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Local artists show jewelry, pastel portraits at Park Forest Art Fair

Jean Lewis with her pastel paintings behind her. She said she usually doesn’t get to see them all at once like this because they’re usually “in the corner somewhere” at her art studio. (Nick Ulanowski/H-F Chronicle)

Dozens of artists attended the Park Forest Art Fair to sell their artwork on Saturday, Sept. 18 and Sunday, Sept. 19. Among them were Glenwood resident, retired art teacher at Hillcrest High School and pastel painter Jean Lewis. Tara McGee, a Hazel Crest resident whose two children graduated from H-F High School and jewelry crafter, attended the art fair as well. Both local artists have websites where you can admire and/or purchase their artwork.

Lewis won the fair’s People’s Choice Award, a new feature of the event this year.

“I’m in such good company, because my colleagues here in art are just fabulous,” she said after winning the award. “And I love this show. So, it’s a true honor.”

“This is my body of work pretty much,” Lewis said, referring to the original pastel paintings and the prints of artwork behind her on display at her booth. “I don’t get to see it like this often. At the studio, they’re in the corner somewhere. But now they’re all out and I love looking at them all together.”

Lewis said that in 2017, she challenged herself to paint one painting every day for 65 days. These 65 paintings were then put on sale at $65 apiece. Most of the 65 paintings were sold on her website, but Lewis had over a dozen still available at the Park Forest Art Fair spread out on its own table.

“It was difficult [figuring out what to paint] some days. I had no clue what I was going to do,” said Lewis.

Lewis said that in one of the 65 days, she went to church and saw candles laid out on a table, so she painted that. Lewis said she painted three different pairs of gym shoes but only one of these paintings remained by the time of the Park Forest Art Fair.

Most of Lewis’s pastel paintings are human portraits. She paints portraits of people who live in the African nations of Mali and Kenya. Lewis said she works with the non-profit organizations Zakat Foundation of America and Matanya’s Hope. These organizations provide aid and support to the hungry, the displaced and the orphaned overseas. Lewis said the organizations provide photographs of some of these people to Lewis and she uses them for her pastel paintings.

“I’ll take them and put my own spin on them,” said Lewis.

One of the portraits is called DRUMS and it depicts a sitting man in sandals. Lewis said the original photograph had people in the background, but she replaced them with drum sets because she knew from looking at another photo that the man enjoyed playing the drums.

Another of the portraits is called Walking in Grace and it depicts a woman “carrying a heavy load home”. Lewis said when painting the portrait, she added African fabrics to the background replacing the original background.

“I’m just trying to highlight what kind of life they live,” said Lewis. “I guess in a subconscious way I am drawn to them. They are people of color as I am. And I want to show them in a beautiful way – even in not so nice circumstances.”

At the art fair, McGee was selling handmade, one-of-a-kind earrings, bracelets and necklaces. McGee said she uses metals, hand painted leathers, woods and semi-precious stones when crafting her jewelry.

McGee said she’s been crafting jewelry for 12 years. The name of her jewelry selling company is Bayete Jewelry Collection.

“Bayete is an African name. It means ‘between God and man,’” said McGee. “Honestly, it’s my husband’s middle name. […] It’s natural. It’s earthy. So, I like it.”

McGee said originality is important to her when crafting each piece of jewelry. She said she loves it when her piece brings joy to others.

“They can take my work and feel good wearing it. And that makes me feel good,” said McGee.

“When I sit down and create, I create from a very calm place, a very happy place. It’s very relaxing to be able to create something, to be able to bring something into existence that wasn’t even here yesterday,” said McGee. “It’s almost like I’m just a vessel being used to bring this creation about.”

According to McGee, the Park Forest Art Fair treated its artists very well, including feeding the artists breakfast and dinner. McGee said there were “young ones walking around” asking the artists if they needed snacks or water.



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