- Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was contributed by Amber Foster, curator of the Batavia Depot Museum.
There has been a very colorful addition to the Batavia Historical Society collection at the Batavia Depot Museum, thanks to Dee James, daughter-in-law of Lorraine Wells James.
James was a creative spirit that could not be contained. She was born in Toledo, OH, in 1918 and at age 22, she met her husband Jack James on a blind date. They came to Batavia in 1956 with children Richard, Michael, Valerie and Jeffrey.
Never wanting to miss an opportunity to create, her entire house on Elm Street became her canvas. She spent nearly four decades painting and decorating the interior and exterior spaces of her home.
The residence included an incredibly large fantasy type mural in the kitchen and sculptures in the yard.
Always looking for creative potential, she purchased mannequins from a St. Charles department store that was closing its doors and re-purposed the mannequins into beautifully ornate artwork, mixing elements of real and fanciful.
One of these sets was recently acquired by the museum. These mannequins added an unconventional flair to several rooms in her home, where they were displayed. Her imagination spilled from the canvas, to the walls and ceilings of her home and beyond, reflecting her positive outlook on life.
James applied her artistry to her garden, which was described in 2000 by Shirley Remes, the Kane County Chronicle Green Gardner, as an enchanting wonderland.
Even though she was told it would never stick, she covered the cracks in the cement in the front yard with another cement mixture completed with carved-in, elaborate designs. These designs followed the walkway leading into her back patio revealing a garden paradise.
Her yard was her getaway from the outside world, compromising orderly elements with playful garden sculptures. In an area formerly designated for her children’s pool, she built a low stone wall with plants attached, complete with an installed fountain as a focal point.
Her creativity worked overtime in the garden as James was not afraid to try new things and experiment.
Lorraine James was not limited to traditional art mediums. Her portfolio included ceramics, cement, doll-making, wood carving, oil and acrylic paints and papier-mache. Her artwork had widespread appeal and was displayed in many local art galleries and shows.
She was a member of the Batavia Artist Guild, and her work was sold at the Studio Gallery in Geneva. Her work has hung in respected institutions, such as the Art Institute of Chicago.
As a previous resident of Ohio, James was not a stranger at the Toledo Art Museum and had many pieces exhibited in that community’s gallery. In 1966, her oil painting titled Where Now won an award at the 48th annual exhibition of Toledo Artists.
Lorraine Wells James passed away on March 3, 2006. The artist and her work has left a lasting impression on those who knew her or had ever visited her home.
Today, her pieces can be found in the collections of the city of Batavia, Batavia Public Library and the Batavia Historical Society.
- Schelkopf, Eric, “Batavia home blooms with creativity”, Kane County Chronicle, Friday March 31, 2006
- Schory, Brenda, “Mural could make big splash at pool”, Kane county Chronicle
- Remes, Shirley, “Garden is her palette”, Green Gardner, Kane County Chronicle, Saturday, October 21, 2000
- Washington, Selden, Toledo Museum of Art Letter, June 19, 1963
- James, Lorraine Wells, Obituary, Daily Herald, Tuesday March 7, 2006
- Toledo Federation of Art Societies, Forty eighth annual exhibition –Toledo Area artists, Toledo Museum of Art, May 1966
- Sixty-sixth annual exhibition by artists of Chicago and Vicinity, Art Institute of Chicago, April-June 1963
- James, Rick, obituary, Moss family Funeral Homes, April 29, 2019 http://www.mossfuneral.com/obituaries/details/2206/
About the Batavia Depot Museum
The Batavia Depot Museum opened in 1975 as a partnership between the Batavia Park District and the Batavia Historical Society. The Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad Depot was the first of its kind built in 1854, and is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.
Inside, the city’s past comes alive through exhibits detailing the history of rail transportation, manufacture of windmills, agriculture, banking, commerce and a brief stay by Mary Todd Lincoln at Bellevue Place. The Depot Museum is open until Dec. 15, after which it will close for the winter season and reopens in March 2020.
Read The Kane County History Series!
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