Historical mural of Oregon, Il circa 1900. 32′ x 8′. Installed on the north wall of Midland States Bank on Route 2 in downtown Oregon, Il. Created in the fall of 2010.
I received this commission after being back to Illinois less than a year. An interesting time. I was 6 months married to my 2nd husband and had been diagnosed with breast cancer. While working in a warehouse painting this, I was getting radiation treatments forty-five minutes away and looking for a new home an hour and a half away. The new husband was being relocated for his job.
I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to research historical archived photographs of the town at Northern Illinois University and came up with the idea of an old postcard while researching. It depicts the old wooden covered railroad bridge across the Rock River, a family or two playing in the river under what would become Lowden State Park. The tree was the “Eagle’s Nest” Tree that a group of visual and performing artists named themselves that came out to Oregon every summer. This artist colony was established by the American Sculptor Lorado Taft. They spent the summer on the property of a Chicago lawyer whose mansion is depicted lower right corner and where they found that gnarly tree. The group painted plein aire as you see on the bottom left corner, held classes, and performed plays. At the end of the summer, the troupe would dress up and parade through town on their way to pay the lawyer the rent for the use of his land. They’d walk up to him and pay him his big fee…a whole dollar! After the lawyer died, the land and home was left to the state. The mansion became a boys home for a time, but was torn down in the 1970’s. The land became Lowden. The 500 year old Eagle’s Nest Tree fell during a high wind in 1972 and now lies in a garden of native plants at the Taft Campus there at Lowden.
The other characters in town were a bachelor club called “The Owls”. They are the row of gentlemen you see in the lower middle. When one of the bachelors became engaged, they’d put him in a lady’s dress and parade through town while he pushed a baby carriage with an oil painting of a baby in it. You’ll find the betrothed standing far right. The painting still exists today at the local library where you can also find some of Lorado Taft’s marquettes for sculptures he created.
Taft created the “Eternal Indian” sculpture also known as Blackhawk. A 50 foot concrete sculpture that stands on the bluff above those river bathers and near where our lady painter stood that day long ago.