Capturing Bess' life
By CATHERINE ANN VELASCO firstname.lastname@example.org Sep 20, 2010
Illustrator Kevin Luthardt looks over at passing children as they glance at a mural he is creating of Bess Eichelberger last week at their school in Plainfield.
Updated: September 24, 2010 1:31PM
PLAINFIELD -- As a mural of Bess Eichelberger's life emerged, students walking to gym class were amazed.
"Wow! Wooooow!" kindergarteners said in sing-song unison as they walked passed muralist Kevin Luthardt as he painted a wall by the gym at Elizabeth Eichelberger Elementary School.
"Can you come to my birthday party and paint my face?" one boy asked.
"Then, one student said, 'Siiccck!' which means cool in slang," he said with a sly smile.
If he would ever need an ego boost, Luthardt said going to a school is a great place for it. Luthardt is an author and illustrator of several books, including "Larabee" and "Flying." He has painted about 50 murals -- mostly in schools and public libraries.
In Plainfield School District, he has painted murals at Meadow View and Charles Reed elementary schools. He enjoys the public interaction he gets as he paints in public.
"I like the fact that it's art that's accessible for kids because kids don't go to art galleries or art museums that much. It's their art," he said.
"I have never done a mural honoring one person's life, so this one is unique," he said. "It makes me a little nervous, because there are a lot specific visuals -- especially Bess herself. Though I am not attempting a portrait of her per se, I do want the image to capture her likeness in my whimsical style."Bess' legacy In August 2008, Plainfield School District opened a new elementary school, naming it after Eichelberger, who served on the school board for 26 years, including five years as president.
Eichelberger was school board president when the 1990 tornado struck the area, destroying Plainfield High School, Grand Prairie Elementary School and St. Mary's Immaculate Church where she served as president of the parish council. After the tornado, she went to Washington, D.C., to drum up financial support for Plainfield.
She attended her school's ribbon-cutting ceremony, first homecoming and a time capsule presentation where she put in some of her items, including a pair of red high heels. She died at age 82 on Feb. 21, 2009.
To capture Bess' life, Luthardt spoke with Principal Trevor Harris and Kathy Kazmar, Bess' good friend and caretaker.
"Both of them gave me a lot of photos, personal items and specific ideas of who she was, her interests, accomplishments, etc," Luthardt said. "I tried to incorporate as much as I could into the design."
Kazmar and her husband, Ron, who also served on the school board, donated $2,500 for the mural.
Luthardt had a lot of Bess' accomplishments to squeeze into the piece. He will include the logos of United Way and YMCA in addition to the state seal of Illinois.
The mural also includes Bess' cat, Sparky; Kathy and Ron Kazmar on their boat; Harris and Assistant Principal Casey Hartman as well as the school's mascot, which is a gator; and Clifford, the big red dog.
In the center of the mural, Bess is sitting in her rocking chair reading her favorite book, "Make Way for Ducklings" to a group of children, wearing shirts with logos of Chicago sports teams, including the Cubs, White Sox and Blackhawks.
"Everything in here is specifically for her or related to the school," Luthardt said. "I wanted to capture her but because it's in the school I also wanted to reflect the kids and wanted it to be fun. It's not intended to be a portrait necessarily. It's more honoring her, but also reflecting that she was very involved in education and children and Plainfield."Knowing Bess As Luthardt painted Thursday afternoon, Kathy Kazmar talked to the first-graders in the media center about Bess, showing them pictures, Bess' high heels and her most treasured awards.
Kathy Kazmar put together of a box of Bess' photos, memorabilia and awards for teachers to use to tell students about the school's namesake.
"My husband went to a grade school called Hitch. He went to grade school for eight years and he has no idea who Mr. Hitch was," she said. "These first-graders they don't know who she is. Hopefully, the teachers will take a little time in their year and teach a little bit of Mrs. Eichelberger."
Harris said Luthardt was doing a tremendous job capturing Bess.
"I am excited that this will give our students an idea of the life that Bess lived and the influences that she has had on so many people through her volunteer work," he said. "The mural will serve as lifeline of Bess's accomplishments and teachers will be able to teach kids about Bess. Once the mural is complete, Bess's memory will live forever at Eichelberger Elementary School."
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