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Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018 12:10 am

Reflections on a lost highway

The Pharmacy examines the “Mother Road”

 Timed to coincide with the 17th annual International Route 66 Mother Road Festival, the Pharmacy Gallery and Art Space’s most recent group exhibit is entitled “Mother Road.” It will feature many of the group’s member artists, along with guest sculptor Darren Miller, tackling themes both automotive and nostalgic.

“We thought it would be a good opportunity to tie the work together with this big car show happening in town,” said Pharmacy member Vince Merriman who mentioned that the show will feature several pen drawings by William Crook depicting different spots along Route 66 in Illinois as well as a restored, 1960s-vintage motorcycle on display. “A lot of people have done their version of what Route 66 means to them.” For Merriman himself, whose work finds him turning vintage items into lamps and sculptures, the connection to the highway is both subtle and essential. “I picked items from the ’50s, ’40s and ’20s,” he said, “and the pieces I used were found in small towns along Route 66.”

At least one Pharmacy artist is choosing to examine a harsher reality about the famous highway’s history. Diane DeLeonardo’s work for the show is based on “The Negro Motorist Green Book” an annual guidebook which featured advice to help African-Americans to remain safe during their travels on Route 66 in the America of the ’30s and ’40s.  “As we remember the Mother Road: the road to freedom, prosperity, and better times, it’s critical to remember that it was for Whites Only,” DeLeonardo wrote in a statement regarding her work for the show posted to Facebook.

“The Mother Road is dying,” said Marco Mulder, whose most recent collaboration with Pharmacy member Delinda Chapman fills the windows of the small, triangular building situated in the Pharmacy parking lot. “These panels are a vision of the disappearing Route 66.  It is also a chance to reflect the modern world in the window.” Mulder explained that the experience of presenting his and Chapman’s previous collaboration – a tribute to the work of Vachel Lindsay – in the same windows changed their approach for this time. “There are a lot of reflections of the modern architecture in the windows [covering the panels] so we left some room free for those reflections of the modern city.” He explained that last show panels were put it together in the studio, without street lights around, and when they were installed, the images became too busy, competing with the architectural reflection. “This time we tried to do it really calm,” he said.  

In addition to free refreshments, there will be a raffle, for five dollars per ticket. (“Three Pharmacy artists have donated pieces and the winner gets to choose one of them,” Merriman explained) and singer-songwriter Larry Stevens will perform a set on Friday at 7 p.m. As for what else visitors to the gallery might expect during the show’s two-night stand, Merriman said, “I’ve been noticing at our shows that sometimes a member will just decide something is going to go down in the middle of the show. I’m not sure if anyone has anything planned but that’s how it’s been the last few shows, out of the blue. Either way, I think this is going to be a unique show – the artwork that I’ve seen so far is outstanding.”

“Mother Road” will be on display on Friday, Sept. 21, and Saturday, Sept. 22, 6 p.m.-9 p.m.

Scott Faingold can be reached at faingold@illinoistimes.com.

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