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Western Avenue In Watercolor

By Julia Weeman in Arts & Entertainment on May 6, 2012 9:30PM

Rosehill Cemetery, by Jane Sloss

Architect and watercolor painter Jane Sloss has created a series of 24 watercolor paintings, one to document each mile of Western Avenue in Chicago. At the Heart of the City opened yesterday at the Beverly Arts Center. The exhibit runs in the Atrium Gallery through May 28, with a reception on Saturday, May 19 from 7 to 9 p.m.

Sloss was inspired by Western Avenue for this series, but wasn’t attracted to the street when she first moved here. “Its hostility to pedestrians and bikes, relative lack of trees, and general resemblance to a suburban commercial strip does not offer the appeal and charm of our city’s neighborhood centers,” said Sloss in an email interview with Chicagoist.

“Gradually, though, its unconventional beauty began to interest me,” said Sloss. “In the words of the writer and poet Stuart Dybek, who grew up in Pilsen, ‘Western, with apologies to State Street, is a great street. Unlike State, it is a street that goes to the interior, the heart of the city, as it glides and glows through a United Nations of neighborhoods.’”

Western Avenue is the longest street in Chicago, and it's the longest continuous street in America. Over 23.5 miles, it passes through 13 of the city’s 50 wards, which Sloss feels makes it a good cross-section of the city. She began her project by walking the entire length of Western, from 119th Street to Howard. Along the way, she sketched, took notes, and photographed to document her exploration. Her process of choosing which locations to paint was, in her words, “not scientific in nature…I tried to select subjects which are representative of the mile of the Avenue in which they are located, as well as subjects which reflect the wide range of typologies which exist along the Avenue.”

Prior to beginning her project, Sloss did not have a particular connection to any of the places featured in her paintings. However, she did become enamored by one of her subjects - the Original Rainbow Cone ice cream shop, located near 92nd street. The building has a giant ice cream cone on the roof and was founded by Joseph Sapp, an orphan who was raised on a work farm in Ohio. Sloss shared his story with us, “As a child he was allowed to buy vanilla and chocolate ice cream with the pennies he earned. As an adult he wanted many more flavors, so he worked as a Buick mechanic by day, and started Original Rainbow in 1926.”

Read more about Sloss’ project on her blog. See At the Heart of the City at The Beverly Art Center, 2407 West 111th Street (Western Avenue & 111th Street), in Chicago. The gallery is open Monday - Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m.