By Beth Simeone
The recent total facelift of the Oregon Public Library and Art Gallery seems to have inspired a resurgence in interest in the 110- year-old building.
The library staff has recently been contacted with donations of significant paintings for the Eagle’s Nest Art Colony Collection.
The great-grandchildren of the library’s founder Charles D. Etnyre have offered to loan a portrait of him to the collection, and two other families have offered paintings done by art colony members.
The interest and donations are especially timely since the library will celebrate the centennial of its dedication on the 4th of July this year.
Funded by Andrew Carnegie over a century ago, this cream brick building at 300 Jefferson St. has stood watch over the early dirt street and hitching post, survived the wrecking ball of progress and now experiences Google searches from around the country.
Visitors now use elevator access to the gallery instead of two flights of stairs as did artists, patrons Wallace Heckman, Frank Lowden, Charles D. Etnyre, and Oregon citizens.
The gallery guest book has many familiar names who trekked up those wooden stairs, dressed in their best on that very hot July 4, 1918 Dedication Day. If only there were “selfies” from that unique event.
Historic architect Gary Anderson envisioned the potential of the 1908 Pond & Pond designed building, now on the National Register of Historic Places since 2003, and designed the renovations that were completed just over a year ago.
The Eagle’s Nest Art Colony, now the site of Northern Illinois University’s Lorado Taft Field Campus, was founded in 1898 by American sculptor Lorado Taft on the bluffs along the east bank of the Rock River, overlooking Oregon.
The colony was composed of Chicago artists, all members of the Chicago Art Institute or the University of Chicago art department.
To escape the summer heat of Chicago, they gathered at the large home of a Chicago attorney and patron of the arts, Wallace Heckman and his wife, who owned what is now the NIU field campus and Lowden State Park.
Why, in 2018, is there new interest by persons who are rediscovering connections to this place and the Eagle’s Nest Art Colony Collection?
What has fueled the recent emergence of art related inquiries and donation of art pieces by their current owners to the gallery?
Was it the discovery and international exhibit of the unknown Clarkson portrait by Sorolla, recovery from California of the undervalued, stolen William Wendt painting, the publication of the book “The Art of Oregon,” the historically perfect library and gallery restoration and especially the Internet — or all of these?
Each art owner has a different story on the provenance of their Eagle’s Nest art related pieces.
To this end, a special visit seeking their family roots occurred in the past year by all three great-grandchildren of Charles D. Etnyre and Eva Hutchison.
A quiet unassuming man, a founder of the library, Etnyre was responsible for steering the building of the library and gallery into existence in 1908.
He was an early volunteer librarian and then went on to serve as library board secretary for nearly 40 years.
Ada Taft, in her biography of husband Lorado, wrote: “rarely did Lorado go downtown to Oregon without stopping to visit Charles D. Etnyre and catch up with the news of the town.”
The two men were very close friends, both dedicated to bringing art, culture and education to the community.
If only they could have glimpsed the Oregon of today.
His great-grandchildren, Judith Greene Shepherd, Gordon Greene, and Katherine Greene Ball first donated an Albert H. Schmidt painting belonging to their grandmother Mabel Etnyre Mather.
Next they came to see the building, see old original documents and library meeting minutes with Etnyre’s handwriting.
To everyone’s great surprise, Gordon Greene brought an original oil portrait of his great-grandfather by Ralph Clarkson, a founding member of the Eagle’s Nest Art Colony in 1898.
A personal message on the front reads: “To Chas Etnyre…in appreciation of many kindnesses…Ralph Clarkson 1934.”
The visit concluded with their offer of placing the founder’s oil portrait on loan to the library.
This was accepted with appreciation and plans are underway to explore restoration needs of the decades old painting.
From Arizona, two brothers called about designating their John Nolf paintings in the future.
It seems their grandfather, a physician in Oak Park treated Nolf’s wife Dellie who was ill.
In payment, the artist asked the doctor to pick out two paintings in his studio.
One of them is a view of the cottage called Whipoorwill that John and Dellie built in Grand Detour, and the other is a harvesting scene said to have won an award at the Art Institute.
Thus they have come down to the grandsons.
Finally from South Carolina, the great-granddaughter of Wallace Heckman, Janet O’Brien has sent a Charles Francis Browne landscape of the Rock River.
O’Brien also sent a fine portrait of her grandmother Jessie Heckman Herschel as a young woman who grew up with the artists.
Her father Wallace leased his property for the Eagle’s Nest Art Colony site to Taft, Clarkson, et al for $1 per year.
Heckman also provided his land for construction of the Eternal Indian Statue, always called Black Hawk, and quietly funded project costs.