Where Lincoln Park and the Latin School intersect at Dearborn and North Avenues…
All that glitters was grief…
Meet George Blakemore —
self-taught artist, citizen, and grieving friend…
“Necessity is the mother of invention. I needed to do something unique.
“It was the 10th of December last year when my good friend Colleen Blake passed away. Even before then I was selling my umbrellas. She was sick and she kept telling me not to waste my time on them. Later, she said it was a good idea and she supported me.
Colleen had been diagnosed with cancer. I stayed with her not far from here at 29 Chestnut, between State and Dearborn.
Across the street you see the Latin School and it’s how we met. She was an activist too. When the Latin School tried to take over Park District land to build their soccer field she was in the Protect Our Parks group. We met at a Park District meeting…”
“We become best friends..”
“Usually rich and poor don’t meet. …
..but she was a community activist and so was I. We became best friends.
She was ill with the cancer and she wanted me to be with her.
That’s when I started painting umbrellas.”
“Art makes you a better human being..”
George reflects, “Art makes you a better human being– art, dance, music, creative writing– all creative endeavors. I work on this all the time, even in winter when it’s cold. These umbrellas helped me cope with her breast cancer. I had never known how cancer can just melt someone away. This was a way to get the solitude I needed.
She would say to me– ‘George, nobody is buying these and it’s cold’.
I needed my time though. I needed this.
She was so sick and she wanted me there. I’d get there by 6 a.m.
Then, I would paint at night.
I was so stressed…
…Then people started taking pictures of the umbrellas I have here on their cellphones.
At some point Colleen said, ‘They are gorgeous George’, and then she emailed a picture to her sister in Fort Worth, where we are both from.”
Part-Time Vendor; Full-time Citizen
We were only a short walk from the soccer field area that had brought Colleen and George together. Enraged by the exclusive private Latin School taking over the city’s public Lincoln Park, Colleen and others in Protect Our Parks took up the fight to ensure that all public parks stay public.
This was but one cause for George, who makes it his business to attend public meetings whenever he can fighting for the people’s interests as a concerned citizen. He says, “People elect these political hacks and they don’t make them accountable..I encourage all citizens of Cook County to get involved with the government like I do.”
Colleen, we infer, felt the same way.
George reminds, “Usually rich and poor don’t meet. …..but she was a community activist and so was I. We became best friends.”
As he talks a steady stream of people come by with their cellphones to take pictures of his impromptu umbrella farm on the border of the park. They smile broadly.
It’s a steady stream — off the bus, walking by, en route to the park– all soaking up a piece of serendipity.
And for George it’s also business.
Those who come to buy seem to take a very long time making their selection from the bounty– $25 for the small ones and $30 for the larger ones. George keeps a watchful eye on them, making sure they get out of the picture frame when others are taking photos of his wares.
He explains, “Ive been a vendor for years–traveling all over the United States. I was there when Jesse Jackson was running for President selling hats. I was there when King was killed too..I’ve traveled a lot selling things.”
“Art is Healing…”
Returning to his account of his good friend’s long struggle with cancer, George, a one-time school teacher says, “Art is healing… Real educators know that you need this in the schools- art, dance, music, theater, poetry, creative writing..
I don’t consider myself an artist. I see each one differently. Some are glitter and some are plain. I don’t make them a certain way for anyone, I just do what I want with trial and error…and I came to realize that nobody can do what I do. These are one of a kind…
..Colleen was instrumental in getting me to see this. I think of her…”
Photos: Peter Kachergis
Addenda: George Blakemore is widely reported to be the target of recently proposed ordinances to control public debate. Read a Chicago Tribune story about Blakemore’s activism and the changing reactions of public official to him here.
And, to hear George Blakemore in his own words talk about the historic problems of racism in our schools read Picture This Post’s story– “One-time Teacher George Blakemore Talks About Chicago Schools.”