Corn Stock honors longtime program artist and set designer Bill … – Peoria Journal Star

Posted By on July 29, 2017

Leslie Renken Journal Star arts reporter @leslierenken

PEORIA Bill Nolden got the theater bug in 1957, and it never went away.

Nolden was nearing 30 when an acquaintance asked him to help fill out the chorus in Corn Stock Theatres 1957 production of Carousel.

I had one small speaking role, but I got the acting bug and decided I would come back the following year, said Nolden. I was in 'Plain and Fancy,' and I had a pretty good speaking role in that one.

Back then, Nolden worked as an artist at Block and Kuhl department store. He soon was asked to create the artwork on a few of Corn Stocks program covers. By 1968, he was doing them all.

Over the course of nearly 50 years Nolden has produced about 300 pieces of artwork for Corn Stock, including program covers, set designs, posters, and original paintings of the tent.

Though he turned 90 earlier this year, Nolden doesnt have plans to quit anytime soon.

Im done with all of the program covers for this year, and I hope to be doing them for next year, too, said Nolden, who works at a drafting table beside a window in the living room of his small apartment. He has lived at B'Nai B'Rith for 28 years.

Noldens program covers are a graphic distillation of the shows plot. Some are splashy and fun, and others are somber.

To do a single cover probably takes me five to seven hours to do the actual drawing. I dont rush, said Nolden. But if Im not familiar with the show, I have to do a lot of research thank goodness for Google.

Shows like Hello, Dolly! are easy ideas come fast and furious, said Nolden. Last years Spitfire Grill and this years Parade provided more challenge. He did a lot of research before deciding on a design.

Parade I really had to think about because its a serious show, said Nolden.

Program covers are not the only way Nolden has used his artistic talents at Corn Stock and other area theaters. For many years, he was involved in the design and building of sets, which is not unlike designing program art, said Nolden. The design of the set is also dictated by the shows theme and tone. Its a skill Nolden enjoyed perfecting over the years.

I did the set design for 'The Ladys Not for Burning' twice, once when set building was new to me, and once after Id learned how to do it," said Nolden. "They were vastly different. The set called for a large arched window. I did it realistically the first time. The second time the window was almost a suggestion more artistic rather than realistic.

Noldens apartment is filled with his artwork and mementos from the shows hes participated in. Photo albums reveal images of Nolden acting, directing and designing sets he was even on the CST board of directors for a while. On the livingroom walls are Noldens fine art paintings, including a gouache of the Peoria County Federal Building. The painting won best of show in the 48th Annual Rennick Art Show in 2012. Another award-winning piece of artwork, a 1973 full-page newspaper ad of mens fashions for Carson Pirie Scott & Co. department store, hangs in the bedroom.

Back then, we did art instead of photography, said Nolden. I did fashion illustration and furniture illustration for advertisements. Nolden worked forBlock and Kuhl, which becameCarson Pirie Scott & Co., for 33 years.

Corn Stock Theatre also haslauded Noldens work. He was the very first recipient of the Gretchen Iben Founders Award in 1978, and this year he is again being honored. A reception for Nolden is being held from 1 to 4 p.m. Aug. 6 in the Corn Stock Theatre Center, just south of the tent in Upper Bradley Park.

The event is open to the public, and Nolden is looking forward to seeing the many friends hes made over the years. His involvement in Corn Stock has been a big part of his life.

I love doing it, and I love the people I work with out there."

Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or Follow her on, and subscribe to her on

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Corn Stock honors longtime program artist and set designer Bill ... - Peoria Journal Star

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