Alfred Juergens, rediscovered

OP Art League hopes to exhibit work next year

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By ERICA MAGDA

A century later, Alfred Juergens is making his second debut in Oak Park. An extensive collection of his work came into the public eye just over a month ago, sparking renewed interest in the artist.

Eighty-five of Juergens' impressionist oil paintings, watercolors and sketches, which were part of LaGrange Park's Tikalsky family for decades, now face a wide-open future.

Margaret Tikalsky and her brother Frank are considering sharing the collection with the public, which could involve Oak Park.

Richard Norton of Richard Norton Gallery in Chicago said discovering paintings that have stayed within a family for so long is a common scenario.

But for most people, news of this collection-and its volume-came as a surprise.

"Up until this find, there really was no large, single body of work to look at and say, 'Aha! This guy was really good,'" said Mike Nickol of Michael A. Nickol Fine Arts in Mishawauka, Ind.

Margaret Tikalsky, 82, and Frank grew up with the paintings in the LaGrange Park home their parents bought in 1923, where the paintings held great personal value. Tikalsky's father, Francis, was a very close friend of-and fellow painter with-Juergens, who was 23 years his senior, and from whom he learned for many years. Francis purchased many of his paintings, which his daughter now owns.

In 2004, Margaret was the last to move out of the home. Preparing to sell it a few months ago, her estate handler, the Cook County public guardian, removed the art and other belongings to a storage unit.

In sorting through her valuables last month, the public guardian consulted experts to fully appraise the collection, which they knew was of some value, Joan Stewart, a public guardian health care consultant said.

At the same time, Tikalsky recently reunited with her brother Frank, who knows a great deal about the collection, which was stored a few weeks ago at Preservation and Recovery of Masterpieces of Art (PARMA) Conservation in Chicago.

Stewart said word of mouth (and a recent Chicago Tribune article) have raised awareness about Alfred Juergens, which has piqued his hometown's interest.

"[The collection] is a wonderful opportunity because [Juergens] has been out of the loop for a while," said Faith Humphrey-Hill, executive director of the Oak Park Art League. "This brings a renewed interest in his works and some other works from his era."

PARMA Conservation Director Elizabeth Kendall said the collection is wonderful and stable despite some prior neglect.

"There's lots of dirt and grime and dust and cobwebs. Some have tears and holes, [but] it could have been much, much worse," she said.

Humphrey-Hill said she has heard reports that the collection is "stunning and breathtaking."

Norton estimated Tikalsky's pieces would sell for $2,500 to $15,000 each, with the higher quality paintings beginning at $10,000.

The few pieces of his work that were on the market have sold for $1,000 to $4,000, Lucy Toomey from Toomey Galleries in Oak Park said. Higher quality work has sold for $10,000 and even $30,000.

Carl David, co-owner of David David Gallery in Philadelphia wishes that he had kept for himself a Juergens piece his gallery sold a few years back. "It was quintessential American impressionism," he recalled. If Tikalsky's collection contains quality pieces, he said, "I'd be quite interested to buy them all."

Many galleries, such as David's, are on the lookout for Juergens' work.

But it was not about the money for Alfred Juergens, said Norton, who describes him as a true artist.

"Some artists are really painters and they paint pictures to make a living. Other painters are really artists and they paint what they really want, and if it sells, it sells," Norton said. "Juergens was one of the latter."

Money is not the main factor for the Tikalskys, either. "I'm not interested in making even five cents," Frank Tikalsky said, which makes him "reluctant to deal with galleries."

"I have no economic interest, but I have great human interest," he said. He and his sister agreed that if she sold any works, "it would be to substantial collectors who would be responsible" and educate people about Juergens.

One group of Oak Park painting enthusiasts think they fit the bill.

The Art League is considering exhibiting some of the collection at their main gallery this time next year, Humphrey-Hill said, adding that it would be like a welcome home for Juergens, who was once an Oak Park Art League member.

"I would be very, very interested in participating in that," Frank Tikalsky said of the proposed Oak Park exhibit. "Juergens and the people of Oak Park had a great respect for each other," he added, saying he would want them to have access to his work.

The owners of Juergens' home for the past nine years are also interested in a homecoming. Kristi Sloniger said she wants to purchase a painting that includes their house or the neighborhood.

"It would be really awesome to have one of his [paintings] back home," she said. Sloniger hopes to have an exhibition of his work in their home or the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest, which also wants to be involved.

"[Juergens] is someone who lived and worked in the community. We'd love to be one of the places [that displays his work]," said Frank Lipo, executive director of the historical society.

Frank Tikalsky has a video of Juergens painting at the Grand Rapids Art Museum and a biography on Juergens by Francis Tikalsky, which he may share with the historical society.

Tikalsky added that they might sell (or potentially donate) pieces to some public institutions. An Oak Park institution would be number one on the list, he added.

Nickol said an exhibition is the perfect place for people to learn the most about Juergens. Going to see one painting here and another there, "it's really an impractical thing," he said. "When you've got a group, it's not only practical, but almost necessary to see it."

Joel Dryer, director of the Illinois Historical Art Project, said the Oak Park community will likely be very receptive to Juergens, who was one of many successful artists from Oak Park during his time.

"There have been so many people who have come out of Oak Park," Humphrey-Hill said. "It's great to see another come [into] the limelight."

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