Waukegan Salutes the Military with Art

Artist Leisa Corbett of Grayslake, right, speaks with Patricia Hogan. Corbett’s painting, Honorary Man is displayed at Dandelion Gallery.

photos by Tina Johansson

by Tina Johansson

It may have looked like your typical 3rd Saturday of the month ArtWauk in downtown Waukegan. It was not.

Many of the galleries were abuzz with a sense of pride and heartfelt gratitude for the men and women who are serving and who have served this country. And everyone seemed to have a story to tell about a loved one who was in the military. Some of the exhibit-goers were veterans themselves.

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Nicole Romany captured this photo at Naval Station Great Lakes, just five days after four Marines were gunned down in Tennessee. Flag in Mourning is on display at the Karcher art gallery.

“This is great. It’s so nice to have this kind of art on display,” said Tony Mazzuca, a former Army officer. Mazzuca of Waukegan took the art tour with his new wife Connie, and both were amazed by what they saw.

From the timeliest of moments caught on camera, to dreamy, ingenious depictions of war via paintbrush and paper-mache, nearly every little shop in this close-knit arts community featured something to honor those who serve.

At Dandelion Gallery, 109 S. Genesee Street, Leisa Corbett of Grayslake displayed her painting Honorary Man.

Corbett, a former Army Intelligence officer stationed in Berlin, said when people, particularly women, view her piece, no explanation is needed.

The painting completed in 1990 features the artist next to a handsome blonde soldier, her former husband. She is depicted as a puppet, with rosy cheeks and a hinged mouth.

Corbett, who began creating art as a child said making this particular work gave her a great sense of relief. “During that time there were things that I felt, but I couldn’t say,” she said.

Nearby, Waukegan artist Mary Neely’s 16” x 20” piece – homage to her late husband Kevin, a Green Beret—hung on a wall. The bright orange and black mixed-media work was created from a 1970 photograph of Mr. Neely who served during the Viet Nam Conflict.

If interest arises, Neely will share smaller prints of the piece for $25 each.

A gallery-goer takes at look at Mary Neely's mixed-media piece, modeled after a photo of her late husband Kevin.
A gallery-goer takes at look at Mary Neely’s mixed-media piece, modeled after a photo of her late husband Kevin who served as a Green Beret in Viet Nam.

Down the street at Karcher 405 Gallery, an exhibit of works by Columbia professor Richard Laurent proved to be a popular display.

There were photos and paintings from others also, at the hotel-turned artist lofts.

Curator of the Karcher 405 Gallery art exhibit delights in a painting by Richard Laurent. The piece is of Laurent's father-in-law, a veteran.
Nicole Romany, curator of the Karcher 405 Gallery art exhibit delights in a painting by Richard Laurent. The piece is of Laurent’s father-in-law, a veteran.

Nicole Romany, curator of the Karcher exhibit, went to the Naval Station Great Lakes to get a shot of an American flag.

The photo captures life in the flag, though a sad one. Taken in July, just days after four Marines were gunned down in a terrorist attack in Tennessee, Romany recalls how the flag at half-staff kept flipping and wrapping around metal bars next to it. “It was as if the flag were mourning, crying for the Marines that were killed,” she said.

Though Navy personnel continued to unwrap the flag, the flag seemingly had a mind of its own. When she looked at the photo later, Romany was surprised to observe four of the brightest stars in the flag. “Those stars represented the marines,” she concluded.

She appropriately titled the piece Flag in Mourning.

Men of Honor by Evelyn Larsen Ford
Artist Evelyn Larsen Ford was inspired to create Men of Honor, a 48″ x 48″ acrylic on wood piece, from a true story, and a Navy pin she was gifted 30-years ago. She added the trident at the top of the special class of diver helmet for more interest. – Evelyn Larsen Ford photo

Though she generally deals in other medium, local artist Evelyn Larsen Ford dove into the show by painting an impressively-sized picture of deep sea blue with a diver’s helmet.

Ford said she got the idea for the piece after reading a true and stirring story by Heidi Keller about two Navy divers who perished together in 2013 after their oxygen supplies were cut off. According to accounts, one of the men could have chosen to save his own life, but did not. “(They were) men of honor who chose to die together, rather leave a man behind,” said Ford. Subsequently she “fell in love with the story.”

An intricate, now oxidized, pewter pin, given to her as a gift from a mobile diver long ago was the inspiration for the centerpiece of the painting. In fact Ford proudly donned the pin during the ArtWauk exhibit.

Ford manages and curates Sidecar Studio at the east corner of the Karcher building.

Local artist Evelyn Larsen Ford and her family from left, Evan, and right, Ivy are a talented bunch.
Local artist Evelyn Larsen Ford and her talented family–from left, Evan, also an artist, and right, Ivy, a singer. – Ford family photo

Creativity runs in the family.

