At Home in Ward 19

Bonnie Fan

Perhaps the idea of a group exhibit portraying the love and support of a tight-knit family is too mawkish for the imagination. At least it would have seemed that way when Carla Winterbottom’s initial open call for artist submissions received a lackluster response.

The grapevine was far more effective, Winterbottom soon found. As artists signed on by word of mouth among friends and family, in a group of closely connected artists slowly came together and a show took form. The pieces all assembled in “Art19,” now on display at the Beverly Arts Center. The exhibit’s title took inspiration from the PBS series, “Art21–Art in the 21st Century.” However, rather than hailing from the 19th century, artists in this exhibit hail from the 19th Ward, which perches on the Southwestern tip of Chicago, incorporating the neighborhoods of Beverly, Morgan Park, and Mount Greenwood.

Within the plethora of classic Chicago motifs, a broader city-wide flavor emerges in the exhibit–one captured by glistening piers, diner signs, and subway stations. Some participants, like Raymond Broady in “Mothers and Children on Beach” and “Father and Son on Beach,” depict both urban landmarks and intimate family scenes. Sorting through the varied work on display, it becomes clear that the Center itself serves as the catalyst that allows the distinct cityscapes to mesh comfortably with the domestic realities of everyday life.

The Campbell family’s contribution to Art19 could be considered as “Mother, Father, Daughter, and Son Together in Art Gallery.” Sal Campbell’s assemblages that weld together the industrial with the handmade are accompanied on the adjacent wall by her husband’s photographs of big cities–it was at the Beverly Arts Center where he first developed a passion for photography. The family portrait is completed with the (unplanned) additions of Olympic ceramic trophies, crafted by the Campbells’ young children, Emmett and Maddie. Brightly glazed in yellow, the “number one” symbols on each trophy were added right downstairs at the Art Center’s pottery class for children.

Emmett and Maddie weren’t the only ones who found the BAC a safe place for exploration, either. Robert Workman’s journey ended in the sun-like star of “Kepler-11,” paired with a rough scrawled message (asking for naming rights to a star or two) that bring back the nostalgic joy of discovery. There are also the more traditional charcoal sketches by Dalton Brown that probe at the human anatomy, echoed also by the ears and lips that protrude from Carla Winterbottom’s smooth wood sculptures. In fact, many seemingly disparate themes or concepts find a reflection with other pieces in the gallery, like the faint suggestions and imprints of nature seen in Susanah Papish’s oil painting and Cathy Sorich’s light watercolors of birds and flora. Sandra Leonard’s wire-frame mannequin, clad in a washboard patterned dress in the center of the gallery, beheaded-ly gazes at the jungle of telephone wires painted by Bridget Scales Fennessy. The mannequin could just as easily be seeking out its missing face amidst an assortment of people you wouldn’t be surprised to bump into on the streets in the “Daily Paintings” by John Bakker–21 acrylic portraits in the flat colors of a picturebook, overlaid with snippets of everyday chatter.

This is to say that the gallery as an entire piece speaks to the ability of the contributing artists to come together in practice, not just with paintbrush or camera. Just three weeks before the opening of the show, Winterbottom began fighting a severe bout of West Nile Virus–a crippling encounter that prevented her from leaving her house, and unmoored her from any active involvement with the setup of the show. In her absence, her fellow artists teamed up with volunteers at the Center to keep the exhibit alive. Brian Richard, whose “Crup Painting #6” greets each visitor to the gallery with a floating scene of symmetrical beauty, came forward to conduct the orchestra of Ward 19 works along with Beverly Art Center’s Ashley Kimbrough. Winterbottom was touched: “It was a beautiful illustration of how local artists can come together as a community.” She still hasn’t seen the exhibit in person yet, but when she does, she’ll feel right at home.

Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111th St. East & Bridge Galleries. Through October 28. Monday-Friday, 9am-9pm; Saturday, 9am-5pm; Sunday, 1pm-5pm. Free. Hours subject to change. (773)445-3838.