Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

A painting by B.J. Chevalier
NIU graduate student and artist B.J. Chevalier painted this scene from Chicago's Field Museum.

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News Release

Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815)  753-9472

June 18, 2007

Students in NIU summer course draw,
paint scenes from Field Museum

DeKalb — Summer Fridays are not always about sneaking off to the zoo, the ballgame or the cottage in Wisconsin.

For two dozen college students, teachers, sculptors, book illustrators, glass blowers and artists of all sorts, summer Fridays are special for another reason. Those are days spent at the Field Museum with pencils, paint brushes and possibilities.

For nearly 30 years, NIU art professor Yale Factor has taught a summer course in painting, drawing and illustration with the Field serving as his classroom.

“The first day, I take them for a tour behind the scenes in areas that are not open to the general public. Only 2 percent of the displays are open to the general public,” Factor says. “I introduce them to the collections managers and curators, and then they can paint or draw at any place in the museum that is open to the general public. I wander around and help them.”

Born and raised in Chicago, Factor worked as a scientific illustrator at the Field from 1977 to 1978, the year he came to DeKalb to teach. His love of the museum, combined with his desire to keep that connection alive, spawned the unique summer course.

Created that same year, “it’s been a hit ever since.”

His students – this summer’s crop is split evenly between undergrads and master’s degree candidates – bring a broad range of experience and talent.

“Some are just developing their craft. Some are really ready to show in a gallery. The students do learn a lot from each other,” he says. “This is not something that they usually ever consider as feasible or possible – that the museum is kind of open for this opportunity. Here’s a chance to be in front of one the displays for weeks at a time and to really study it.”

Some of the finished works are of the building’s architecture. Some are of the displays. Others are of the visitors.

“I’m very pleased,” he says. “I had one grad student making paintings of the reflections of display cases, looking through the cases, multiple images. That’s something that intrigues me.”

A handful of Factor’s alums have gone on to find employment at the Field as scientific illustrators or in preparing the displays. Others have become museum members.

And after 30 years, Factor says, the NIU summer students are practically a museum display themselves.

“There are different school groups coming in – little kids – and these children are coming around kidding our students. ‘Are you an artist?’ We’re part of the summer festivities. The NIU students are very much a part of the summer fun for everyone visiting the museum.”

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