Arts and culture

Here are reviews and feature articles and even a bit of backstage reporting (!) about music, sculpture (including architectural decoration), painting, and—for want of a better place to put them—pieces on booksellers and bookshops, the literary and performing arts, and government arts policy.


I was never the first writer an editor thought of when assigning pieces on the arts. My interest in the fine arts, including the literary arts, is that of the dilettante.  I wrote little about the state's painting, only some about sculpture (thanks to Lorado Taft), a bit about poets and translators of poets (Springfield somehow produced two or three  of national reputation) and virtually nothing about music.


Illinois's signal contributions has been to the nation's popular arts, which I cataloged for a never-published guide to Illinois history and culture. Someday I might get around to excerpting that material and posting it here. 


Note: I here treat Frank Lloyd Wright's house fittings as art objects; as many of his clients would attest, they weren't really furniture.

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A More Complicated Experience

Furnishing Springfield's Dana-Thomas House

Chicago Times March/April 1990

Why Wright, Now?

Collectors go crazy for the Wright stuff

Chicago Times March/April 1990

Robber Baron or Robin Hood?

A pizza king gets Wright’s art-furniture to go 

Chicago Times March/April 1990

The Great Enunciator

Lincoln as author

"Prejudices" Illinois Times 1992

No Room for Writers
The writers' memorial in Chicago's newest library

Reader  September 25, 1992

Lorado Taft

Chicago's public sculptor

Illinois Issues  January 1989

“Corn-fed Pious Howler”

Springfield's house poet Vachel Lindsay

“Prejudices," Illinois Times  February 13, 1981

"If It Plays in Peoria"

A short history of humor in Illinois

Detours  April 2002

Sandburg and Steichen

The love letters of Lilian Steichen and Carl Sandburg

Reader  June 10, 1988

Bronze Trousers 

Public statuary on the Illinois statehouse grounds

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  undated  

Forgotten Canon

Illinois literature re-examined

Illinois Issues  March 2004

Exterior Decoration
Books about public sculpture in Chicago

Reader  August 12, 1988

The Writer's Life

On Mark Harris on Springfield poet Vachel Lindsay
Reader  June 25, 1993

The Prairie State Is Not

Hostile to the Arts, Just Indifferent

The state of state-funded arts in Illinois
Illinois Issues  December 1998 

Chicago Sinfonietta at Rosary College

Art fights audience and manages a draw

Wednesday Journal  April 17, 1991

The Itch to Leave

Robert Fitzgerald, translator, teacher, Springfieldian

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  June 23, 1994

All Is Not Well Forever
Robert Fitzgerald’s youth in Springfield

"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times November 19, 2009

Shadid’s Book Mart

The story of an essential Springfield institution

Illinois Times  January 21, 1977

Making Springfield a better place    

Readers recall Shadid’s Book Mart      

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  May 27, 2010        

Treasures from Faraway Seas    

Attending Springfield's "University of Shadid"

Illinois Times  June 2, 2010         

Burial Treasure

 The Elizabeth Birds of the Illinois Woodland peoples

Nature of Illinois  Spring/Summer 1989

Saving History from the Wrecking Ball

Richard Nickel and Sullivan's legacy

Illinois Issues April 1995

A Book about Books about Illinois

Illinois! Illinois! reviewed

Illinois Times  November 9, 1979

Strange Bedfellows

Designing a better Illinois economy

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  October 8, 1992

Merchandising Modern Art
Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art

Reader  April 10, 1992

Illinois in Camera

Unseen nature in books by Kanfer, Irving, and Clay

Nature of Illinois  Winter 1989

Come Home, Papa, All Is Forgiven

Oak Park tries hard to be proud of Ernest Hemingway

New York Times Book Review  July 8, 1990

Cultural Arts Major

    George Lucas wants to improve young Chicagoans
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  May 1, 2014

Flat Land into Landscapes    
Scenic paintings of the central Illinois landscape. Really.    "Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  November 29, 2012 


Public libraries in all their forms are essential cultural institutions, not that you'd know that from the way they are funded in Illinois. Here is a sampling of pieces that address these and related issues. 

Null and Void

Libraries for people who don’t use libraries

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  March 13, 1981

Libraries Now and Then

A more modern library, not a better one

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  March 4, 1977

Feeding the Meter

Fighting library checkout hogs

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  December 16, 1993


Should libraries pander to the popular?

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  June 26, 1986

What Good Are Public Libraries?

A commercial ethos creeps into the stacks
"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times  October 14, 2010

An Overdue Policy on the Library
Ought  the state’s historical library to be independent?
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  February 26, 2015  

The Sangamon Valley Collection

History finds a home at Springfield’s public library

Illinois Times  February 11, 1977

Resisting the Influence

Vachel Lindsay pays the price of not selling out

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  November 5, 1987

Backstage at the Muni

Springfield thespians tackle West Side Story.

