From the bronzed fingers of two children holding hands on a park bench at Jackson Avenue and Main Street to a reproduced fragment of Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte on the side of the Naperville Art League Building, art is everywhere in Naperville. It’s both a reflection of the city’s past and a spotlight on the present. Unique in that it can both unite and divide people simultaneously, one thing is certain, the city’s art is always a talking point.
Artwork doesn’t only live in museums, of course. Walking the streets of downtown Naperville, your eyes are drawn to over 50 pieces of public art provided for us all to enjoy by Century Walk, the city’s public art program. Inspired by a 1994 art project in Chemainus, British Columbia, Naperville now has what is arguably the most comprehensive public collection in the Western Suburbs.
Dick Locher, the city’s most famous artist and legendary Dick Tracy cartoonist, was honored with a nine-foot-tall statue of Dick Tracy on the Riverwalk near the Naperville Township building. Locher’s design served as the basis for the bronze sculpture. The nine-and-a-half-foot bronze sculpture of Naperville’s founder, Joseph Naper, was also designed by Locher. The statue is at Naper Homestead, on the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Mill Street.
Founded and led by Brand Bobosky since 1981, Century Walk has tirelessly helped produce work that is fun, colorful, informative, and sometimes controversial. “A quote from an unknown author that Century Walk has used is ‘Art is a vision of the soul that transcends morality,’” Bobosky said. “Thus an artist in a metaphoric fashion creates a work of art and upon the artist’s passing, the art remains his work for generations to come. This is all a form of transcending mortality and in some respects is good for everyone’s soul.”
Eight years after Naperville’s founding, the first commercially successful form of photography, the “daguerreotype,” was invented by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre of Paris. It spread rapidly throughout the world, with studios popping up all over the country.
Naper Settlement has thousands of early photos in its collection — one of the oldest is a daguerreotype of Joseph Naper taken around 1857, which is too fragile for frequent display. The Settlement also has hundreds of photographs from the studio of Christian Kendig, one of Naperville’s first photographers. Kendig took many photos of Naperville families and advertised that portraits of children were a specialty.
The highpoint of the Settlement’s art collection is the complete collection of local folk artist Les Schrader’s 42 paintings. When the original Pre-Emption House was slated for demolition in 1946, he depicted it in a painting, launching a 35-year career as Naperville’s visual storyteller. His collection is an excellent place to start any artistic tour of the city.
For Macarena Tamayo-Calabrese, Naper Settlement’s President and CEO, choosing just one favorite piece in their collection is impossible. “It’s like asking which is your favorite child; there are so many favorites,” she said. “In the end, though, the artists range in experience and notoriety, but one thing remains the same. We, as a community, have an insatiable desire to communicate who we are, what we’ve done, how we’ve lived, where we’ve been, and how we understand our world and our generations through art and throughout time.”
The Naperville Art League also hosts the Riverwalk Fine Art Fair, which draws more than 50,000 visitors to the two-day event every September. It’s the perfect setting to enjoy and purchase the work of more than 100 top artists from across the country, but not the only art fair in town.
Back at Naper Settlement, Naperville Woman’s Club has been hosting their Fine Art and Artisan Fair for more than 60 years. It’s been part of their mission for seven generations. Attracting more than 100 artists and artisans, it features an eclectic mix of paintings, jewelry, fiber art and even furniture. President Nancy de la Hoz says: “It is the Naperville Woman’s Club reputation that attracts many artists around the country, giving them the opportunity to display interesting and diverse works of art. These talented artists bring such unique creativity. During the two-day art fair (which takes place in June) many artists and art lovers have formed a bond and love returning each year to see what is new with the artist.”
Art Around the Arista
Naperville’s love of art is contagious and newer organizations are keen to add their stamp. There are original works of art throughout the CityGate Centre. They include a gallery of different painting styles related to jazz. On October 8th and 9th, they’ll be hosting one of their popular Artisan Markets, which will give visitors another chance to meet artists and buy eye-catching pieces.
One thing on which every art lover can agree is that Naperville’s art is an inspiration to us all. It can brighten a dull day or give us pause for reflection on a busy one. For those wanting to take it one step further, there are plenty of classes to try for all ages, from simple fun paint and sip events at Pinot’s Palette on Jackson Avenue to more structured courses at the Naperville Art League and Naperville Park District.
Author: Hilary Decent, Hilary Decent is a British freelance journalist who has embraced the Naperville community since relocating from London, England in 2007. Best known for her observational humor columns, she also enjoys sharing the stories of the people who call Naperville home.