Archive for the ‘art’ Category

Something to help brighten people’s time at Common Ground



In our neighborhood

This has been a tumultuous year in so many ways, and it’s not over yet: coronavirus and a Covid-19 pandemic, with all the health, economic and educational side effects; police brutality against Black people, resulting in protests and riots against systemic racism and a resurgence in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement; an upcoming presidential election in the USA, which is probably the most critical in decades, if not longer.

So, it’s no wonder that people are stressed and tired, worried about their kids and their education, their jobs, a roof over their heads even. All true in our town, which is trying to come to grips with returning students at the university, and which is largely supportive of diversity and racial equity. Many people display Black Lives Matter signs in their yards and many people have joined protests.


facade2Now, a local store has an initiative to show support for diversity and that Black lives matter, as do all lives. Common Ground is our local food co-op, focusing on fresh and local produce mainly, plus organic and sustainable products. From now until the end of the year, Common Ground is celebrating the work of six Illinois black artists in a new outdoor art installation, with the intention of bolstering these artists and showcasing their work. The store commissioned some of their existing art with Black, Indigenous and People of Color as the main subject. They hope this will celebrate the diversity of our community, and that looking at these art works will give people pleasure.

These art works certainly brought a smile to our faces, and it was fun to stop and examine them more closely, and try to understand what the artists were intending.


Close-up of part of the panel by Ja Nelle Davenport-Pleasure

The six artists are Mooki, Haiku, Kofi Bazzell-Smith, Nailah Davis, Ja Nelle Davenport-Pleasure, and Keenan Daily. Three artists are shown on each side of the entrance to Common Ground, bright paintings that are a colorful band for the outdoor seating behind.

Mooki’s main focus is to spotlight diversity. She works with traditional and digital mediums, her work inspired by video games, animation and her day-to-day life.



Haiku would like to be a comic artist, whose goal is to show the viewers that there are characters who look like them, and like the artist.


Kofi Bazzell-Smith, who is based in Champaign, focuses on manga, the Japanese-style comics. He has studied manga in Japan and speaks Japanese. Here he focuses on many different facets of Black lives in America.



Note the Japanese script


“Black art matters”

Nailah Davis was born in Chicago but is now based in Brooklyn, New York. Davis works in multiple disciplines, such as photography, performance, mixed media collages, video and instrumental music, with the focus on Africana life, with regard to race, gender and identity politics. Davis wants to highlight under-represented groups within the Africana diaspora.



Ja Nelle Davenport-Pleasure makes her art by re-using and recycling whatever materials she has. So, every piece is made from sustainable materials. She also works in the literary world, and dance and fashion.



Keenan Daily’s work focuses on disenfranchised and marginalized groups in society, hoping the works will help end suffering and allow those groups to express their trauma.



wonder what Dailey “means” with people and wild animals together?


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I recently wrote about a wonderful museum to the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle in Paris (see here https://vivsfrenchadventures.wordpress.com/2020/07/27/paris-maison-bourdelle/ ).

VstatueOne of the main pieces there is a “Dying Centaur”, so we were very happy to find a Bourdelle “Dying Centaur” in Allerton Park, central Illinois.

I posted that in the French blog as a follow-up to the museum, but it’s also relevant here as it’s basically our home town. So, here’s the link https://vivsfrenchadventures.wordpress.com/2020/08/13/bourdelles-dying-centaur/

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closeThere’s been an explosion of Naked Lady lilies here in Urbana in the last few weeks. Clusters of fragrant pink flowers on tall stems without leaves make a bright splash in many gardens and parks.

What are they and why are they called “Naked Ladies”? For many, they are a plant of mystery, contrary to what the name might suggest. They flower early- to mid-August once their green foliage has died back, giving them the common name of “Naked Ladies” because of the exposed stalks.



closerThey are actually Amaryllis Belladonna and there are at least 6 different types of Naked Lady flowers. Many of the amaryllis types originated from the western Cape region in South Africa. They are not related to the true lily (scientific name Lilium) but the names for the amaryllis belladonna often include a “lily” at the end. For example, Easter Lily (white, native to southern Japan), Jersey Lily and Surprise Lily are all types of amaryllis belladonna or “Naked Lady Lily”.

