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In Memory

 

We at the Brigantine Gallery are deeply saddened by the loss of our dear friend, mentor, and artist, Charles Vickery.
In his honor, we have put together a collection of articles from local newspapers commemorating his passing.

 

Excerpts from the Suburban Life Citizen Saturday, September 26,1998.

As important as canvas is to a full-rigged schooner, the canvases of world-renowned seascape artist Charles Vickery of Western Springs have done more to capture the essence of the sea than most of his contemporaries.

His paintings carry countless lovers of the sea to the world's four corners on a rolling, wave-swept deck. They fill the room with the scent of pine tar and the light of the sun setting on the ocean's edge.

Yet this lifelong resident of the western suburbs drew his greatest inspiration from Lake Michigan and it's sand dunes.

Mr. Vickery died of heart failure Tuesday at La Grange Memorial Hospital. He was 85.

The Clipper Ship Gallery in downtown La Grange has been solely dedicated to Mr. Vickery's works since it opened in 1981. Jay Jacobs, whose father Bert, owns the gallery, said Mr. Vickery remained a vibrant force in the art world until the end.

"To any of his close friends, the general reaction is one of shock," Jacobs said. "On the other hand, he had 85 years to devote to something he absolutely loved. It was something he was able to work at at an incredible caliber until the end.

Born in Hinsdale in 1913 and a resident of Western Springs for the past 60 years, the shy man who steered away from celebrity status captured the sea at it's best, and worst, in a tiny studio next to the gallery.

A few times a year, Mr. Vickery would travel by train to the east coast for two weeks at a time and visit places like Rockport, Maine and Gloucester, Mass.

During his free time, he became known in recent years as an avid teacher and would travel the circuit of area art leagues and galleries holding court, conducting demonstrations of his work and displaying his wry humor about life, his closest friends said.

"But his biggest inspiration," Jacobs said, "was Lake Michigan. He would go to the dunes on a weekly basis, good and bad weather."

A graduate of Lyons Township High School -- where much of his work was displayed until recently when it was moved into the School Board offices because of it's value -- Mr. Vickery was a member of the district's esteemed Hall of Fame.

"(His death) is truly a shame; he was a very talented gentleman." Said Jennifer Bialobok, who said Mr. Vickery most recently painted a picture of the North Campus clock tower. The picture hangs in the board room.

Former LT board member John Polacek of Western Springs said he believes Mr. Vickery did some of his best work in the last five years of his life.

"I don't know of anybody who could do water quite like he did," said Polacek, who recalled how Mr. Vickery was sometimes his own critic.

One time he saw Mr. Vickery sitting off to the side in the gallery while a visitor looked at one of his paintings, swearing something was missing. When the man left, so did Vickery -- who returned later with the painting, a rusty-looking bush added to one corner.

"I saw (the painting) before and after that, and it made all the difference in the world," said Polacek. "he had a real knack for listening to people."

Fellow artist, Norbert Posen of Brookfield said he was most impressed with Mr. Vickery because he was known worldwide for his works that depicted life at sea -- places where he never lived.

"He was given special recognition by people in Great Britain because his seascapes were so authentic, yet he's from the Midwest," he said. "He's the Norman Rockwell of the Middle West, as far as we're concerned."

Although Mr. Vickery was a quiet man and was only genuinely close to a few people, he enjoyed holding court as a teacher of art.

"I guess he just wanted to keep teaching ... until he couldn't anymore," said Posen. "he was very dedicated. He was the kind of a person I would talk to my students about and point to his work as something to look up to."


"One such person who looked up to Mr. Vickery was Riverside actor/playwright John Reeger, who happened upon the famous Vickery print -- "The Christmas Tree Schooner" -- (left) when he was doing research while writing a musical of a similar name that is performed annually at the Bailiwick in Chicago. After doing a show about the great lakes, Reeger learned about the vessels that, between roughly 1880 and 1920, would bring Christmas trees from Michigan's Upper Peninsula to the Chicago shoreline to sell to area residents during the holidays.

"While I was writing the play, someone mentioned Charles Vickery and "The Christmas Tree Schooner" painting on display in his gallery," he recalled. "Someone told me I think there's an artist in La Grange that had this famous painting." So I visited his painting ... and then him. It was so inspirational to see his print in front of me of the play I was researching."

After his wife gave him a copy of the print the following Christmas, he began using miniature of it to send as cards to Bailiwick cast members.

" He really had a knack of having the water come alive," said Reeger. "I only met the man once. ...He was a real inspiration."

Artist Lois Hrejsa of Forest View, one of Mr. Vickery's closest friends for the last decade, said he was very modest about himself and "a riot" every time he would draw a crowd at one of his appearances.
At the Brigantine Gallery in La Grange Park is a world-renowned painting of his depicting "Jesus Walking on the Sea" which Hrejsa said he painted in memory of his late twin sister who also was an artist.

Vickery would claim there would be people who prayed in front of it that were cured. But when you see the painting, said his friends, you can really feel the power and comfort of it.


"He was generous to a fault. He shared his time and his knowledge with everyone," said one friend."I've never seen a teacher so open, so giving."


