Illinois Folk Art is focus of exhibit in Wheaton - chicagotribune.com
The term "made in Illinois" is not stamped on any of the 100 items in an exhibit "Early Illinois Folk Art 1825-1925" now on display at the DuPage County Historical Museum in Wheaton, but if it were it would signify the skill and ingenuity of the artists, exhibit organizers say.
Weather vanes, pottery, lightning rods, whirligigs, and decoy ducks are among the hand-crafted pieces that are intended to show 21st century visitors how many functional items — that also are artwork — were crafted back in the days when there wasn't a store on every corner nor a worldwide web to search for what you needed in day-to-day life.
The objects offer a view of what life was like in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The years 1825 to 1925 were chosen to highlight because that was a time before mass production of goods made it easy to buy a dish or tool, she said. It was a time when people often had to find their own way to make tools, pottery, clothing and whatever else they needed.
"They re-used and re-purposed to make what they needed," said Arnas, who noted that's an aspect of folk art that often what makes it so intriguing to people. It shows artistic skill, as well as ingenuity, she said.
Bob Jacobsen, a member of the DuPage County Board who helped put together the exhibit, agreed.
"Folk art demonstrates the heart of the innovative American spirit," said Jacobsen of Wheaton.
Windmill weights signify the sort of creative problem solving that folk art can represent. The weights on display in the exhibit were made to keep smaller mills used to pump water from ground stable.
"People needed water and plenty of it," Jacobsen said. "Farmers needed water. Trains needed it. But no one could afford the massive windmills they built back East. People made smaller, affordable ones, with big blades to pull the water from underground. Problem was, those prairie winds from the west would knock the small windmills over. Heavy windmill weights kept Midwest windmills from toppling over.
Six paintings by Sheldon Peck, an itinerant 19th century artist who made portraits and eventually settled in Lombard, are a highlight of the exhibit. He is known as one of the village's early settlers.
Arnas said five of Peck's paintings are from private collections.
"They haven't been on view in the public," she said. "It's a rare opportunity to see these paintings.
One of the people who is especially excited to see the original Peck paintings is Jeanne Schultz Angel, director of the Lombard Historical Museum. She said the Lombard museum has only reproductions of Peck's paintings in its collection.
Original Peck paintings, she noted, have sold in the $800,000 to $1 million range.
"I can't wait to see the paintings," she said, adding that the folk art exhibit has inspired her to begin thinking about how the Lombard museum might put together an exhibit of Peck paintings.
While Presidents and generals may get much of the attention in history books, Jacobsen said the paintings, as well as other items in the exhibit, are a way to learn about the history of everyday people and apply some of the exhibit's lessons to life now and in the future.
"There is so much to learn from this exhibit, about history and for the future," he said.
The exhibit runs through Sept. 15 at the museum, 102 Wesley St. Admission is free. For more information, go to dupagemuseum.org or call 630-510-4941.