According to the Victorian Language of Flowers, amaryllis means pride, strength and determination. In Latin belladonna means beautiful lady. They are definitely beautiful and they do show strength—those tall stems don’t often seem to buckle or bend much, even with heavy rains or high winds.


We had ferocious straight-line winds 2 days ago (that damaged many trees), but these Naked Ladies are just bent.

markerThese gorgeous lilies are very popular—millions of bulbs are sold every year—and we, like many other neighbors, were out taking photos of them. There is a big bed of them in our local park, Meadowbrook Park—where there is another naked lady and a mystery.

It’s a statue of a naked woman on the edge of one of the paths around the park, gazing serenely out at the restored prairie. It is just called “Marker”, 1998, cast and fabricated bronze, by Peter Fagan. One wonders why “Marker”. Is she marking a special spot? Some event? Another mystery to this lovely piece is a skull on the edge of the base on which she stands. Why a skull? We wonder what the artist intended, what its significance or symbolism is.



signaturePeter Fagan is an American artist, born 1939. He taught portrait and figurative sculpture at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for more than 30 years. His focus is on three-dimensional representations of figures and animals, and his work is displayed in many different places around the country, including many UIUC buildings and state buildings. Some of his female figures are a little reminiscent of those of Degas, with their grace and delicate features. This naked lady does, we think, resemble some of the works of Degas.


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statueRSun Singer (1926), by Carl Milles (1875-1955)

As I mentioned before, we visited the Robert Allerton Park in central Illinois a number of times in the spring, as we could still walk outside during our stay-at-home orders in the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.

Besides enjoying the fantastic peony garden, which flowered in the spring, and walking the trails, we had fun trying to track down all the outdoor sculptures for which the park is famous.

Probably the most famous is the Sun Singer, which is in the center of a circular raised platform that’s in the center of a circular drive in a large meadow towards the end of the park. Most people drive there, but some also walk from the main car park.

It’s a large bronze statue of a nude youth, 15 ft 2 ins high on a bronze base set on a tall pedestal. He greets the morning sky with song and extended arms. We wonder about the history and story behind this lovely sculpture.


front2Carl Milles, a Swedish sculptor, created three Sun Singer statues: one is in Stockholm; another in National Memorial Park south of Falls Church, Virginia; and this one here in Allerton Park. Milles created them to honor the Swedish poet Esaias Tegner (1782-1846), who helped the public know about Norse sagas and Scandinavian legends. One poem was “Song to the Sun”. But, for his statues Milles chose not to use Norse warriors and gods, but instead used Apollo, the Greek god of the sun, music and poetry.

He has a helmet with a rearing horse Pegasus, and a tortoise under his right foot—this is an allusion to the first lyre made of tortoise shell and given to Apollo by Hermes. On the base are draped and nude figures of the nine Muses usually associated with Apollo festivals.


view2Allerton first saw the Sun Singer in Stockholm and liked it so much that he commissioned one for himself. He wanted a scaled-down version but there were miscommunications in the language, and Allerton got a full-version one in 1932. He had planned to place it close to the mansion, but instead set it in a huge meadow surrounded by low shrubbery (which is now much taller trees). John Allerton (Robert’s father) designed both the setting and the landscaping. Milles asked Allerton for photographs of the statue in place and apparently was really happy and thought the setting was the most magnificent he’d ever seen.

As we approach the circular drive and the statue these days we have to agree—the setting really does set off the dramatic statue.




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The Bear statue


The Gorilla statue


Bear statue name

As I said earlier, during the Covid-19 stay-at-home orders in Illinois, we were lucky as we were still able to leave the house and walk in nearby local parks. One of those parks is the Robert Allerton Park (which I wrote about here https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2020/06/04/allerton-park-a-jewel-in-central-illinois/ ), and we visited a number of times, as there is so much to see and do there.

