“I want to give people a chance to see in ways they might not otherwise,” Joel Sheesley, painter and professor emeritus of art at Wheaton College, said. Over the course of his career, Professor Sheesley has aimed to illuminate unlikely sources of beauty, from puddles on the pavement to the local Lincoln Marsh. The Chicago Tribune covered Sheesley’s latest project, a series on the Fox River in partnership with the Conservation Foundation, on Feb. 24.
Sheesley taught in the art department at Wheaton for 42 years before his retirement, and his artwork remains on campus and in the surrounding community. Several paintings from his “Testimony on the Pavement” series hang in Adams Hall and the Billy Graham Center. Although Sheesley is originally from New York and has lived in picturesque locations like Colorado, he enjoys painting scenes from the Wheaton area to bring out the beauty of the prairie landscape. Professor Greg Schreck, who worked with Dr. Sheesley for 27 years, commented, “I think the key to his success as a painter is his commitment, the discipline with which he approached his work.” One of his previous projects, a series of paintings of the Lincoln Marsh commissioned by the Wheaton Park District, led him to connect with the Conservation Foundation and their Fox River Initiative.
In conjunction with the Conservation Foundation, Sheesley plans to make 60 paintings of scenery along the Fox River in to promote conservation of the river and its surrounding marshes, fens and forests. Farming and urbanization has destroyed much of this area, and the Foundation aims to showcase Dr. Sheesley’s work to raise awareness of the work that needs to be done to improve both the beauty of the river and its ecological integrity. One of the first projects that the Fox River Initiative plans to undertake is the reduction of salt in the river, for which they recently received a grant, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Sheesley described the Fox River as “a river in recovery.” It includes various landscapes from the slow-flowing section of the river close to the Wisconsin border to the limestone banks near Yorkville. Sheesley describes his paintings as a sort of “environmental outreach” meant to illuminate the diversity of the river and promote the restoration of each area. The paintings will likely be completed in 2018, and they will be showcased in various locations along the Fox River. Sheesley hopes that viewers will be able to have a new perspective on the beauty of the landscape and the importance of conservation. “Paintings have the potential to work as an interpretive tool,” Sheesley explained.