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Erika Spyropoulos Appointed Commissioner of the Illinois Arts Council
Erika Wilhelmine Knickmann Spyropoulos has been appointed by Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn as a Commissioner of the Illinois Arts Council (IAC). The agency is governed by up to twenty-one private citizens chosen for their demonstrated commitment to the arts and appointed by the Governor. Council members serve in a voluntary, non-paid capacity and are charged with developing the state’s public arts policy, fostering quality culturally diverse programs, and approving grants expenditures. The mission of the Council is to build a strong, creative, and connected Illinois through the arts.
“Erika is a renowned Chicago artist and philanthropist whose commitment to serving others is admirable”, pointed out Patrick Quinn in his message to mark the occasion of Erika’s recognition by the Federation of Hellenic Educators and the Hellenic American Women’s Council, last May in New York. “The Greek community in Chicago has long been an essential part of the city’s vibrant cultural landscape, and Greek Americans have made significant social, cultural and economic contributions to the growth of Illinois over the years”.
“My appointment at the Illinois Art Council is a great honor and I will do my best for this magnificent opportunity to highlight the importance of art in our lives”, says Mrs. Spyropoulos. “Art imitates and inspires life. It gives people the chance to explore their imaginative side, enhances cultural appreciation and awareness, connects us all and makes our lives more beautiful. I believe that there is a hidden artist inside all of us. One of my priorities will be to promote the Hellenic American Art and Culture”.
Erika was born in Stroebitz, south of Berlin, and grew up in Kaltenkirchen, a small town north of Hamburg. She is a descendant of the mid-nineteenth-century poet and writer Theodor Storm. By the end of the Second World War her talents had blossomed – appreciation of art, music drawing, embroidery, knitting and sewing would serve her throughout her life. She then went to Hamburg to study fashion, design, architecture, and painting at the prestigious Meisterschule fuer Mode in Hamburg. Family friends in Sweden invited her to visit and stay. There, she earned a living teaching German to young people and painted by night; neutral Sweden had been lightly touched by the war and Stockholm was a magical place for young adults.
When not working she and her friends would frequent many of the popular Bohemian night spots. A favorite was the Latin Club, a haunt of artists and young people seeking to distance themselves from the past. It’s here that she met an engineering student from Greece, Theodore Spyropoulos. One glance from across the room was enough to spark a romance that shines bright to this day. “At the end of the evening, he brought me home, kissed my hand, and said good night, never to be seen again. Several weeks later, as fate would have it, we again saw each other back at the Latin Club. This time was going to be different; I had no plans of letting him get away. We ended up dating for several months until he proposed and we moved to Hamburg.”
In the United States, they started a small petroleum company that grew to become T.G.S. Petroleum, a company manufacturing petroleum products for companies that included CITGO and Marathon Petroleum Corporation, Clark Products, and CAM2. They sold part of the company and its assets to U.S. World Fuel Services and still retain part of their wholesale distribution activities.
Success has provided time to spend on other interests, sports, gardening, reading and painting. Erika’s work can be found in private and corporate collections throughout the U.S., Australia, Europe, and, of course, Greece. She was awarded the prestigious Bicentennial Art Award for a mural depicting the “Spirit of 1776” and her work has been featured at the Beverly Art Center, Gold Coast Art Fair, and other venues. Exhibits showcasing her work include the Southwest Area Cultural Arts Council, Australian Exhibition Center, the Treasury in Chicago, and Kourd Gallery in Athens. She and her husband are also very active with many philanthropic endeavors benefiting the Greek community in the U.S. and Greece.