One visit we walked the Orange Trail that connects the main parking lot with the Fu Dog Gardenthrough the woods and were surprised and delighted to find two really interesting outdoor bronze sculptures that we’d not seen before. The inscription on one is “Denicheur d’Oursons” by Fremiet, the other is also by Fremiet but we couldn’t find a title on it. It’s a gorilla carrying off a woman. So, we were inspired to do a little investigating.




Side view of Gorilla statue

Turns out that these sculptures have a long and fascinating history. In October 2016 these two famous sculptures were returned to Allerton after a 30-year absence. They were mistakenly included as part of the transaction when the University of Illinois bought the Lorado Taft studio in 1937 (Lorado Taft is well-known local sculptor). Now I need to find out how Taft got the statues. After years of being kept in storage, and following years of negotiations, they were donated to the University in 1959 by the heir of the original owner. They were then installed on the Orange Trail at Allerton, mounted only on the dirt beneath them, and stayed there until the 1980s when they were moved to the Krannert Art Museum.

They are now back to delight—or shock—trail walkers, now mounted on concrete pedestals.



Rod and Bear statue

Both the large bronzes were cast by French sculptor Emmanuel Frémiet (1824-1910). “Denicheur d’Oursons” (1885) translates as “Hunter of Bear Cubs” or “Bear Cub Thief”. “Denicher” means to pluck from the nest. It’s a rather graphic depiction of an enraged mother bear stabbed by the hunter, who has a dead baby bear hanging from his belt. The man is also badly injured by the bear and will soon die, so it seems there are no winners in this encounter. When he first showed his Bear and Man of the Stone Age (listed as “Ours et Homme de l’age de pierre”) at the Paris Salon in 1885 it was made of plaster. Then he cast two bronzes of the statue, when it was renamed Denicheur d’Oursons: one is here in Illinois, the other is in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris, where children enjoy climbing on it. They are not dated or numbered, but at that time it was not common for works to be dated or numbered. The foundry was Thiebaut Frères, Paris


Foundry mark


Me and the Gorilla


Rod and the Gorilla

Gorilla Carrying off a Woman” (1887) is just what it says, but one wonders why the woman is wearing only a loin cloth. There is a slithering snake at the statue’s base, which might be a symbol of evil. It was also in plaster when first shown, and won a gold medal at the Paris salon in 1887. There are three other bronzes of this piece; one at the Menagerie of the Jardin des Plantes, Paris; and two in museums in Nantes (France) and Melbourne (Australia).


Joan of Arc, Paris, by Fremiet

Both of these powerful pieces have caused a lot of controversy over the years—artists saying they are sexist, racist, examples of nature clashing with humans. They do indeed elicit emotion, which to my mind is one thing that art should do. The setting for these pieces at Allerton is great, on the quiet trail, deep in the woods. They represent a standard of late 19th century academic and popular taste, favoring works that contrast bestial force with human figures of grace and vulnerability. They are angry beasts acting according to their natural instincts, victims as well as perpetrators of violence.

Frémiet became famous because of the anatomical accuracy of his works and his ability to produce life-size animal groups. He worked mainly with animal studies, but did produce some other famous works. Two that we have seen are the gilt-bronze Joan of Arc in the Place Pyramides, Paris, and the huge elephant in the plaza outside the Musée d’Orsay, called “Jeune Éléphant pris au piège”.


Me by Fremiet’s elephant outside the Orsay Museum


Fremiet’s Joan of Arc

Emmanuel Frémiet (1824-1910) was born in Paris into an artistic family. He was nephew and pupil of Sophie Frémiet and later a pupil of her husband Francois Rude (who did a lot of work in Dijon and has a museum of his works there) and trained in art from a very young age. As a student he spent much of his time at the Jardin des Plantes studying the live animals and participating in the dissection of the ones that had died. Along with Antoine Louis Barye, people consider him to be the best and most well-known French animalier sculptors, who also made collecting animal sculptures fashionable.

