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Updated: August 18, 2022 @ 2:14 am
Theresa Peterson, Marilyn L. Wilken and Christine Michels hold up their own handmade pieces.
A woman observes paintings in the Kankakee Art League’s Annual Show during the 2022 Rhubarb Festival held at the Kankakee County Museum.
Life editor
Theresa Peterson, Marilyn L. Wilken and Christine Michels hold up their own handmade pieces.
A woman observes paintings in the Kankakee Art League’s Annual Show during the 2022 Rhubarb Festival held at the Kankakee County Museum.
In 1946, a group of local artists came together to form Kankakee Art League as a way to gather area artists and share different sets of expertise. Last year, the group hit a milestone of 75 years and officially kicked off the celebration of the anniversary at the 2022 Rhubarb Festival.
In preparation for the annual festival, president Marilyn L. Wilken, secretary Christine Michels and treasurer Theresa Peterson gathered at the museum to bring together pieces that would either be sold at the festival or put on display as part of a museum showcase. The showcase is currently running now through the end of August and celebrates the league’s 75 years.
With the celebration comes reflection of the past and how the league got to where it is.
“You stop and think, this was at the end of the Depression, end of World War II, and people were looking for things to do and get involved in,” said Wilken, noting that people were “more organizational-minded” due to there being less distractions.
“They wanted to get together with like interests and I think that’s how some of this got started…and, here we are with the art league 75 years later, who would think?”
Michels said that it’s important to have those “historical markers” in order to appreciate the long-lasting history of the league.
“Seeing the history seems to help us propel forward,” Michels said. “It helps you to go on to have knowledge of the past and bring it forward.”
A LEAGUE WITH HISTORY
The current purpose of the Kankakee Art League is as stated: “The purpose of the League shall be to encourage and help those interested in constructive artwork, to assemble periodically for criticism and instruction, and to extend and develop the art spirit in Kankakee and its environs.”
While that purpose continues to be the main focus, the Kankakee Art League’s board and members have been busy collecting as much of the league’s history as possible. A piece of that history is an article written by former member and historian Genevieve Hebert in 1975.
“Thirty years after organization the Art League continues to meet every Tuesday…and its members are from all walks of life. Recognition has come to several,” Hebert wrote.
Mentioned in the historical article were charter members, including Carolyn (Bally) Taylor, who happened to be the junior high art teacher of current president Wilken. Taylor taught at what is formerly known as West Junior High School, and Wilken describes her as having been “a mentor.”
“Even to the point when I was doing my student teaching, I would come in to do some observations and she would just turn the class over to me — I was scared to death!” Wilken recalled with a laugh.
75 YEARS OF ART
The purpose of collecting history is not only to have an understanding of the past, but also to connect with others who might have pieces of art from past members.
Member Susan Bowen is putting together a spreadsheet of past members. Peterson believes the list will come out to be around 200 members.
“I’ve got books that go back to 1968; I’m going to go through all of those books with the names,” Peterson said. “We’re trying to collect all of the names for history and find more paintings to represent past members.”
Peterson shared that anyone with information on past members, or the art of past members, is welcome to contact the league via email at artkal77@yahoo.com.
Of the milestone, the group is excited for what has happened and looks forward to what’s to come.
“I’d really like to extend our league to other people to come join us and bring to us what they know,” Peterson said. “We have a lot of people who are just starting.”
“We’re creating history every minute, we’re forming it right now and are doing things that can change the history of the art league,” Michels said.
With that perspective, Wilken shared that she’s “overwhelmed and honored” with the anniversary.
“That this organization has made 75 years — that is an achievement,” she said.
• 18th Annual Members’ Art Show: Now through Aug. 31 at the Kankakee County Museum.
• Bastille Day Festival: 1 to 4 p.m. July 16 at the French Heritage Museum.
• Painting Workshop with Jon Seals: Happening 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at ONU. Registration required.
• Fall Art Stroll: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 11 at the Train Depot in downtown Kankakee.
• Harvest Days: Oct. 1 & 2 on the grounds of Watseka’s Old Courthouse Museum.
• Family Pet Workshop: 10 a.m. Oct. 18 at Lisieux Pastoral Center.
• Artisan Fair: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Kankakee County Museum.
To stay up to date with upcoming meetings, visit the league’s Facebook page at facebook.com/KankakeeArtLeague.
For more information on future meetings — or to submit information of past members — email artkal77@yahoo.com.

Over the weekend, Knack Brewing & Fermentations opened its doors to the community. Between a soft opening Friday and a grand opening Saturday, the nano brewery in south Kankakee sold 755 beers.
Life editor
Taylor Leddin-McMaster is Life editor of The Daily Journal and editor of Lifestyles of Kankakee County. A graduate of Illinois State, she was featured as a prominent journalist by Thrive Global. Email: tleddin@daily-journal.com.
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