Artists far and near come home to Library Gallery


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By Michelle Dybal

Contributing reporter

Pieces of one-sies, rickrack, pom-poms from grandmother's pillow, even a wedding dress deconstructed, placed purposefully in circles, a mandala of sorts, monochromatic white. A ravine, bathed in the light of day, buildings on cliff edges, brush-stroke-and-oil-defined stone, images only represented by being in such a place, which seems to only exist in one's imagination. 

Two artists, two vastly differing styles, yet with similarities, including exhibiting at the Oak Park Public Library Art Gallery.

Diana Baumbach and Matthew James Collins were born Oak Park and raised in artistic families, Baumbach's mother an interior designer and Collins' father an architect. They grew up surrounded by art and architecture and began drawing from an early age.

Collins, who now lives in Florence, Italy, creates art using "a language that was developed ages ago" informed by artists such as van Dyck, Velazquez, and Corot, while creating something all his own.

"Art is something beautiful that speaks through time and reflects on your own experience," Collins said. "I work from life. Each picture has a story."

His show, "A Dream Incarnate: Italian Landscapes and Portraits," opens at the Library Art Gallery this weekend. It contains oils, as well as works in pastel, bronze and terra cotta.

Starting with a class at 14 at the Oak Park Art League, then studying studio art and art history in Chicago, Collins moved to Italy more than 20 years ago to continue his art training. He now teaches at a Florence atelier.

For him, exhibiting in Oak Park is nostalgic, as he reminisces about reading books at the previous incarnation of the main library with the sculpture out front.

"Oak Park is a beautiful place and it had an effect on my formation," Collins said. "I want to share my art here."

Baumbach took art classes at OPRF High School before moving away for her art education. She now lives in Laramie, Wyoming, where she teaches art at the University of Wyoming.

Her exhibit, "Meditation on White," which closed in early July, brought her art to the village she views as the root of her creative life, and to the library she loves.

"The library is in the heart of Oak Park," she said. "Museums and galleries can be exclusionary, but absolutely anyone can go into the library gallery."

The first library gallery was conceived in the early 1990s when then library director Carol Brey and local, prominent art collector and Museum of Contemporary Art co-founder Joseph Shapiro, created an L-shaped gallery to feature area artists at the previous Main Library in Oak Park.

When the current library opened in 2003, a permanent second-floor gallery space debuted. Illuminated with natural light pouring in through large southern windows, as well as focused lighting, the space features art that rotates monthly. To date, 160 shows, and even more artists, have exhibited here.

To be eligible, artists need to have a connection to Oak Park, River Forest, Forest Park, the Oak Park Art League, or the Oak Park Area Arts Council. Debby Preiser, library community relations coordinator, manages the art gallery.  

"We have amazing creativity here, so we provide a space," she said. "But the library is a gathering place for the community and a cultural center, so it is part of that mission."

Christine Baumbach, who is an interior designer, garden designer, and acrylic painter, as well as a 37-year Oak Park resident and the mother of Diana, had a show in April. It was a year in the making as she transitioned from mural painting for clients to painting canvases for pleasure.

When the exhibit went up, she was enlightened at seeing her art displayed together in one space. "I could stand back and see my style and palette for the first time."

Christine Baumbach also found the sense of community to be one of the best parts of exhibiting, including bringing together neighborhood friends, some she hadn't seen in years, at the artist reception.

"The library is a place where we interact and make community," she said. "I was proud to share my art here."

An artist reception and opening with Matthew James Collins will be held on Saturday, July 8 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Main Library, 834 Lake St. 

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