Billiejo Scharfenberg’s passion for art and giving children a safe, fun outlet to express themselves led her to embark on a new dream a few months ago.

Scharfenberg, who grew up near Spring Green, returned to the area three years ago after living in Connecticut for more than two decades. Scharfenberg believes art can touch lives and heal emotional wounds. When Artistic Expressions owner Peggy Dennison was looking for a new art director last winter, Scharfenberg jumped at the opportunity. Scharfenberg took over the role last February.

“I believe art can change people’s lives – I’ve seen it happen,” Scharfenberg said.

Scharfenberg shared the story of a friend in Connecticut who changed her life through art. Her friend’s life was once consumed with partying and drug use, but she began quilting and found a new passion to pursue.

“Whenever she thought about taking a drink or doing drugs, she would pick up her quilt and start quilting,” Scharfenberg said. “It saved her. It changes people’s lives. It keeps you from falling into the dark corners of the universe and giving up on yourself.”

In her new role, Scharfenberg is hoping to transform lives in Mauston. She has already increased programs for both children and adults at the studio, which opened in 2016.

After finishing high school, Scharfenberg moved to the New England area and built a life on the East Coast for 23 years. She never expected to move back to the area, but has embraced Juneau County. Her parents also live near Mauston so she’s excited to be closer to family. Scharfenberg spent several years working as an artist in Connecticut.

“Now here I am with this new adventure,” Scharfenberg said. “Making art with people, encouraging their creativity. Letting them know it’s OK to be a little different, it’s OK to make art and be creative.”

Scharfenberg said she’s always felt the urge to express her creative side through art. She said she has wanted to be artist since age 4. Through the years, she developed a niche for designing projects through glass and copper.

Scharfenberg has spent the past few months transforming Artistic Expressions to match a vision shared with Dennison. She said when she came to the studio in February it felt “like a daycare.” As she walked through the studio during a recent day in August, pointing out a variety of projects, Scharfenberg said she doesn’t feel the daycare vibe anymore.

“One of my goals is to develop a kids’ art club because I know in schools, art programs are one of the first things to go,” Scharfenberg said. “I want to incorporate an after-school club.”

The director also plans to create an adult art club, noting the Mauston area has many talented artists.

“I want to bring them together so we don’t have that feeling of being alone all the time,” Scharfenberg said. “We can have that community of creative thinkers come together and see what we can do to improve our community.”

Currently, Artistic Expressions hosts multiple classes, including an open art session where participants can pick any project they wish to work on.

“I used to manage art galleries so about every six weeks I would have an art show,” Scharfenberg said. “I want to do that here, too. I want to display the work of local artists. I don’t think that’s something that’s done in this town. I haven’t seen it.”

Dennison thinks Scharfenberg will do a great job connecting with the area’s youth.

“There are so many people here who are talented and gifted,” Dennison said. “Coming together as a community and being able to encourage that in our young people is so good. I really feel like that is the basis for future growth, especially in struggling communities like Mauston. How they can come together through art.”

Dennison also co-owns Two Sisters Event Center, which is on the second floor of 234 West State Street, the building that also houses Artistic Expressions. Dennison would like to see both businesses become a center of attention in downtown Mauston.

“We want to let the community know we’re here to stay, not that if this doesn’t work out we’re closing our doors and leaving,” Dennison said. “Billiejo really stood out to us. She’s extremely gifted artistically and people love her. People walk in and she’s very welcoming. People have gravitated to her – that’s one of her super qualities, she has a way of connecting to people.”

For more information on Artistic Expressions, contact Scharfenberg at 608-350-0610. The studio is closed Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays.

Contact Kevin Damask at 608-963-7323 or on Twitter @kdamask