There’s a multi-million dollar art collection at a high school just west of town. WTTW News toured the newly renovated gallery while school was still open — classes resume Wednesday, August 21 — and heard from students finding artistic inspiration on campus.
Paris Schutz: There is an impressive collection of American Impressionists. There are scenes from the American West. A pastel by the great portrait painter John Singer Sargent. And the works of Frank Dudley, whose paintings promoted the preservation of Indiana’s dunes.
This view of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago was painted in the year of the fair, 1893.
These original works of art do not live in a museum. Their home is at Park Junior High School in La Grange Park, not far from Brookfield Zoo.
The local school district incorporates art into the curriculum. For students, it is a real introduction to creativity.
Marc DemonteGrade 7, Park Junior High: It means a lot to me because we see a lot of different types of artwork and just like a lot of different things here, we see a lot of different techniques and a lot of different things. pictures and stuff.
Emma SchultzGrade 7, Park Junior High: We’re also learning the story behind these paintings and I think it’s really special that we have that because other middle schools don’t understand that, and I think it’s really good that we can come down and see all these beautiful paintings.
Schutz: The works are curated by the nonprofit Salt Creek American Art Foundation, which recently expanded the gallery to get more artwork on the walls.
Joyce FitchSalt Creek American Art Foundation: We have over 120 pieces in the collection, which we call the Nettie McKinnon collection.
Nettie McKinnon was headmistress from 1929 to 1960. She was a firm believer that children learn through the fine arts, and so one of her famous sayings is, “Children grow up in respect and grace when exposed to to the arts.
Schutz: McKinnon began purchasing artwork for the collection during the Great Depression, when it was a buyer’s market.
Her students raised funds by selling magazine subscriptions and greeting cards. A class of graduating students would then donate newly acquired work to the school.
Over the years they have used the gallery for history, art appreciation and writing projects.
And of course, the collection has only gone up in value.
Fitch: When we had it appraised in 2006, it was worth several million dollars.
It’s very secure, the Art Institute helped us with security so if a mouse drops in the middle of the night, someone will know. We’re on video ourselves right now.
You know, I went through the district as a student, as a teacher, as an administrator, then on the school board.
I’ve always known that when kids know a lot about art or work with art it makes them better readers and they can appreciate things better, but seeing this first hand is phenomenal for me to see how they react to the paints. I’ve yet to see a student walk through the door for the first time and not say “Oh, my God!”
The Nettie McKinnon Gallery is located at Park Junior High School in La Grange Park and private tours are available. Visit the gallery’s website for more information.
Note: This story was originally published on June 27, 2019. It has been updated.
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