CHICAGO — In Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood, the Wonder City Studio is the life’s work of Katie Lauffenburger and Phil Thompson.
Both born and raised in Pennsylvania, individually, they came to Chicago for work. They met through an online dating site, got married and share a passion for creativity.
Thompson as a kid, was always drawing but had a career in sales.
In 2010 he said he “wanted to rekindle the love for drawing I had as a kid.”
That soon developed into a side hustle.
“So I decided to do something I could sell,” he said.
As for Lauffenburger she, too, was always a lover of the arts.
“I actually studied fine art. I have been doing fine art my whole life; drawing, painting, sculpting,” she said. “But I realize that a certain point that I loved animation. So I started stop motion animation, puppet animation.”
But she went the digital realm for job security.
While Lauffenburger provided a steady income, Thompson’s business grew.
Then Lauffenburger became hooked when she took her first ceramics class.
“I loved it,” she said.
The fever took hold and she too adopted the all-or-nothing approach four months into the pandemic in the summer of 2020.
In the midst of the pandemic, with discretionary income put on hold, it was touch and go.
“There was a trend where people were focusing inward on their homes,” Lauffenburger said. “The next thing you know, people are looking for artwork. Our online sales really picked up, and we ended up with a really strong year, actually.”
Today these artists are blessed with a waiting list and pieces that sell for thousands of dollars. He creates with portraits and illustrations with pen, ink and paper. She with clay and paint. Their works take months to bring to life.
It blends architecture with a love of Chicago. Clients come to them to commission those places that occupy their hearts. Houses where grandparents grew up. First homes. Childhood homes.
“I think what we offer is a way to celebrate it,” Lauffenburger said.
Their work has been displayed at the Chicago Architecture Center, the Field Museum, in TV shows, and featured in Block Club Chicago, the Chicago Tribune, and the Washington Post, among others.