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Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018 12:28 am

Vachel getting plenty of attention in 2018

Original works on display at SAA this month

“Machinery,” one of several original works by Vachel Lindsay currently on display at Springfield Art Association.
Photo by Betsy Dollar

On Friday, Sept. 7, the Springfield Art Association held an opening reception for Vachel Lindsay: Poet, Artist, Visionary, an exhibit featuring original works and memorabilia by the celebrated early 20th century Springfield denizen whose epic novel, The Golden Book of Springfield, celebrates its centennial this year. The show represents a collaboration between the SAA, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the Illinois State Museum, the Lincoln Library of Springfield, the Vachel Lindsay Association, the Vachel Lindsay Home State Historic Site and Springfield Poets and Writers.


Much has been made of The Golden Book’s vision of Springfield’s emergence as a utopian society in what Lindsay termed “the mystic year” of 2018. Lindsay’s perception of the potential for his hometown of Springfield to reach stratospheric heights was a notion dear to the writer’s heart. “All Vachel ever wanted to do was build communities and teach them how to better themselves,” said Ian Winterbauer of the Vachel Lindsay Association. “His term for it was ‘the new localism’ – you should travel all over the world and learn everything you can but then figure out how you can make the world better and apply that to where you live.”  

Whether or not Lindsay would have found the Springfield of the actual 2018 up to his lofty hopes, he would certainly have been gratified to see how much civic attention his life and work has been receiving here this year, including an elaborate show by the Pharmacy Gallery and Art Space in May and the second annual Amaranth Apple Festival (named after one of the mystic visions in the Golden Book) earlier this summer.

Add to those the current SAA exhibit, which features original paintings and drawings by Lindsay alongside family photos and books inscribed by the author. The opening reception included a dramatic reading of some of Lindsay’s poetry, performed by Job Conger. The exhibit was coordinated by Erika Holst, curator of decorative arts and history for the Illinois State Museum, and the work on display is an impactful and impressive tribute to the artist’s vision, including paintings like “Machinery” and “The Wedding of the Rose and the Lion” which prove far more impactful than prints in terms of color and vibrancy. The family photos and other portraits of the artist present a relatable image of the often fanciful Lindsay. Explanatory cards help place the work in context with Lindsay’s life and Springfield’s history.

“Some of this work, I’ve never even seen in person,” said Winterbauer, who conducts tours of the Vachel Lindsay house on weekends. “It’s exciting to see Vachel receiving so much attention. At the very least, 2018 may be the mystic year where interest in his work starts to kick in.” Winterbauer said that the numbers of visitors to the house have been picking up in recent months and he is hoping to get the Vachel Lindsay Association to start opening the house up for different events.   

“It’s impressive how much of Vachel still lingers,” Winterbauer said. “Most people have never even heard of the guy but he’s everywhere you go if you look hard enough.”

The exhibition will remain on view until Sept. 29 at Springfield Art Association, 700 N. Fourth St. Admission is free. For more information visit www.springfieldart.org.

Scott Faingold can be reached at scottfaingold@gmail.com.

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