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Anni Holm
Co-curator

Home exhibition - Postcards from Home - West Chicago is my home.         

I moved to West Chicago in 2004, when my husband and I bought a condo right by the train station, lured by the ease of commuting into the city. It was our first home together. It smelled brand new and a tiny bit of Burger King and train exhaust. We quickly grew used to the engines rumble, the shrieking breaks and bells clanging, whenever endless freight and commuter trains passed through. While the view was nothing to speak of, (the large gray commuter lot against the white wall of Jel-Sert), a 2 minute walk quickly would engulf you in a visual explosion of vibrant piñatas, papel picado, fresh produce and chip bags at the grocery stores next door.

We bought a house 2 years later in the Old Heidelberg neighborhood. Long known as the area where German immigrants first settled, more recently, it was also known for the perpetual scent of either cereal products or bugles from the General Mills plant down the street, mixed with an occasional hint of chewing gum from the Wrigley flavor factory just across the tracks. Our new home is where we continue to hear the train rumble by, a variety of Mexican music genres blasted on weekends from a party tent somewhere, birds chirping, lawn movers humming and church bells that ring on Sunday mornings. A home surrounded by lots of green grass, huge trees and sidewalks. A home that carried a scent of both the time and the people who lived in it. A home, that since we inhabited it, also has been filled with the accents of many visitors for extended periods of time from both near and far. 

Not having grown up in the United States, neither place actually felt like home - home, even though I’d say that I have a tendency to easily feel at home. For me home was Denmark, but not the Denmark I’d visit since moving here, but the Denmark I grew up in. For a while, I actually felt homeless, or perhaps just unsure as to where my home was. That was until I returned from the hospital after giving birth to my first child. It was as if, this profound experience all of a sudden had caused me to shoot deep and thick roots. Whereas before I had only had a huge, but very delicate network of roots near the surface -ready to be pulled out at any given time, and return to the home - home. West Chicago had now also become by home-home. 

For me, "home" relates to a feeling of connection. We moved houses a lot growing up, and while I felt like each physical structure was my home (after settling in), what really made it home was my family, our routines, and our traditions. One of the places we lived was outside of Houston. The Houston area didn't feel like home in the same way the Chicago area did/does. In terms of place as "home," I was not connected down there, and I still am not. On the other hand, we visited my grandparents in far northern Wisconsin every summer, and "the Lake" felt like home. My connection to that place goes back generations, as my grandpa's grandpa originally bought the land when working as a civil engineer for the railroad, and my family has spent summers up there for over 100 years.

Perhaps this is why my work focuses on connections to West Chicago as a place that is "home." As a non-West Chicagoan who knows much of the history and interacts with the people in my role as museum educator, it has been interesting for me to witness the strong connections people have with this town, whether or not they still live here. The dedication folks have to West Chicago as home has left an impression upon me, and I wanted to try to capture and share some of that dedication though my work.

The historical background that has informed my work has come to me naturally as a result of my position at the museum. The realization that people continue to nurture and deepen their connection to West Chicago as home became clear as I worked on my "West Chicago / Meeting Place" series of paintings in 2016. The way people reacted to my paintings in terms of the memories sparked and shared led me to want to include community voices in this new work. I’m grateful that the folks in the WeGo People Facebook group enthusiastically shared what ties them to West Chicago as a home.

In terms of the physical artwork itself, I took a new approach to visually representing my idea and the community voices. It began with the idea of being tied to a community, which evolved into the idea of using neckties as part of the work. I wondered if this was too cheesy, an overly-literal visual symbol. But, when I realized that I could mount the community voices to the underside of the neckties (so that the viewer would need to lift a necktie to read the voice), inviting interaction and physical connection between the viewer and the community voices, I decided to go ahead with the necktie idea.

The lifting of neckties would also act as a reveal for whatever was behind the neckties. For this, I chose the Graham Burnham Map of Turner. This is by far my favorite map in City Museum’s collection. One reason is that the map dates from a transitional and defining time in the town’s development, just after the Elgin Joliet & Eastern Railroad was built, but before the town’s name changed to West Chicago.

Another reason I love this map is the way in which it has a voice that speaks to the viewer in an attempt to persuade one to bring their business or home to Turner: “Turner offers opportunities to manufacturers, mechanics, homeseekers and investors offered by no other point about Chicago at the present time.” Included are images of factory sites in town, as well as a fine home, the Town Hall, and State Bank.

Finally, I wanted to present the opportunity to continue to add community voices to the work. A blank book is presented alongside the artwork for visitors to contribute to the work by sharing what ties them to their “home,” whether it be West Chicago or elsewhere.

My intention was to represent houses of worship in West Chicago by capturing the life-energy of their congregations. I chose my subjects, First United Methodist, St. Mary’s, Myouguoji Temple, and St. Michael’s United Church of Christ, because they demonstrate faith through their actions. They welcome and serve new immigrants, invite people of all cultures to learn together, partner with community organizations, assist the homeless, and commit to environmental sustainability.

I also represented the Congregational Church which once stood at Arbor and East Washington. It was torn down in 1961. I painted it to explore the idea that perhaps although the building itself is gone, somehow its spirit still exists in the hearts and memories of the people who once gathered there.

 St. Michael’s United Church of Christ
400 W. Washington St.
West Chicago, IL  

We welcome people of all ages, races, abilities, gender identities, and sexual orientations. We have three Community Partners:  West Chicago Elementary School District 33’s Birth to 3 Program, Healthy West Chicago, and People Made Visible.

Nichiren Shoshu (日蓮正宗): Myouguoji Temple
1S100 IL-59
West Chicago, IL

“Myogyoji temple is a place where people from all backgrounds and cultures come together to chant and learn the teachings of Buddhism based on the 750 year tradition of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism.” 

 St. Mary’s Catholic Church
140 N. Oakwood
West Chicago, IL

“We are a Catholic Community in its Second Century of Service Built Upon Faith, Family and Diversity.” 

1st United Methodist
643 E. Washington
West Chicago, IL

“We are committed to environmental sustainability, to sheltering the homeless population and to being the church into our third century of ministry.”

 The Congregational Church
Once located at Arbor Avenue and East Washington Street
West Chicago, IL

“Soon the land occupied by the church will become a parking lot. The community will be the poorer for it. The congregational church with its tall spire, has for 76 years lent dignity and something of a spirit of a better world to this largely commercial space. No buildings will rise that will make a better nor more uplifting skyline than whose lines rise upward to a tall spire or cross.  –West Chicago Press, July 27, 1961