Sen. Julie Morrison

On December 3, 1818, Illinois became the nation’s 21st state. As we come to our state’s 200th birthday, we asked senators to talk about people or places in their districts that represent the best of Illinois’ rich past and how that is shown in local history, tourism, culture or community impact.

The Ravinia Festival at Highland Park, Illinois, is the oldest music festival in North America. Senator Julie Morrison visited the site in the 29th District where thousands of families have enjoyed all genres of music since 1904. Along with entertainment in a beautiful setting, Ravinia plays a vital part in the local economy and provides hundreds of jobs.

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Amanda Evanston is the November Artist of the Month. She is from Evanston, and her favorite medium to use is acryclic paint.

How long have you been an artist or when did you start? Was there a single incident or moment when you realized this was your passion and if so, would you tell us about it?

Painting has always been with me. Always. My first memory is finger painting in the bath tub. My first friend was a lunchbox filled with art supplies. I was never the smartest or the prettiest or the funniest kid, but I could draw stuff for hours and my parents were kind enough to encourage the habit.

When I paint I can feel my cells shift. There’s nothing like it. I’m fortunate enough to live in a time and place where I get to do it every single day.

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October AOM Headshot

William Butler is our October Artist of the Month from Peoria. He has used many types of two dimensional mediums, but he likes to paint with acrylic paint most.

How long have you been an artist or when did you start? Was there a single incident or moment when you realized this was your passion and if so, tell us about it?

When I was 6 years old I told my Dad I wanted to be an artist. No one in the family was surprised because I was always drawing. It was a family amusement to talk about how I would become a famous artist living in a mansion with all of my paintings on the walls. But no one, including myself, had a clue as to what it really meant to pursue that path. I came to know about making a living in graphic design and illustration, so I studied that in high school and college. I worked in that field for almost a decade. While I was at Illinois Central College, I met James Winn. He was substitute teaching for my regular illustration instructor, and I got to know him a little as a teacher. After graduating from ICC, I went to Northern Illinois University to finish my degree. My first job out of school was as a graphic designer and illustrator for AutoMeter in Sycamore, Illinois, which is just north of AOM Photo 5DeKalb. I decided to attend a Baptist church in town, and I reconnected with James Winn. In the interim, his life had changed dramatically. He was now represented by Struve Gallery in Chicago and was making a great living just painting all day and selling his highly detailed landscapes. He invited me to his home, and over time I learned about what he had been working towards all these years and his high status in the art world. The idea of being an independent fine artist became much more real to me. So, I set out to follow that path ever since. If James hadn’t been my teacher at ICC, I don’t think I would have gotten to know him four years later.

Illinois has been factored into your work in the past.  What does being able to live and work in Illinois mean to you?

Since Illinois is centrally located in the country, there are opportunities in every direction. For eight years, I showed and sold my art in art fairs in surrounding states and as far away as Florida. I have shown in galleries and places in Alton, Springfield, Bloomington, the Quad Cities, Chicago and various nearby suburbs.

What opportunities does Illinois present to local Illinois artists?

With Chicago and St. Louis so close, the possibilities are vast. Peoria has so many opportunities for artists with the many organizations, groups and places to exhibit. In the last twenty years, Peoria has grown dramatically in support of the arts and culture. There are many alternative venues to exhibit also. For example, I have shown my work in coffee shops, lobbies and libraries.AOM Photo 4

What do you like about Illinois?

I like the friendly people and there are lots of interesting and beautiful places in Illinois that I like to visit. I like to hike at Forest Park Nature Center, walk along Grandview Drive and in the historic Springdale Cemetery. I enjoy living, kayaking and working near The Illinois River.

What is your favorite medium to work in?

I have worked in just about every two dimensional medium, and painting is my favorite. I have come to prefer painting with acrylics especially because they are so versatile and are almost fool-proof. I also have come to appreciate a fast drying time. I tap into my inner child and play.

Where can people view or purchase your work?

