Lisle relatives find family connections to Naperville art tour
January 3, 2019 — Source: Daily Herald — Author: Marie Wilson
A display of public art that tells the history of Naperville -- spread over 50 locations -- has made its way into the story of a Lisle family and the bond between a grandmother and granddaughter.
Longtime Lisle resident Agnes Geyer and her granddaughter, Lisle native Claire Cunningham, recently finished a tour of all 50 sites where the nonprofit organization Century Walk has sculptures, murals or other public art, documenting their visits with photos and newspaper clippings in a scrapbook.
Geyer, 87, and Cunningham, 27, now have shared memories of seeing sites that taught them about the founding of Naperville, the Naperville connection to the Dick Tracy comic strip, the town's response to a tragic train crash in the 1940s, the service of Army veterans such as Geyer's late husband and even the new use of an old ice cream shop where Geyer would satisfy her sweet tooth while pregnant with her five children -- including Cunningham's father.
"It was interesting to see how Naperville developed," Geyer said.
After getting an insert in 2015 listing all of the Century Walk pieces, Geyer, an avid fan of the arts, was intrigued by the presence of the pieces and invited her granddaughter to explore them with her. Occasionally the pair would make a lunch date or schedule a pizza dinner, preceding each with a visit to one of the sites to see a mural, a painting or a sculpture.
Their first piece was hard to find.
"Growth and Change," a sculpture dedicated in 1997 at Jefferson Avenue and Ellsworth Street, hides behind a law office where the secretary didn't know of the piece when Cunningham asked how to find it. Two other sites also gave them trouble: "Volunteers Welcome," a 2006 mural celebrating service clubs, adorns the second-floor exterior wall of a Washington Street building; and the "KidsMatter Wayfinding Murals" hide inside the western elevator lobby to the Van Buren parking deck.
"It was always a hunt to find them," Cunningham said.
Once they located each piece, Cunningham would read its historical plaque aloud to Geyer.
Visiting "Tragedy to Triumph," installed in 2014 at the Naperville Metra station, Geyer shared a story of how her husband and brother helped respond to the train crash in 1946 that took the lives of 45 people. The two men were students at nearby St. Procopius Academy (now Benet Academy), and along with their classmates, they ventured to the tracks after the crash to assist.
"I didn't know that story about my grandpa before we went and visited," Cunningham said.
Stopping by the "Two in a Million" sculpture from 2005, which highlights former ice cream shop owners Walter and Grace Fredenhagen, Geyer told her granddaughter of Prince Castles, where she used to get frosty treats during her pregnancies.
"I got to hear her history as well," Cunningham said about her grandmother.
During their treks to each site the nonprofit art group has created since 1996, Geyer and Cunningham also followed what Geyer described as "the gossip of the statues." That meant keeping up with the news about "Man's Search for Knowledge Through the Ages," and visiting it before it was accidentally hit and damaged by a driver in July 2016, during the process of its recreation, and after its rededication in August 2017.
Geyer said she thought often of her husband Alfred F. "Fritz" Geyer, who died in 2013, as she and Cunningham -- or occasionally another relative visiting from out of town -- saw Naperville's artistic sights.
"My husband was a carpenter, a builder," Geyer said. "Everything he did was art, too."
Now, with their roundup of 50 locations complete (they finished around Christmas when they saw the newest sculpture, "Laughing Lincoln"), Cunningham says she'll have many reasons to be reminded of the grandmother with whom she shares a strong connection.
"It was just such a nice time to build our relationship, too," Cunningham said. "Every time I get to see these statues, I get to think of my grandma."
See the photos and read the article here: https://www.dailyherald.com/news/20190103/lisle-relatives-find-family-connections-to-naperville-art-tour