A new historical mural for Flagg Creek Heritage Society is being painted on the sides of the society’s home and museum, which ought to improve the cinder-block building’s appearance no end. Chicago artist John Howard is hard at work on the mural even as you read this, executing the work on three sides of the building (for now, the back end and part of the north side will simply remain blank, painted with a pale yellow base coat). Howard began the work on July 1 and says he expects the work to be done by Labor Day, if not the end of August. FCHS has tentatively scheduled a dedication ceremony for Sunday afternoon, October 5th between 2 pm and 4 pm. More details on that later as they become available.
The historical society’s home is in Walker Park at 7425 S. Wolf Road, part of the Pleasant Dale Park District in Burr Ridge, just south of Joliet Road/Historic Route 66. Actually, the museum building is tucked in between the basketball courts and a children’s playground at the northern end of the field house’s north parking lot. Previously, if you didn’t know exactly where to find the museum – which, to be fair, looked like a storage hut or a cement garage – you might have easily missed it, given that the field house (better known as the rec center) has two parking lots, one on either side, and Walker Park is huge for a suburban park (check out the area on Google Maps satellite view here).
We caught up with the artist purely by accident last Sunday. Having agreed to meet in the Walker Park parking lot that morning and carpool down to Funks Grove, IL for our one-day road trip, we arrived to see the muralist working on the building’s south face. He showed us the overall design, which he’d drawn on a long roll of paper to use as a guide – and to show the society what he had in mind. As might be expected, Flagg Creek features prominently as a backdrop for a number of other images, including an Interstate 55 sign and a U.S. Route 66 shield, a hazy image of downtown Chicago’s skyline with the Board of Trade Building and LaSalle Street in the clouds, early settler Joseph Vial’s first cabin, an I&M Canal barge, local wildflowers, and a Potawatomi brave and his hut.
“I sketched out some ideas, and we talked it over. I’m still moving a few things around,” Howard admits. That’s how the Route 66 shield showed up: a bystander noticed the I-55 sign in the design and remarked that Route 66 should be represented there, too. Howard pointed out several other local features that have been worked into the design, including the historic Lyonsville Congregational Church, barely a mile north at Route 66 and Wolf Road, and the village’s Veterans Memorial on County Line Road at 77th Street (see images below) near the I-55 interchange. The memorial is in a small park immediately south of the Burr Ridge Village Hall and across the road from the huge shopping center that was built on the former grounds of Cook County’s Bridewell Prison Farm (the last vestige of which survives in Bridewell Drive).
The society is paying for the mural out of its own pocket – no grants or donations are involved (so far), according to society president Alice Latham and long-time member Hazel Sharp. For now, half of the mural has been commissioned; the other half will commence once there’s enough funding. FCHS is accepting donations to that end. For more information on where to send your money, see their website.
Howard says he prefers to paint early in the morning and finish off for the day by 11 am, before the park gets too busy. The mural is being executed in water-based acrylic paints. Howard teaches painting (watercolors, portrait painting and murals) at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Heights and also at two south suburban community centers.
FCHS also operates and maintains the historic Robert Vial House just half a block north of the museum (oddly, it’s painted in a similar pale yellow as the museum’s base coat). The Vial House was the home of Lyonsville pioneer Joseph Vial’s second son, Robert. Joseph Vial, who settled in the area in 1833, was the area’s first postmaster and a Cook County politician, ran an inn at the stagecoach stop (which also functioned as the post office), and was one of the founders of Lyonsville Congregational Church, in which both he and his sons were active. They and many other Vials are buried in the equally historic Lyonsville Cemetery (Hazel Sharp, in fact, is a Vial descendant through her late mother, Ruth Vial Martin). The house, which had been built on Plainfield Road in 1856, was moved to its current location in the 7300 block of Wolf Road in 1989, and its move was documented in a program on the HGTV cable channel. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.
We’ll be checking in on the mural’s progress periodically, but meanwhile, here’s a few shots of the Burr Ridge Veterans’ Memorial, which is pictured in the mural way up on the center-left of the building’s south side, facing the parking lot. Hope you like them. BTW, all photos on this page and in this blog (unless otherwise indicated) are copyright 2014 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved, which means if you want to use them, even for a tweet, you have to get written permission from yours truly to do so. No borrowing! Intellectual property protection; please understand. Thanks in advance ;D
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Until next time,
your Route 66 art critic, Marie