Stella Solliday, former president of the La Grange Art League, said Mr. Vickery was a benefactor of the league for years and was also known as a very giving man. "He's worked with us; in all the endeavors we had. He contributed paintings, and he contributed time," she said. "As a portrayer of the sea, he had a tremendous understanding of the sea, and was able to portray it with such light and life and the real emotions of the sea."

In addition to his wide popularity among art collectors in the area, Mr. Vickery's work has been on display in galleries around the world.


He had a long association with the venerated Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic Conn.

Constance Killgore,director of the museum, was deeply saddened to hear of his death. Just last week, one of Mr. Vickery's works was sold.

"It seems to me, even fairly recently we were in touch with him regarding prices of his older paintings," Killgore said. "I was rather heartened that he was still in his studio.

Killgore said it was difficult not to think of Mr. Vickery when thinking of art with the sea as a subject.

"He certainly one of the most well known in that genre and had a large following in Europe as well as here," Killgore said. "When you think of a great marine painting, particularly of clipper ships of the high seas, you think of Charles Vickery.
The museum's fully restored 19th century whaling ship, the Charles W. Morgan (left), was a popular subject for Mr. Vickery.


He also had work displayed locally in Chicago's Art Institute and Union League club, as well as galleries as far away as London, Philadelphia, Johannesburg, South Africa, and the Norwegian Embassy in Washington.

 

Excerpts from the Chicago Tribune   Friday, September 25, 1998.

Charles Vickery, a world renowned seascape artist who credited Lake Michigan for being his best instructor and source of inspiration, died of heart failure Tuesday in La Grange Memorial Hospital. The longtime resident of Western Springs was 85.

After studying at the Art Institute of Chicago and the American Academy of Art, Mr. Vickery opened his first art studio in Western Springs at 24. In his career's early days, paintings were purchased for a home cooked-meal or a few dollars, and his income was supplemented by factory jobs and work as a surveyor's assistant.

But by the 1950's, favorable reviews in Chicago newspapers of his work in a Michigan Avenue gallery encouraged him and boosted his career. Today, his oil paintings, most of them waterscapes and depicting tall ships, are prominently displayed in embassies, galleries and private homes and offices around the world.

Among his prominent exhibit locations are the Norwegian Embassy in Washington, the Union League Club in Chicago, the Chicago Dental Society and art galleries in Chicago, Philadelphia, London and Johannesburg, South Africa.

Mr. Vickery won many prizes at international marine art shows. He also won the Palette and Chisel Diamond Metal from the Palette and Chisel Academy of Chicago.

Mr. Vickery visited the Indiana Dunes of Lake Michigan nearly weekly for much of his life and spent hours studying the lake and the effects of light on water. He never used a camera and rarely painted at the scene, but would instead study the images, retain them in his mind and paint them later in his studio, friends and colleagues said.

He also spent much of his time on the East Coast studying the Atlantic, and in his early 50's, he went out on a freighter trip in the winter, getting as far as Turkey, to experience the wild, stormy effects of the ocean.

"The real test of a marine painting is to make the boat and the water live together," Mr. Vickery once told the Tribune. "It's almost as though it is growing out of the water as an integral part of it. Ninety percent of lesser artists can't do it. It's as if they put a toy on the water."

Locally, some of his most popular pieces include the "Christmas Tree Schooner," which depicts a ship loaded with Christmas trees that have traveled from the northern part of Lake Michigan to Chicago, and "Jesus Walking on the Sea," an image of Christ walking across the water.

 

Excerpts from the Chicago Sun-Times   Thursday, October 1, 1998.

Charles Vickery was acclaimed as the greatest living painter of seascapes.

A resident of Western Springs, Illinois, he sold paintings for as much as $85,000. His works hang in London's prestigious Royal Academy, yet others adorn homes of local garbage collectors because he tossed out many of his early paintings.

Mr. Vickery died Sept. 22 in La Grange Memorial Hospital. He was 85.

Critics said Mr. Vickery's definition of waves and water movement made his works rare, while his tall ships were perfectly detailed, from crewmen to the rig and planks.

Mr.Vickery's oils are prominently displayed in embassies and galleries, in addition to private homes and offices of collectors around the globe. They can be found in the Norwegian Embassy in Washington, the Union League Club in Chicago and the Chicago Dental Society.

His trademark was his love of majestic sailing vessels and capturing the infinite moods of water. He credited Lake Michigan with being his teacher while he was the eternal student. He loved sketching at the lakefront and at Indiana dunes, where he observed the sun, sky, wind and water interlacing.

Mr. Vickery began painting at age 12 while living in Hinsdale. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the American Academy of Art.

During the lean years, he worked long hours in a mirror factory "churning out cheap paintings--one per hour," he told the Chicago Sun-Times in an interview. "We were told not to sign our names on them so (the paintings) wouldn't be held against us. I used to sign mine Reynolds."

Years later, he was astonished to find a painting on display in an Oak Park gallery with the name Reynolds scrawled on it.

Mr. Vickery gave paintings away for meals in his "starving artist" years; others found their way into the garbage because, like many artists, he was his own worst critic. To discourage trash collectors from rummaging through his garbage, he eventually began defacing discarded paintings with large black X's.

He got his first big break in 1952, when a newspaper art critic discovered one of his oils in a Michigan Avenue art gallery. She later said Mr. Vickery was "one of the great painters of this age ... a bright Winslow Homer."

 

 

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