Portraits of a community: Art meets history — and now literature — in Naperville's Century Walk
September 9, 2010 — Source: The Chicago Tribune Local — Author: Mick Swasko
A curious observer approached a man who had been circling and studying the sculpture College, Community and Country on North Central College's campus to ask why he was so intent on the 5-foot-4 bronze sculpture of a man carrying a football.
What the man said next gives artist Shirley McWorter-Moss the chills.
"He said, 'This is the first time I have seen my dad in 3-D,'" McWorter-Moss relayed.
She learned of the tale while she was in town for a gathering of artists to celebrate the completion of a new book, "Century Walk: Art Imitating History," by Naperville author Jini Clare. McWorter-Moss' sculpture of Bill Shatz, a legendary North Central football player missing in action in World War II, is one of 35 pieces of public art throughout Naperville that make up the Century Walk.
"People get it, people understand the importance of art in our culture," she said of her visit to Naperville from Anaheim, Calif., where her studio is based. "This art belongs to the community, and that's what makes it unique."
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The public art project began in 1995, when Naperville attorney Brand Bobosky read an article in Smithsonian magazine about the small Canadian town of Chemainus, British Columbia. The town had commissioned a series of murals after a major sawmill closed in the early 1980s, and the project brought tens of thousands of visitors. If that small town could do it, then Naperville could do it better, Bobosky said.
So he established the Century Walk Corp., a nonprofit organization with the goal of bringing art to Naperville that could enhance and reflect the community's culture while bringing in visitors much as the Riverwalk and Naper Settlement already did.
The art, which has been steadily installed and dedicated during the last 15 years, is available for the public to enjoy any hour of the day, Bobosky said.
"You don't have to be invited over to some rich collector's house to see it, you don't have to pay money to go to the Art Institute during the hours it's open," he said.
The art is supported by in part Naperville's Special Events and Cultural Amenities fund, which draws a 1 percent food and beverage tax from downtown establishments. But Bobosky said that as the project got rolling and gained support, many private organizations and businesses stepped up to contribute funds. All the installations combined carry a $2.5 million replacement cost, with public and private funding split evenly.
"It's a great cultural step they took," said Mike Venezia, whose mural "World's Greatest Artists" covers the south wall of the Naperville Fine Arts Center. "And they understand it. That's the amazing part to me. When other cities are cutting back, and art always takes the back seat when that happens, Naperville is promoting it and expanding it. And that's what makes culture in societies successful."
Venezia's mural depicts cartoon-style portraits of famous artists with realistic re-creations of their work, made life-sized by muralist Marianne Lisson Kuhn. The giant painted work is a mash-up of images from a series of children's books Venezia wrote and illustrated introducing children to renowned and local artists.
He said he hopes the mural, and all the Century Walk art in Naperville, garners the public's interest and inspires them to learn more about Naperville.
"(The art) is there to whet your appetite, and make you want to learn more about the settlement and the history of Naperville," he said.
Now that the first 35 pieces are complete, it's on to another phase for the Century Walk. Bobosky said the mission has been expanded beyond depicting significant people, places and events in 20th century Naperville, and now it can be expanded geographically as well. Future installations could be throughout the city, not just downtown.
But the time to reflect on the project was now, and the Century Walk board of directors commissioned Clare to document the art in a book that is sold around Naperville.
"I think with this book, we'll be able to share this story beyond Naperville," she said. "I think more and more people will learn about it and be attracted to it."
Clare said the book tells the story of both the art and the artists. Like Bobosky, she doesn't see the flow of new work ending anytime soon.
"I think it indicates a vision, and I think just like Naper Settlement and the Riverwalk showed a community coming together to make something wonderful happen for the community, I think Century Walk is a project like that," she said.