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Geneva History Museum exhibits 'Fox River Testimony' paintings

Artist Joel Sheesley's 2-year project covered 80 miles of river

GENEVA – Artist Joel Sheesley moved from the city to the suburbs 45 years ago.

“The suburban world – I was shocked by it,” Sheesley said.

But he painted the view from the soccer fields, of people looking like they stepped out of an L.L. Bean catalogue.

Sheesley talked about his work at a special program at the Geneva History Museum Feb. 1, showing how he spent two years painting all seasons and scenes from the Fox River.

Sheesley, emeritus professor of art at Wheaton College, is a painter whose current work focuses on the landscape.

“A Fox River Testimony” features Sheesley’s 73 plein air oil paintings of the Fox River, covering more than 80 miles from Dundee to Ottawa. His work was in partnership with The Conservation Foundation for Art of the Fox as part of its Fox River Initiative, a program to help connect residents with the river and engage them to become environmentally conscious through local projects.

Select works from “A Fox River Testimony” will be on display from Feb. 2 to May 24 at the Geneva History Museum, 113 S. Third St., Geneva.

Sheesley’s paintings show the rock bluffs and bare trees in March at Indian Creek– a Fox River tributary in Lee, LaSalle and DeKalb counties – skunk cabbage sprouting bright green leaves in April at Red Oak Nature Preserve in Batavia and a snow-covered Norton Creek near Wayne in December.

Sheesley narrated various slides for more than 168 guests at the special program, showing how he got the sunrise just right – by sleeping in a tent and getting up at dawn.

He also set his easel up in a canoe and out onto a frozen river for different viewpoints. Sheesley showed slides of how his paintings begin with a sketch and gradually get more and more detailed as he paints the scenes.

The exhibition at the history museum is sponsored in part by the Geneva Cultural Arts Commission and the Geneva Foundation for the Arts and in cooperation with Mill Race Cyclery – which provided a canoe so visitors could see how Sheesley set up an easel and went out on the river.

Brook McDonald, president and CEO of the Conservation Foundation, said the Fox River is the reason so many people settled here.

“They relied on the river for survival,” McDonald said.

Though the Fox River suffered from pollution, an environmentalist – the late Jim Phillips – known as "The Fox" pushed back, resulting in cleaner tributaries and a cleaner, healthier river.

In addition to Sheesley’s paintings, artwork from the Geneva History Museum’s collections will be highlighted in the gallery lobby including scenes in and around the Fox River area in Geneva.

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