I live in a tiny town thirty miles from Chicago. There’s no quaint downtown, no cunning shops and galleries, no station. There are compensations: a good grocery store, an excellent dentist, pretty parks, Two Brothers Brewery and good neighbours.
Best of all, we’ve got an excellent library. When I first moved here I was in my thirties and the Public Library consisted of a room sized like a pantry, stacked to the rafters with the works of Agatha Christie and Dr. Seuss. It was with a true sense of civic pride that a few years later Warrenville opened a brand new building, with thousands of books and a professional staff. A couple of years ago the city enlarged the library building because of the sheer demand on it, what with the computer carrels, meeting rooms, and all those new books. Heck, it even sports leather club chairs; if they installed an espresso machine it would look like Borders, but classier.
What makes my library a standout, in my book, is the two large oils by the American Impressionist painter Adam Emory Albright. Google Images provides examples of his work, but there’s nothing online or in print about the paintings in my library. Maggie, Girl Photographer toted her camera with her today when she returned a couple of books and paid her debt to society by settling her overdue book fees. I’m not a trained photographer and the pictures hang about fifteen feet over my head, so I apologize in advance for the image quality.
I don’t know the names of these paintings, but I always call this kid “Huck.” Even better, I recognize the background — it’s a little park on the DuPage River less than a mile from my house.
The hills in the background rules out a local setting, but my name for it is “The Grove.”
Impressionism isn’t my favorite school of painting, but these two canvases are luminous. Their position in the library gives them a great sense of place, a kind of small-town karma. Albright lived most of his life in Warrenville, after an artistic education at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Philadelphia with the great American painter Thomas Eakins, and Paris. He raised his artist children Malvin and Ivan Albright here, and died in Warrenville in 1957 at the age of ninety-five. (Madeleine Albright is a family connection.)
There’s a family tie-in too. My in-laws moved to the “Ville in the early fifties,and built a house three doors down from Albright’s studio. Adam developed a late life crush on my beautiful mother-in-law. He’d appear at the kitchen door most summer mornings with a bunch of posies he’d picked for her, and stay to flirt, gossip and talk painting. (My mother-in-law was an artist herself.)
We know that Dvorak spent a year in Spillville Iowa and wrote “Symphony from the New World” there. Lots of dots on the map have sheltered greatness — Edwin Hubble and Red Grange grew up a town away in Wheaton. Heck, the Dairy Queen we drove to in Gatineau, Quebec when I was in third grade was owned by Paul Anka’s uncle! Warrenville can claim the Albrights.
It’s a cold gray day here. I paid my debt (13 bucks in overdue book fees) and basked in the endless Midwestern summer sunlight of Adam Albright.