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Thursday, February 2, 2023

Founded on volunteerism, Naperville Art League remains strong 60 years later


NAL Report, by Linda VanderKolk

Many Naperville area residents remember taking classes, attending art auctions, visiting the Riverwalk Fine Art Fair, and enjoying original art of the Naperville Art League. Memories abound as the League celebrates its 60th Anniversary and continues these activities and more.

An ad in the local newspaper invited anyone interested in forming an art league to attend a meeting. The response was overwhelming and, in June, 1961, 30 members founded the nonprofit Naperville Art League with a mission to provide art education, encourage interest in all forms of creative art, and stimulate understanding and appreciation of art. The organization was chartered in October 1961.

It was an enthusiastic group that first met in homes, then the basement of a Naperville bank, and later in the basement of Nichols Library. They started offering art classes and participation grew. Art auction fundraisers followed soon after which were held in the showroom of Clyde C. Netzley Chrysler-Plymouth car dealership which was located on Washington Street. World renowned maritime artist, Charles Vickery, was an active member of the League, taught classes, and donated a painting each year for the auction fundraiser.

One founding member, Marilyn Polivka, went to Naperville businesses asking if they would like to hang the members’ art. League art appeared in a restaurant, a bank, a medical office, and others, and was rotated every 6 weeks. Built on this program, and now called Art Around Town, today Naperville Art League member art is showcased in many Naperville businesses including the halls of Main Street Promenade.

To help hone artists’ skills, a critique group was formed whereby one’s art could be evaluated and recommendations for improvement made. Along with additional classes, these ideas were well-received.

In 1978, the League had raised enough money to purchase a vacant church on the corner of Center Street and 5th Avenue. Volunteers stepped up and did renovations and yardwork, cleaned gutters, built display walls, etc. Naperville Sun newspaper owners Harold and Eva White were supporters of the League and generously paid the outstanding mortgage balance on the building. Classes and gallery shows abounded. A social committee actively promoted events.

In 1985, under the guidance of member Dee Pasternak, the League planned and presented its first Riverwalk Fine Art Fair, which was a huge success with over 130 artists displaying their work along the Riverwalk. To publicize the event, League members reenacted the famous Seurat painting, Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte.

Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte
Weekend afternoon along the Riverwalk

The art fair continues and is in its 37th year. The now nationally recognized, award-winning annual Riverwalk Fine Art Fair is held in September of each year.

Sunday afternoon along Jackson Avenue

​NAL was remembered in the White’s estate, allowing the League to add a separate gallery to the existing building in 1996. In 2009, the Naperville Fine Art Center & Gallery became a part of Naperville’s Century Walk with the addition of the World’s Greatest Artist mural, designed by Mike Venezia and painted by Marianne Lisson-Kuhn.

Naperville Art League has a rich history of volunteerism and service to the community. Today, more 200 members, like their predecessors, actively volunteer to promote and support art. New members are welcome.

The League’s monthly shows are open to the public, and a variety of classes are available for people of all skill levels and ages. To learn more, call the NAL at (630) 355-2530, visit www.napervilleartleague.com or stop at the Naperville Fine Art Center & Gallery, 508 N. Center Street.