Two Artists You Should Know
Meet Honorees Kathleen Farrell and Marsha Lega!
Imagine an outdoor, drive-through art and history museum that is free and open to anyone to see at any time. Then head to downtown Joliet, Illinois.
Today, it is nearly impossible to cross Joliet in any direction without seeing one or more of 140 plus historic murals, mosaics, and sculptures that dot the city and neighborhoods. They will kindle your imagination with stories about the history of the people, industries, heroes, and land.
This impressive outdoor history display started almost by accident by an energetic resident, artist, muralist, and sculptor Kathleen Farrell. Farrell recruited many artists in her pursuit including her sister, Marsha Lega, an award winning steel and metal sculptor.
Describing her own introduction to the Joliet art community, Farrell said, “I have a long history of doing community-based public art. I worked and was trained at a public art workshop in Chicago in 1975, while earning my master’s degree at Governors State University. At that time, I also did my first outdoor mural in Joliet, with Val Richards.”
In 1977, she said a former college friend and soon to be colleague, artist Kathleen Scarboro, joined her in the pursuit of creating meaningful public art throughout the community. The two have collaborated ever since.
“I worked on a number of murals here through the years,” said Farrell. “In the early ‘90s I proposed a series of four historic murals with painted decorative limestone & vines, for Joliet’s entryway viaducts, and the city accepted my proposal.”
“In 1994, we created the Friends of Community Public Art (FCPA), an independent not-for-profit organization that the city sponsored. It opened doors and encouraged public art city-wide,” she said.
“Through the FCPA, we employed professional local artists whom we trained and payed professional wages as well as met with local citizens to determine and plan our work,” she added. “We also reflected the racial and economic diversity of Joliet both in our artists and our subject matter.”
They were greeted with enthusiasm as they portrayed visual images of prairie, canal, and city life in paint, mosaic, bronze, and steel.
Lega added her expertise as she made steel backdrops and sculptures to help tell Joliet’s stories.
However, her public art may be better recognized through the 48 familiar rustic Cor-Ten steel life-size silhouettes of real people she created for the Canal Corridor Association along the Illinois and Michigan (I&M) Canal.
Lega explained that after a historic figure has been chosen, she dresses models in period clothing, photographs them in strong purposeful poses, then fabricates the silhouettes.
“One major challenge was that these works are in silhouette,” she said. “It’s tricky because when you turn a silhouette there is a point at which it is just a line. And with a silhouette, if a hand is in front of you, it doesn’t exist.”
“I think they wanted people to stop on their bike ride, look at the figure, read the statement about that statue, and maybe get a little invested in learning who the people were that passed that way before. So, to add impact, I put my models in positions that would make them look animated,” she said.
The Canal Corridor Association, and communities up and down the canal and beyond continue to request more historical and contemporary silhouettes, sculptures, and murals, Lega said.
“Through a cohesive series of artworks depicting scenes indicating the history and heritage of Joliet from it’s beginning along the I&M Canal through the current day, our work has brought the past back to life in the minds and hearts of the community,” Farrell said.
“Kathleen Farrell and Marsha Lega, artists and sisters, will be honored for their commitment to Friends of Community Public Art, the education of artists, and the public art in Joliet and throughout the I&M Canal National Heritage Area,” said Ana B. Koval, President CEO, Canal Corridor Association.
By Nancy Uznanski