See more about Frémiet here http://www.bronze-gallery.com/sculptors/artist.cfm?sculptorID=22



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During the Covid-19 stay-at-home orders in Illinois, we were lucky as we were still able to leave the house and walk in nearby local parks. One of those parks is the Robert Allerton Park (which I wrote about here https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2020/06/04/allerton-park-a-jewel-in-central-illinois/ ), and we visited a number of times, as there is so much to see and do there.

twoBesides walking the trails and enjoying the various flower gardens, we were really interested in all the art works and decided to try and find as many as possible. Robert Allerton loved art and music from a very young age, studied art in Europe and, even when he was managing his family agricultural holdings, collected different art pieces all his life. He donated over 6,000 art pieces to the Art Institute in Chicago (one of the biggest patrons in its history) and became an honorary president and trustee. Some of the sculptures in Allerton Park are replicas of those that he donated to the Art Institute.

And the first we find are the Delphi Charioteers from 1924.

oneAs you drive in to Allerton Park you see two tall statues standing on pillars at the main park entrance. They are limestone, each 5 feet high, copies of a bronze Charioteer of Delphi made for the Art Institute, which was itself modeled after the Charioteer of Delphi in Greece, c. 470. They are not exact though, as the long draped tunics stretch, making them look almost like fluted columns.

When Robert Allerton first installed them in the park in 1924 they each had one arm and a bit of rein (like the one in Delphi). But Allerton decided to have the arms removed. As he said, “there was no chariot and there was this arm out, it just looked stupid.”

The original Charioteer of Delphi (ca 478 BC) once stood at the Temple of Apollo in DelphiDelphi. It was found by French excavators in 1896 and is one of the few original bronze statues surviving from Ancient Greece. It is now in the Delphi Archeological Museum.

These two limestone statues are lovely and make a dramatic entrance to this wonderful park.

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A walking trail in Allerton Park


Fu Dog Garden


From the Walled Garden to the Parterre, the greenhouses, Visitors’ Center and cafe on the right

The Robert Allerton Park is a 1,517-acre park, nature center and conference center in central Illinois, very close to the town of Monticello, about a 40-minute drive from Urbana. If you are ever in the area it is definitely worth a visit, to walk around, enjoying the gardens and outdoor sculptures, and perhaps have a picnic.

Please note: the Visitors’ Center and café are currently still closed as per the University Covid policy. But the rest of the park is open, with signs for people to be mindful of social-distancing.


Peony Garden


Walkway between the gardens, with a statue of Adam

Robert Allerton (1873-1964) was an industrialist heir to a banking and stockyard fortune, a philanthropist and an artist who built this private estate at Allerton in 1900. The estate was the center of the 12,000-acre agricultural enterprise built up by Robert’s father, Samuel  Allerton(1828-1914) during the late 1800s. Robert donated it to the University of Illinois in 1946, plus an additional 3,600 acres of farmland. He also designated another 250 acres in the estate’s boundaries to be used as the Illinois 4-H Memorial Camp. He stipulated that the property be used for education, research, as a forest and plant-life reserve, as a park, and as an example of landscape gardening. The Robert Allerton Estate was registered as a National Historic Place by the National Park Service in 2007.

Robert oversaw his father’s interests in the central Illinois farms, but his real interest was art. He was educated in Europe (Munich, Paris and London) and became a keen art collector and artist, using the landscape as his canvas. Because he believed in the artistic power of nature he was totally committed to caring for the land. John Gregg was his protégé and later his adopted son. Robert and John shaped the Illinois farmland over many decades, capturing the natural beauty of the woodland and the prairie, and built formal gardens that they used as an outdoor gallery for the sculptures they collected in their travels around the world.


Walking a trail


Mansion and Reflecting Pool


Entering the Walled Garden


Avenue of Chinese Musicians

The park has many features and many things to do, so it’s easy to spend a whole day there, or to return. The first parking area is close to the mansion, and has a toilet block, and other parking is down the road near the start of the gardens. The Georgian-Revival mansion, overlooking a reflecting pond, is used for conferences and other activities. Nearby are a brick walled garden, formal European-style gardens, a small visitors’ center and café with toilets, a huge meadow, a long avenue flanked by gardens and lined with various statues, such as the avenue of Chinese musicians, (called the Sculpture Walk), leading to a Sunken Garden. The two main gardens are a Peony Garden (which has been glorious in the last few weeks) and the Annuals and Bulb Garden.


