Elmhurst has never been known as a destination city for those seeking French culture. But step inside the Elmhurst Artists' Guild Gallery at the beginning this week and you'll think you've landed in the French countryside.
Three artistic minds have come together to pool their experiences in France and their love of art to create an exhibit unlike anything Elmhurst has seen before.
Beginning Tuesday, June 26, the exhibit, La Belle France, will blend flowers, paintings and ceramics in a way that complement each other and pay homage to France. Artists Ray Meifert of Minnesota, and Karen Exiner and Teri Litavsky of Elmhurst draw inspiration from their love of all things French, as well as from each other.
Meifert is ideally suited for the exhibit, as his paintings are in the classically French impressionist style. He has lived in Europe and been inspired by his world travels. A career in the corporate world gave way to his passion, and he now makes a living as an artist in Minnesota.
Exiner is well known in Elmhurst for her enthusiasm for art and for the at her studio on Addison Avenue. She has spent extensive time in France teaching and traveling. She is most inspired by artists who had to overcome great challenges on the road to success, like Van Gogh and Matisse.
"To keep painting and have no one support you … is pretty amazing," she said of Van Gogh. "I never give up. You can't look behind you. You have to keep moving forward."
She said of her travels in France, "It was a love affair that never ended."
Litavsky owns Wild Bird Pottery, a studio directly above Exiner's studio on Addison, where she teaches children her craft.
"My work tends to be functional art," she said. "In today's economy, not everybody can afford to just buy art, so it's nice to be able to incorporate both of those things. We have a ton of fun up there. I love teaching."
The three worked together late last year for Elmhurst Historical Society's , which featured paintings that illustrated and were inspired by letters from Civil War soldiers. The three just seemed to be in tune with one another, Litavsky said.
"We said, 'Hey, we should do some sort of themed show together.' The idea grew and took on a life of its own."
Litavsky has never been to France, but she rented videos and did a lot of research before jumping in. After that, there was no stopping the synchronicity.
For example, Litavsky deconstructed Monet's Water Lilly painting for her three-dimensional works, and Exiner did a three-piece painting, a closeup, of the lily.
"We're putting those things together as a complement to each other," Litavsky said.
Meifert admired another of Litavsky's pieces, the windmill atop the Moulin Rouge in Paris, so he painted the Moulin Rouge to exhibit the two pieces together.
Exiner's painting of a dog named Pierre in a red scarf is paired with a red and gray vase created by Litavsky. The two paired again on a poppy sculpture and painting. "What's a French landscape without poppies?" Litavsky said.
The Elmhurst Garden Club also brings to the exhibit six unique floral arrangements that complement the art. Litvasky's ceramic vases are the vessels for the flowers, and she did some of the floral arranging, herself.
But the Pièce de résistance will be the exhibit's official opening at 7 p.m. Friday, June 29: French pastries, French chardonnay, French greeters wearing French outfits, a violin trio playing French waltzes.
"People will be speaking French by the time they leave," Litavsky said. "I have this great recipe for goat cheese and carmelized onion crustini. It's going to be fun. I don't know how to have a party and not make it special."
The show runs through Aug. 3, and all three artists are eager to share what they've created for this exhibit.
Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday. Admission is $7, free for members, and free all day Friday to everyone.
"I think it's going to be fresh, something different, and I'm really proud of that," Litavsky said. "I'm so excited I can hardly sleep. I'm just really grateful for the opportunity."
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