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.
This project was a commission from the Oregon Park District. From various discussions with the park district and brainstorming with local residents and groups, I originally wanted to create a painting of a historical parade that took place every Labor day. I started looking through historical archived photographs at the local historical society and further at Northern Illinois University to find pictures of this parade, but none could be found. Instead, what I found brought out the idea of an old postcard design using old images of groups and places that were important to the town in the early 1900’s.
The first vignette, depicts the old wooden covered railroad bridge across the Rock River. Next, a family or two playing in the river under what would become Lowden State Park. The tree was named the “Eagle’s Nest” Tree, which was also the name of a group of visual and performing artists 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 air 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! (That was the parade of my original idea.) 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 inside the park.
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 maquettes 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.