Sunken Garden


Peony Garden


Bulb Garden

The Sangamon River runs through part of the estate and some of the walking trails run along near the river.  Some of the walks in the woods lead to wonderful outdoor sculptures, such as the Death of the Last Centaur by French sculptor Bourdelle.  A short walk from the first parking area takes you to the Fu Dog Garden, and a longer drive takes you to the famous Sun Singer sculpture.


Relaxing after walking to the Death of the Last Centaur


Me with a couple of Fu Dogs


Running down the alley leading to Fu Dog Garden


The Sun Singer

We love visiting the park and marveling at all the treasures there. It’s quiet and beautiful, especially on some of the walking trails, and is a wonderful way to experience art and nature together.

Over the next few posts I’ll try to highlight some of these special places and features. The Illinois stay-at-home order due to the Covid-19 pandemic did allow people to still visit parks (so long as adhering to social distancing), so we took advantage of this, while we couldn’t do much else, and tried to visit all our nearby parks. We’ve been to Allerton three times in about a month.

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Masks, or Face Coverings

Here in Illinois, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we have to wear a face covering when in an indoor space and outdoors if social distancing is not possible. Almost everyone is complying, so it was fun to see that some of our neighborhood outdoor/garden sculptures are also wearing appropriate face masks.

Our neighbor with the Lady Liberty statue often decorates her (she had shamrocks and leprechauns on St Patricks Day, for example). Here she has a face mask with our University of Illinois logo.


horseI recently wrote about the lovely painted fiber-glass horse (see previous post), so today I was pleased to see the horse complying! We need to have a sense of humor in these times I think.


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Mr Big Beetle on an ash tree leaf



We love how the shadow of the leaf changes depending on time of day

I hope that all of you and your loved ones are doing okay during this Covid-19 pandemic. It certainly is changing all our lives, and will continue to do so in ways we probably can’t imagine yet.

Here in Urbana we are lucky as we are still allowed to walk outside, so long as we all keep the proper social-distancing rules and, now, preferably wearing masks. So, we walk every day—it’s good for us, and helps to break the day. We have a wonderful park in town, called Meadowbrook Park, which I’ve written about a couple of times before. Besides the walking paths, there are many outdoor sculptures, some of which I’ve described before. Sometimes they change, as some are just on loan for a while, and then a new one appears.


signThis one is relatively new. It’s lovely, but also has an interesting story.

The information board tells us it’s “Mr. Big Beetle Finds His Way”, by Janet Austin, 2015, stainless steel and glass mosaic. It was first shown in Lincoln Park Zoo in 2015, and recently came to Meadowbrook Park.

Janet Austin lives and works in Chicago. Her sculptures represent natural forms, mainly plants, larvae and insects. She believes that invasive and unappealing species are unfairly hated and people don’t appreciate their uniqueness and beauty. She feels that humankind needs to realize the importance of biodiversity, and the harm that applying pesticides does to the environment.

In the case of this beetle, what strikes one first is that, yes, it is big, and it is pretty with beetleiridescent green tiles. The interesting part is the meaning of “Finds His Way” in the title. He’s finding his way through a leaf maze, and the leaf is in the shape of an ash tree leaf. The larvae of the Emerald Ash Borer make trails like this in the bark of ash trees. The beetle came to this country from Asia, probably on wooden shipping palettes. In Asia there are many natural predators for the beetle, but not so here, so over the years many hundreds of thousands of ash trees were affected and had to be cut down. Including here in Urbana-Champaign.

For Janet Austin this creates a dilemma: the beetle is just doing what he has to in order to survive. We want to save the ash trees, for many reasons (such as shade, shelter for other creatures), but to do that we have to apply pesticides around the roots, which may affect other insects and birds eating those insects.