Anyone can visit my public art studio and observe as I work on art on the third floor of the Contemporary Art Center located AOM Photo 7on the riverfront in Peoria. It is as if I am in a fish bowl. You can follow me on Instagram at @williamebutler1817 or visit

What artist inspires you and why?

My current series was inspired in 2006 by the sculptural paintings of Elizabeth Murray, especially the work of the last ten years of her life. American Masters just aired a documentary on her on PBS. She grew up in Bloomington, Illinois and graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago. I was attracted to her doodle-like cartoon imagery and the outlandishly bright color. The scale of the work and the intricacy of construction draws a viewer in. The multiple shapes linked together seemed so innovative to me. She is in a category all her own.

2Stanley Bly is the September Artist of the Month. He lives in Springfield and creates artwork using oil paint on wood.

How long have you been an artist or when did you start?  Was there a single incident or moment when you realized this was your passion and if so, tell us about it?

Like any cliché, I always knew I wanted to be an artist, ever since I was a kid. I graduated with my bachelors in art from the University of Illinois in Springfield, and it was through those studies I became interested in art history and poetry, two things that still affect the work I make today.

There was a single moment that made me the artist I am today, and that was when I was accepted into a show at the Illinois State Museum, the Pro-Text exhibition.  From there I made friends with other like-minded artists who I still work and show with. They’re very talented people.

Illinois has been factored into your work in the past.  What does being able to live and work in Illinois mean to you?

It’s where I grew up, it’s the landscape I know, and it’s really a much more diverse state in terms of people and landscape than people realize. For me to work here and be able to make paintings here is wonderful. I’m right in between many different metropolitan cities, all within a day’s driving distance. Plus, there isn’t a shortage of history to pull from.

What opportunities does Illinois present to local Illinois artists?Midwestern Boreas 2015 38 x 73. Oil on Panel Copy

Well of course there are galleries, grants and business opportunities here. It’s just like anything, you have to search them out and work hard. Working hard doesn’t make it any easier, it just means that some of those opportunities start coming to you.

My daughter brought home a picture she drew one night to my studio, and I said, “Wow, that’s really great! Do you think you’d like to do something like this?”  She said, “No way dad!  I don’t want to work that hard!”  I still laugh about that one to this day.

What do you like about Illinois?

I like the dynamic nature of this state. I can drive 20 minutes outside of Springfield and be around rolling hills. I can drive 3 and a half hours north and be surrounded by buildings so tall that I can lose which way west is. There is a large diverse group of different types of people from all walks of life and experiences that live here. Not every state changes in the seasons like we do either. Every trip is a little different.

The Midwestern Congressional 24 x 24 2016What is your favorite medium to work in?

I like to paint in oil paints on wood. It originally was an homage to the Pre-Renaissance painters, before canvas came around, then I realized how the wood shimmered and that made it into something that somehow seemed more alive.

Where can people view or purchase your work?

My work can be viewed and purchased on my website, the Springfield Art Association Collective and through Artsy. You can also contact me though Instagram or through Facebook.

What artist inspires you and why?

Mark Tansey, a contemporary painter, changed my work the most. His work is funny, serious, introspective, and so well executed it makes you wonder why you paint. The concept of Tansey’s wheel even touches upon genres I don’t like, but Tansey pulled it off and did it in a way that is simple reverence.

John Waterhouse is also one of my favorite painters.  His use of paint and the ability to take a scene and execute it in such a staged and beautifully poetic fashion is truly incredible.  In fact, The Lady of Shallot is probably my favorite painting.  It’s heart-wrenchingly beautiful. 

In honor of #ReadABookDay, check out these fictional stories set in the Land of Lincoln:

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1855)
By Mark Twain

Huckleberry Finn book

Huckleberry Finn, a young teenager, travels along the Mississippi River through Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Arkansas on a raft with Jim, who is escaping slavery. Huck’s father Pap lives in the woods on the Illinois side of the Mississippi.

The House on Mango Street (1984)
By Sandra Cisneros

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“The House on Mango Street” is coming-of-age novel and tells the story of Esperanza Cordero, a young Latina girl, and her life growing up in Chicago with Chicanos and Puerto Ricans.

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