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Newest Water Street gallery 'illuminates' audience

Second Row column: Glowing work at Water Street's new gallery

BATAVIA – Light can be interpreted in many different ways, as evidenced by the opening reception for Water Street Studios’ newest gallery, “iLLUMINATE.” The show, which drew hundreds throughout the evening Friday, will be open for visitors through May 12.

Steven Lockwood, Water Street’s gallery director and a Batavia resident, said the Water Street staff  members have been planning this gallery for about nine months.

“I wanted to make an entirely new experience for visitors of our shows,” Lockwood said. “This show is extremely different from everything else we’ve done.”

For the show, Water Street is using extra donated space by Batavia Enterprises, attached to its current location at 160 S. Water St. All the pieces in the adjacent space are self-illuminating, including the gallery’s best of show winner, “The Light Miners” by Sean Williams.

“I’m a sculptor myself,” Lockwood said. “I put a lot of light pieces in my own work. I wanted to see what other artists could do. I wanted to see their concepts of light.”

One of those concepts was a photograph taken by N.P. Lanthrum, a photographer from Elburn who now lives in Geneva. The 32-year-old depicted Brother Jim Fogarty, an individual who gets in the middle of scuffles inside Chicago’s worst neighborhoods, including what was known as Cabrini-Green.

Lanthrum has followed Brother Jim around for about 15 months, working on a documentary about how Jim has offered his life to save others in the midst of troubling gang activity in the city. He provides ministry, love, and support to occupants of Chicago’s housing projects. Jim has made it his life’s work to reach out to the unreachable, Lanthrum said.

Brother Jim Fogarty was in attendance and talked with visitors who saw him dressed in the same stitched-up robe made from denim rags as depicted in the photograph on display.

“I want people to see the people that live here,” Lanthrum said. “There are human beings – I’m really focused on the human aspect of bringing light into peoples lives. Brother Jim, and what he does, that’s what illuminate means to me.”

The Illinois State University graduate is giving out free copies of his print, aptly titled “Brother Jim,” to individuals who donate $200 to Jim’s organization, Brothers and Sisters of Love.

“I want to put back into his organization as much as possible,” he said.

It’s the ability to host a show of this nature that makes Water Street Studios different from other galleries across the Chicago area, said Jim Kirkhoff, the director of development and public relations for the studio. Kirkhoff had a piece selected for honorable mention by the cast of jurors, which including Lockwood and guest juror Frank Maugeri.

“It’s an absolute departure from the standard model of a gallery,” Kirkhoff said. “It’s what we can do as a nonprofit. We have the luxury to do things for the sake of art as opposed to the sake of commerce and we have strong supporters who believe in that mission.”

When the studio’s open, Kirkhoff encourages interaction with the artists who are at the studio.

“Come in and ask questions,” he said. “Ask yourself why and engage the people here. We’re here because we love the engagement.”

Maugeri is the co-artistic director of Redmoon in Chicago.

“The Fox Valley is lucky to have such a resource,” Maugeri said in a news release. “Water Street Studios brings together a talented community of artists who, together, are making a real social impact on the Fox Valley.”

Maugeri wasn’t able to make it to the show but left glowing endorsements of the work completed by the honorable mention artists that was read aloud during the course of the evening.

One of the artists whose piece was given the honorable mention title was Jim Jenkins. The Geneva resident had one of the more unusual pieces on display, called “The Thief.” He calls his work an “illumination through reflection.”

The piece features a donated pair scalpers, a watch given to him by his father and an X-ray he’s had for many years. Visitors can look through a magnifying glass and see typewriter letters spelling out “Alzheimer’s?”.

“The word has a great impact in the piece,” he said. “I think it speaks for itself.”

His wife, Monica Jenkins, was enjoying the other pieces in the gallery.

“This is the strongest Water Street Studios show I’ve seen so far,” she said. “Every piece is just perfect.”

Not all the work was completed by Tri-Cities residents, though. There were pieces on display from throughout the region, including North Aurora and Chicago.

Artist Jennifer Cronin is one of those who came from Chicago to be a part of the reception – her first visit to the area. Her untitled self-portraits earned her recognition as an honorable mention.

“I am really excited and impressed with the amount of high-quality artists here,” she said.

With the amount of work put into the show by its creators and artists, it’s no surprise the community came out in droves to see what exactly “iLLUMINATE” was all about.

“I am stunned and very happy about how this turned out,” said Joi Cuartero, the gallery’s art director and executive director of Batavia MainStreet. “We love for people to come downtown, and Water Street is really an economic drive for us.”

Lockwood felt that this show in particular garnered a different amount of excitement around the community than previous galleries.

“I know the community is absolutely in love with us – and we have a lot of good support from them,” Lockwood said. “While giving some fellow artists a sneak peek, they were in awe of the new artists and the work that is shown. This just may be my favorite show we’ve ever done.”

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