I find this a really thought-provoking idea, one that has no easy solution, but hopefully her work will make people think.





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Treasure hunt--Sunshine and rainbows



I love this one!

With basically every country in the world caught up in this tragic global Covid-19 pandemic and most people ordered to “Shelter in Place” or be in a lockdown situation, there is probably no chance that much celebrating will be possible on April 1, 2020 for April Fools’ Day, or for spring events, or for Easter or Passover.

So, communities will try to come up with alternative ways to still celebrate special days and events, and I’m lucky to live in a community that’s doing just that. In times of great national and international stress and crisis, we see both the good in humankind as people try to help friends and neighbors and, sadly, sometimes, the bad.  From the start of the time that our town (and state) was ordered by the governor to Stay at Home, one neighbor came up with the idea of a neighborhood treasure hunt or scavenger hunt.


Even this statue in the park was decorated

Each week she’ll come up with a theme and people will stick pictures of that theme on their windows or doors facing the streets, or on fences or hanging from trees branches. People, especially families with children, can still walk around the neighborhood, with appropriate social-distancing, and try to spot as many of these as possible. It’s been a lot of fun so far.

The first week was something to celebrate St Patrick’s Day on March 17, but our shamrocks and leprechauns stayed the whole week.


Our local Lady Liberty

The second week was sun, sunshine, rainbows (to brighten our forced isolation).


fairystorySomeone went to a lot of trouble making fairy houses and telling a story for the kids. The paper says, “Did you know that fairies love sunshine? On sunny days fairies go outside to soak up the sun very early in the morning. Sometimes they work in the garden or go visiting. Sometimes someone leaves them a nots, and during the early morning sunshine hours they find time to answer it.” Very wonderful for kids getting cabin-fever, being cooped up at home.


This week is Silly/Funny faces for April Fools’ Day and for Poisson d’Avril.



happyspringIn addition, we have neighborhood children who write cute messages on the sidewalk, and I’ve seen a hopscotch chalk layout and a collection of small stones with a sign saying “please feel free to play”. One lady  on the next block turned 100 years old last week. Her special party had to be postponed, but friends and neighbors still made it memorable; they put up a huge celebration sign on her lawn, and gathered (with appropriate space between people) outside and sang to her.


starEach day as I walk in our neighborhood I try to find some of these fun signs, so here are a few to share. It’s heartening to see such efforts by our neighbors to try and lighten the toll of the forced isolation. Enjoy, and I hope that you are experiencing the same kinds of things wherever you live.

Here’s some background on April Fools’ Day. Depending on what comes up next week linked to Easter and Passover I may do something on that too.

April Fools’ Day is on April 1st each year and has been celebrated by different cultures for many centuries. The exact origins of this day are not known but here are a couple of speculations.

First, many countries used to use the Julian calendar, in which the new year started withfish the spring equinox around April 1. In 1563 the Council of Trent (the Roman Catholic reply to the doctrinal challenges of the Protestant Reformation) said people should switch to the Gregorian calendar, which starts on January 1. France followed this mandate in 1582, but some people were slow to follow and still celebrated on April 1. They became the butt of hoaxes and  jokes and were called “April Fools”. Some of the jokes involved having paper fish stuck on their backs, unawares, and being called April fish (poisson d’avril), meaning a young, easily-caught fish or a gullible person. There are other pranks too that always involve a fish in some fashion.


“If you’re happy…….

Poisson d’Avril is celebrated in Italy, France, Belgium, and French-speaking areas of Switzerland and Canada.

Another idea is that April Fools’ Day was linked to the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere, when Mother Nature fooled people with changing, unpredictable weather. This is why such countries as Poland, Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Finland and Denmark for example,  also have variations on April Fools’ Day.

Whatever the actual origin, the celebration spread


…Clap your hands”

widely through Britain in the 18th century and from there to many other countries around the world. Over the years, the idea of pranks and hoaxes gained more traction and many people, plus newspapers and TV stations, staged very elaborate hoaxes.


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