Monday, April 9, 2012

Western Avenue Series

Mile 21: Montrose-Foster
This sketch is a part of my Western Avenue Series, through which I'll be making 24 watercolor paintings, one to document each mile of Western Avenue, in Chicago.  I started this project because while it is not considered to be among the most “beautiful” of Chicago’s streets, Western Avenue is a perfect place to document the humanness of Chicago, the positive and the negative. In the words of Stuart Dybek, "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."  Check back next Monday to see the painting completed based on this sketch.
This portion of Western is quite familiar to me.  Western was the first street I encountered when I arrived to Chicago.  I exited 90/94 in a U-Haul onto Western Avenue.  I drove north along Western to my apartment, located just a block west of Western on Carmen.  It was this portion of Western that introduced me to the city.  I was not immediately attracted to the avenue.  The broad streets and hostility to pedestrians and bikes, relative lack of trees, and general resemblance to a suburban commercial strip did not offer the appeal and charm of our city’s neighborhood centers.  Gradually, though, it began to interest me. 
There are so many charms along this stretch that aren't immediately apparent.  Wells Park located just north of Montrose is home to the fantastically delightful Old Town School of Folk Music Folk and Roots festival and to an indoor pool, where I have done a small bit of swimming. 
It is also home to the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative, an always fabulous place to visit.  As well as less conventional interests, like the commercial strip just north of Lawrence, which is home to a bridal dress shop which specializes in elaborate, colorful, often sequined frocks.  In addition a furniture shop on that block which sells less common designs, including a round bed.  Finally, one can't forget the country-western singer who turned a storefront into a magic shop.  
In a Chicago Tribune article written by Patrick T. Reardon, I learned that a portion of this mile is included in part of the most diverse area along Western.  Between Lawrence and Devon Avenues, four of the five census tracts here are so variegated that no group can claim a majority. In fact, one tract which is bounded by Western, Peterson, Ravenswood and Devon Avenues, 30 percent of the residents were white in 2000; 28 percent, Asian; 21 percent, Hispanic; 14 percent, African-American and other, 7 percent.
Have you visited this portion of Western Avenue?
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