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Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014 03:21 pm

Remembering George Colin

A central Illinois artist who was simply extraordinary

Almost two years ago, George Colin was the reason for my visit to Salisbury, Illinois. I was collecting info to write an Illinois Times article about a new book featuring Vachel Lindsay’s poem “The Little Turtle.” Colin was the book’s illustrator. 

This was going to be an adventure. Artists are the water of the world. Eccentric or humble artists, fountains of fortune.

I had driven through Salisbury many times in the last almost 30 years. My heart was heavy because my husband was in hospice and we’d recently lost of his mother. But it was a beautiful day. Driving hilly Route 97 brought some peace. There was the warmth of the sun through the car windows, time alone, and new folks to meet and art to see at my destination.

Salisbury is situated about 13 miles northwest of Springfield in a town so small it has no postal code. It’s what folks warn you that you’ll miss if you blink your eyes. Salisbury hosts a few houses, an antique store, tavern and the Colin art gallery. About nine miles down the road from Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site, the gallery is a gray unassuming building flanked with colorful art and signs in full view from the road.

It was a bit of magic. George and Winnie Colin were a bit of magic. Yes, I said George and Winnie. I learned George didn’t come without Winnie, and vice-a-versa, the way folks who have been married a long time often come as a package (which is sort of a bonus considering you get three individuals for the price of two).

Winnie was in a wheelchair. After living with a man who used a wheelchair for 14 years my heart was immediately with her. George was sitting in front of a checker board (or maybe I’m just imaging now that there was a checker board). He was quiet. Winnie directed the conversation but I think he liked it that way. He spoke up when needed.

Most of Colin’s colorful pastel art had handwritten prices on them, a few had sold signs. Art was everywhere -- hanging on every inch on the walls, sitting on the floor, propped on chairs. There were knickknacks, a framed photo of Lincoln and more signs. Everything was an organized mess -- happy with tools of the trade, memorabilia and finished product.

It is easy sometimes to mistake simplicity for simplicity. But an artist’s creativity is anything but simple, even if one chooses to live a simple life. George quit his job to focus on art fulltime. George and Winnie told me their story -- One they had probably told a million times before –a letter of acclaim from President Bush, having a piece in the Smithsonian, etc. Recently, Dick Durbin shared an image of his Colin. It is spectacular.

After talking with the couple, I knew I wanted to buy a piece of George’s work for my husband as a birthday gift. They asked which piece I’d like, that they’d offer me a deal. I looked around -- I really wanted the nudes but it was large. I didn’t have much money (one sold sign listed a price tag of $1500) nor did I want to take advantage of their generosity. Instead I decided to use my husband as guide. He loved flowers and blue was his favorite color, just as it was George’s. This is the piece I selected. It was perfect.

When leaving, Winnie also gave me a porcelain figurine of a Dutch girl. She had asked about the heritage of my last name. She and George had wanted to know as much about me as I them. 

George and Winnie had/have a simply extraordinary graciousness -- and talent to boot. Forever George and Winnie. True love, much like true art, survives. George, Winnie, and George and Winnie, thanks for sharing a drink from the fountain.

The Little Turtle books are available at the Vachel Lindsay State Historic Site at 603 S. Fifth Street. They are $12.95. For more info, visit vachellindsayhome.org.



For blog ideas or to submit poems email astienstra@illinoistimes.com.

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