Ford’s son Evan, a graduate of Warren Township High School who is studying illustration and figure drawing at College of Lake County, intrigued spectators with his colorful illustration of a solider in action in his 11” x 14” piece titled Last Stand.

Evan, 20, has been creating and selling prints of his artwork for several years.

If you missed the ArtWauk exhibit in September, there is still time to see many of the military-inspired pieces again. Dandelion Gallery will feature Corbett’s painting Honorary Man on Oct. 17 and Oct. 22; and Karcher 405 Gallery will continue its Richard Laurent series that includes a large portrait of his father-in-law, a former longtime serviceman, with an American Flag background, through Nov. 11.

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Last Stand by Evan Ford offers a colorful rendition of a soldier. Evan, 20, a Warren High School graduate is currently studying art at CLC.

That’s not all.

In fact the entire City of Waukegan is brimming with military pride right now. The exhibits began appropriately on 9/11 and many are continuing through Veteran’s Day.

It is all part of the WaukeganArtWise 2015 Series titled “Those Who Serve.”

At the Waukegan History Museum in Bowen Park combat photographer and Waukegan High School graduate Albert Klein’s work from WWII is being featured.

A Veterans Visual Art Exhibition is taking place in the Lake County Courthouse lobby.

Play on.

Two Rooms which is about a journalist kidnapped and held hostage is being performed at 3 Brothers Theatre at 115 N. Genesee Street. It stars Caitlin Robertson, Rick Adams, Bill Cahill, and Emily Dykstra and runs on Oct. 2, 3, 9 and 10. Visit https://www.3brostheatre.com/ or call 319-621-0024.

At Clockwise Theatre visitors can see Soldier’s Heart by Tammy Ryan and directed by Doug McDade. Show times are Saturdays and Sundays Sept. 25 through Oct. 18. Clockwise is at 221 N. Genesee Street. Visit clockwisetheatre.org.

The Bowen Park Theatre Company will present two plays about 9/11 – The Guys by Anne Nelson, and The Mercy Seat by Neil Labute. Show dates are Sept. 25, Sept. 26, and Oct. 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, and 11. Bowen Park Theatre is at 39 Jack Benny Drive. Call (847) 360-4740 for more information.

Writer’s Series at the newly-renovated Waukegan Public Library.

Recently Benjamin Busch, a decorated Marine officer (he is a recipient of the purple heart medal among other honors) who served two combat tours in Iraq and was an actor on the hit HBO series The Wire, visited and spoke to several groups including students, about his powerful memoir Dust to Dust.

In addition, Busch’s photo exhibit The Art in War is on display at the library through Veteran’s Day.

Benjamin Busch's
The Art in War by Benjamin Busch who served two tours in Iraq is on display at the Waukegan Library until November 11.

Not to be missed.

On Oct. 8 Michael Pitre, author of Fives and Twenty-Fives will visit. Fives and Twenty-Fives marks the measure of a marine’s life in the road-repair platoon. The book proves that filling potholes on the highways of Iraq is a very dangerous job.

Kirsten Holmstedt, Winner of the 2007 American Authors Association Golden Quill Award and Winner of the 2007 Military Writers Society of America Founder’s Award will feature her book Band of Sister on Nov. 5. Band of Sisters presents a dozen groundbreaking and often heart-wrenching stories of American women in combat in Iraq.

The moving force.

Urban Edge Gallery, Waukegan, Ryan Spencer Reed
Acclaimed photojournalist Ryan Spencer Reed with one of his many photos on display at Urban Edge Gallery, 220 Clayton Street. This particular one is especially moving. It features a soldier who was watching his baby being born via Skype.

And last but not least, Those Who Serve presents a very compelling and powerful photo exhibit at Urban Edge Gallery by acclaimed photojournalist Ryan Spencer Reed.

The exhibit which is the catalyst for all the others, features pictures taken by Reed who was embedded with the 101st Airborne Band of Brothers in Afghanistan. The photographs he took while embedded speak to the experiences of young soldiers when we send them to war on behalf of our country. His work debuted at ArtPrize 2014 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. More than 220,000 people stood in line to see his exhibit during a three-week period. This same body of work was also just recognized by Pictures of the Year International for World Understanding.

Lori Nerheim, chair of the Waukegan Arts Council explained about the launch of the inaugural theme series for Those Who Serve. In creating the event, she and council members had a number of goals in mind: “We wanted to inspire conversation, to have thoughtful collaboration among our community partners, to build audience and bring people to Waukegan, and to elevate the profile of our city.”

Nerheim added, “And it seemed a natural given the number of active and retired veterans in our community. We have the Naval Station in our backyard and Lovell Healthcare Center in North Chicago.”

 ArtWauk is sponsored by the Waukegan Arts Council, Waukegan Main Street, and the City of Waukegan. For more information visit info@artwauk.com or call 847-623-6650.

To find out more about the 2015 series “Those Who Serve,” visit waukeganartwise.com.

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