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Arts and culture


Here are reviews and feature articles (and even a bit of backstage reporting) about music, sculpture (including architectural decoration), the performing arts, painting and photography, the popular 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 in particular is that of the dilettante.  I wrote little about the state's painters, some about public sculpture, and virtually nothing about music.


For much more about the literary arts in Illinois, see Illinois books & writers.


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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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

"If It Plays in Peoria"

A short history of humor in Illinois

Detours  April 2002

Chicago Sinfonietta at Rosary College

Art fights audience and manages a draw

Wednesday Journal  April 17, 1991

The Prairie State Is Not

Hostile to the Arts, Just Indifferent

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



Can a fun museum be a good museum?

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  April 8, 1993

Closing a Deal

Has the governor taken the wrong guy hostage?

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times October 15, 2015

The New Model Museum

Public science in an age of privatized government

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  February 11, 2016

Fossil Hunter for the State

Vertebrate paleontologist Richard Leary

Illinois Times  February 3, 1978

Having Fun Saving the World

Springfield’s Kidzeum promotes “health and wellness”

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  November 7, 2013

Merchandising Modern Art
Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art

Reader  April 10, 1992

Cultural Arts Major

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

Through a Glass Beautifully

Contemplating antique glass paperweights

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  April 2, 2015

Strange Bedfellows

Designing a better Illinois economy

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  October 8, 1992

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

Saving History from the Wrecking Ball

Richard Nickel and Sullivan's legacy

Illinois Issues April 1995

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

Burial Treasure

 The Elizabeth Birds of the Illinois Woodland peoples

Nature of Illinois  Spring/Summer 1989

Resisting the Influence

Vachel Lindsay pays the price of not selling out

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  November 5, 1987

Red Norvo

Beardstown’s gift to jazz

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  April 14, 1999

Recovering the Furniture

Bringing the Dana-Thomas House furnishings back home

Illinois Times  December 10, 1987

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

Public art

The Corrugated Lincoln

Our new sculptors don’t do justice to our history

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  October 12, 1979

Exterior Decoration
Books about public sculpture in Chicago

Reader  August 12, 1988

Bronze Trousers 

Public statuary on the Illinois statehouse grounds

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  undated  

I Think Icon, I Think Icon, I Think Icon

Building iconography explained, sort of

Crain's Chicago Business  April 5, 1993 

Faith, Hope and Statuary

Today's heroic public memorials trivialize heroism

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  April 5, 2012

The People’s Art Museum

Restoration makes the statehouse too grand for politics

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times September 12, 2013

Fallen Heroes
Don't remove offending Statehouse statues, move them
"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times August 20, 2020

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


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

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  December 16, 1977

Slack the Knife

Local arts critics show courage under fire

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  April 10, 1981

Richard Nickel

Louis Sullivan, Chicago, and preservation

Unpublished, 1996

Lyric Flights
Does John Prine belong on as well as in the state library?
Illinois Times  July 30, 2020

Town Character
The hometown as hero in mid-Illinois books
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  July 16, 2015


Springfield considers municipal prudery

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  March 28, 1980

No Business Like Show Business

Springfield arts critics get panned—again

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  July 28, 1978

Stirring Up the Arts at the PAC

Looking for an arts audience in Springfield

Illinois Times  February 2, 1984

Krannert Center’s Great Hall

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

Illinois Times  December 23, 1977

Modern Minstrels
The heirs to Vachel Lindsay's performance poetry
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  August 18, 2011

Making Words Come Alive

Some notes about Chicago theater

See Illinois (unpublished) 2002

Unmistakably of the Place

Chicagolandia’s contributions to the popular arts

See Illinois (unpublished)  2002

“More of Beauty and Less of Ugliness”

The fine arts in Chicagoland

See Illinois (unpublished)  2002

Education Outside the Classroom

Cultural institutions in Chicago

See Illinois (unpublished) 2004

Illinois in Camera

Unseen nature in books by Kanfer, Irving, and Clay

Nature of Illinois  Winter 1989

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

The Human Made Natural

Visual artists of Downstate Illinois

See Illinois (unpublished)  2008

A More Complicated Experience

Furnishing Springfield's Dana-Thomas House

Chicago Times March/April 1990

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

Making Things Good

The invisible hand gives some back in Chicago

See Illinois  (unpublished)  2006

That sports-lovin' town

Chicago's sporting history

See Illinois (unpublished)  2005

That's Illinois?

Photographer Willard Clay goes exploring

Chicago Tribune  December 29, 1988


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




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."

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.

The Illinois State Museum


The people's museum is a treasure house of science and the arts. A research institution of national reputation, the museum maintains four facilities across the state. Their collections in anthropology, fine and decorative arts, botany, zoology, geology, and  history are described here. A few museum publications can be obtained here.

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.


I will leave it to the authors of this interesting site to describe it. "Chicagology is a study of Chicago history with a focus on the period prior to the Second World War. The purpose of the site is to document common and not so common stories about the City of Chicago as they are discovered." 

Illinois Labor History Society

The Illinois Labor History Society seeks to encourage the preservation and study of labor history materials of the Illinois region, and to arouse public interest in the profound significance of the past to the present. Offers books reviews, podcasts, research guides, and the like. 

Illinois Migration History 1850-2017

The University of Washington’s America’s Great Migrations Project has compiled migration histories  (mostly from the published and unpublished work by UW Professor of History James Gregory) for several states, including Illinois. The site also includes maps and charts and essays about the Great Migration of African Americans to the north, in which Illinois figured importantly. 

History on the Fox

An interesting resource about the history of one of Illinois’s more interesting places, the Fox Valley of Kendall County. History on the Fox is the work of Roger Matile, an amateur historian of the best sort. Matile’s site is a couple of cuts above the typical buff’s blog. (An entry on the French attempt to cash in on the trade in bison pelts runs more than

2,000 words.)




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 


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.

University of

Illinois Press

The U of I Press was founded in 1918. A search of the online catalog  (Books/Browse by subject/Illinois) will reveal more than 150 Illinois titles, books on history mostly but also butteflies, nature , painting, poetry and fiction, and more.  Of particular note are its Prairie State Books,  quality new paperback editions of worthy titles about all parts of Illinois, augmented with scholarly introductions.

University of

Chicago Press

The U of C publishing operation is the oldest (1891) and largest university press in Illinois. Its reach is international, but it has not neglected its own neighborhood. Any good Illinois library will include dozens of titles about Chicago and Illinois from Fort Dearborn to

Vivian Maier.

Northern Illinois University Press

The newest (1965) and the smallest of the university presses with an interest in Illinois, Northern Illinois University Press gave us important titles such as the standard one-volume history of the state (Biles' Illinois:
A History of the Land and Its People) and contributions to the history of Chicago, Illinois transportation, and the Civil War. Now an imprint of Cornell University Press.


Reviews and significant mentions by James Krohe Jr. of more than 50 Illinois books, arranged in alphabetical order

by book title. 


Illinois Center for the Book

Run by the Illinois State Library, The Center promotes reading, writing and author programs meant to honor the state's rich literary heritage. An affiliate of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, the site offers award competitions, a directory of Illinois authors, literary landmarks, and reading programs.

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