their pens nearby, these Dundee-Crown High School students weren’t in Carpentersville anymore.

The 15 art students who came to the Waldron Grove Alpaca Farm, at 39W856 McDonald Road on the southwest edge of Elgin, got an opportunity Wednesday not only to see the shaggy-haired alpacas up close but also to create art projects with fiber artist Susan Waldron.

Dundee-Crown was the first of three high schools in Carpentersville-area Community Unit School District 300 to visit the farm this week. The visits have been made possible by a Visiting Artist Grant from the District 300 Foundation for Educational Excellence.

“It’s showing students a whole new world. A lot of them had never seen an alpaca,” said Waldron, who owns the farm with her husband.

Dundee-Crown senior Ashley Brooks, 17, of Algonquin, was so excited about the visit that she researched the differences between alpacas and llamas, she said. Llamas, Brooks said, are more than twice the size of alpacas and bred as pack animals — “kind of fierce” compared to the gentle, softer Suri alpacas at Waldron Grove.

But alpacas still spit, Brooks said. That’s a fact she learned not from her research but when 17-year-old Kelly Tracey of Algonquin went to pet an uninterested alpaca, and Dundee-Crown art teacher Kim Fuller was standing in range.

“I think it’s really awesome, because we all live in the suburbs,” said Brandon Rohlwing, 17, of West Dundee. “The most exotic animal we see is a squirrel. We don’t really get to work in different mediums like this.”

After touring the farm, Waldron showed students how she cards the animals’ soft black, brown and white hair, or “fiber,” and spins it on a spinning wheel. She dyes that fiber by hand, then uses it to create clothing or tapestries by felting.

The artist does felting in one of two ways, she said. Dundee-Crown students tried needle felting Wednesday — punching different colors of fiber with a needle, causing microscopic barbs in the fiber to hook to a piece of felt.

They made tapestries of a rainbow-colored cupcake, an elephant, a cat, a plate of sushi, and various swirls and designs. The howling wolf by 17-year-old Nina Mandile of Algonquin drew a crowd, the long alpaca fibers making it seem even more realistic.

“Our kids are just amazing,” Dundee-Crown art teacher Kate Norkus said. “What they do — they inspire me.”

Foundation help

The workshops were made possible by the second Visiting Artist Grant from the D300 Foundation, funded by $2,000 from Target in West Dundee, according Diane Magerko, the foundation’s performing and fine arts chair.

Each workshop is limited to about 15 to 20 students, Fuller said. At Dundee-Crown, she and Norkus chose to bring seniors who have taken five or six art classes and been involved in its art club, she said.

The benefit of the Visiting Artist Grant, Norkus said, is students get to see “the whole process — not just the finished work. They see where it comes from.”

And, Fuller said, “They get to see an artist at work and try their techniques and learn how to make it as an artist if that’s what they want to do.”

The D300 Foundation’s first Visiting Artist Grant two years ago had brought a Chicago painter who used movement, music and found materials to Hampshire, according to Fuller.

Since it was founded in 2002, the foundation has awarded nearly $500,000 in local education grants to enhance and extend learning opportunities in all District 300 schools. Those grants are funded by private donations and special fundraisers, according to the foundation.

“The budgets are cut so much in the arts,” Magerko said. “You have to look and find a way to be creative.”

Alpaca hobby

Waldron had been an art teacher in Winfield briefly (“100 years ago”), then an interior designer, she said.

She and her husband, Ron Waldron, began raising alpacas about eight years ago as something to do in their retirement — first as a hobby, then as breeders, she said. Working with the animals, her love of nature, her background in art — all came together, she said, and that’s when she began felting with alpaca fiber.

She still teaches art classes sometimes, she said, but to adults. After meeting Waldron at an art show, Magerko approached her about leading workshops for high school students.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Waldron said. But added, “They’re loving it. They really are doing beautifully.”

Like Waldron, art student Brooks said, her visit to the Waldron Grove Alpaca Farm brought together a number of her interests. She loves animals and, after that, she loves art, she said. She made a tapestry of a parrot against a tropical blue sky Wednesday and plans to study zoology in college.

“It’s really cool that she opened up her studio and let high school students do this. Obviously, none of us would get to do this if she hadn’t invited us,” Brooks said.

“This is seriously the best field trip I’ve ever been on in my life.”

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