Illinois Times  August 5, 1977

Books Matter. People Care. Change Is Possible.
Richard Bray and “Chicago's most committed bookstore”

Reader  April 14, 1989

Recovering the Furniture

Bringing the Dana-Thomas House furnishings back home

Illinois Times  December 10, 1987

Krannert Center’s Great Hall

The U of I’s new world-class concert hall

Illinois Times  December 23, 1977

Stirring Up the Arts at the PAC

Looking for an arts audience in Springfield

Illinois Times  February 2, 1984


Can a fun museum be a good museum?

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  April 8, 1993

Bravo! Bravo!

Springfield’s city band marches into Salzburg

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  August 23, 1990

The Band in the Park on a Summer Night

Springfield’s Municipal Band plays on

Illinois Times  August 11, 1978

Not Nice in Nice

Illinois once was French—not that you’d notice

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  May 21, 1992

The Corrugated Lincoln

Our new sculptors don’t do justice to our history

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  October 12, 1979


Who are our “Illinois writers”? Do we have any?

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  August 11, 1983

New York, New York
Gotham has always drawn Springfieldians to the bright lights
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  September 18, 2014  

Springfield Visited
Novelist Evelyn Waugh lectures the capital in 1949
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  April 26, 2012

Markable Authors
Which Springfield writers deserve commemoration?
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times December 16, 2010

An lllinoisan Leaves

Independent publishing, and thinking, lose a champion

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  February 23, 1989

Vachel’s House

A house, a poet, a parody in 1,000 words

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  March 22, 1990

A Nest of Singing Birds

Two Springfield English teachers raise a flock

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  September 8, 1978

The Encouragement of Competent Teachers
Would Elizabeth Graham be allowed to teach today?
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  April 30, 2015 

The Young Man and the Suburb
Oak Park welcomes Hemingway back home, at last

Reader  March 30, 1990


A loss to the arts—but oh, the banking convenience!

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  December 16, 1977

Markable Authors

Which Springfield writers deserve commemoration?

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  December 16, 2010

Faith, Hope and Statuary

Today's heroic public memorials trivialize heroism

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  April 5, 2012

Through a Glass Beautifully

Contemplating antique glass paperweights

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  April 2, 2015

Vachel Lindsay and Springfield, Illinois, U.S.A.

A first try at understanding Harris understanding Lindsay

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  October 5, 1979

Richard Nickel

Louis Sullivan, Chicago, and preservation

Unpublished, 1996

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John Hallwas

Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.

Lee Sandlin Author

One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.

Chicago Architecture Center

See Home Page/Learn/

Resources for a marvelous building database, architecture dictionary, even a city planning graphic novel. Handsome, useful—every Illinois culture website should be so good.

The Encyclopedia of Chicago


The online version of The Encyclopedia of Chicago, Crammed with thousands of topic entries, biographical sketches, maps and images, it is a reference work unmatched in Illinois.

Illinois Great Places

The Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2018 selected 200 Great Places in Illinois that illustrate our  shared architectural culture across the entire period of human settlement in Illinois.

McLean County Museum

of History

A nationally accredited, award-winning project of the McLean County Historical Society whose holdings include more than 20,000 objects, more than 15,000 books on local history and genealogy, and boxes and boxes of historical papers and images.

Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois


Every Illinois town ought to have a chronicler like D. Leigh Henson, Ph.D. Not only Lincoln and the Mother road—the author’s curiosity ranges from cattle baron John Dean Gillett to novelist William Maxwell. An Illinois State Historical Society "Best Web Site of the Year."

Southern Illinois University Press

SIU Press is one of the four major university publishing houses in Illinois. Its catalog offers much of local interest, including biographies of Illinois political figures, the history (human and natural) and folklore of southern Illinois, the Civil War and Lincoln, and quality reprints in the Shawnee Classics series.

Chronicling Illinois

“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.

Illinois Digital Archives


Created in 2000, the IDA is a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library and other Illinois libraries and cultural institutions. The holdings include photographs, slides, and glass negatives, oral histories, newspapers, maps, and documents from manuscripts and letters to postcards,  posters, and videos.




Southern Illinois University Press 2017

A work of

solid history, entertainingly told.

Michael Burlingame,

author of Abraham 

Lincoln: A Life 

One of the ten best books on Illinois history I have read in a decade.

Superior Achievement Award citation, ISHS Awards, 2018

A lively and engaging study

. . . an enthralling narrative.

James Edstrom

The Annals of Iowa

A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians

as well as local historians generally.

John Hoffman

Journal of Illinois HIstory

A model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.

Harold Henderson 

Midwestern Microhistory

A fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship.

Greg Hall

Journal of the Illinois

State Historical Society

Click  here 

to read about

the book 

Click  here 

to buy

the book

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