Auctioning Works from the Oak Park Art League
by Aron Packer and Erin Marcell
Although supporting vital arts organizations is always important, at this particular time they need community backing more than ever to ensure their continued operation. With this in mind, Toomey & Co. Auctioneers proudly started its Interiors auction on Wednesday, May 6, 2020 with 17 lots deaccessioned from the Collection of the Oak Park Art League (OPAL). Altogether the OPAL paintings on offer brought $29,397.
Background on the Oak Park Art League
Founded in 1921 by artist Carl Krafft, OPAL is one of the longest running non-profit art centers in Illinois. OPAL’s mission is to offer art education to people of all ages and skill levels, along with various programs and guest lectures, artist demonstrations and critiques, and monthly exhibitions in their gallery space.
Several months ago, OPAL reached out to Toomey & Co. Auctioneers to discuss auctioning identified paintings that have been in its collection for several decades and some since its inception. The rationale for this difficult and thoughtfully planned decision was multi-layered, with space being at a premium within OPAL’s home and studios at 720 Chicago Avenue in Oak Park, Illinois. Given that the structure was originally designed as a carriage house and stable behind a Victorian home, it was not intended to function as the dynamic arts center that it has become.
Because OPAL is a living organization, the majority of its collection is held in storage. In addition to making it difficult for the public to enjoy the full range of artistic material available, OPAL staff members face the challenge of constantly juggling limited physical resources while pursuing the Art League’s objectives.
OPAL Paintings Available at Auction
In collaboration with Toomey & Co.’s Fine Art Department, OPAL opted to deaccession selected paintings that were offered during Interiors on May 6, 2020. Proceeds from the works auctioned will help sustain OPAL and maintain its vibrant artistic programming. Remarkably, each of the OPAL paintings included in the Interiors sale were previously donated by artist members, with some dating back to the center’s early days.
Highlights included the first two lots by OPAL founder Carl Krafft, who received critical acclaim in his time and taught outdoor painting, or plein air, for the Art Institute of Chicago. Krafft drew significant inspiration for his landscapes from the forest preserves of Cook County to the west of Chicago proper. Lots 1 and 2 are winter and autumn landscapes respectively, which Krafft rendered carefully, not only with oil brushstrokes on their panels, but with original gilded frames. Both works were clearly intended to present unified artistic visions. It was not uncommon then, or even today, for artists to carve and hand-paint their own custom frames to complement paintings.
Lot 7 is a sunset landscape by E.E. Roberts, who was the architect of the current OPAL home and studios in Oak Park. Known for his Prairie Style architecture and a rival of Frank Lloyd Wright, Roberts also explored other creative outlets, such as poetry, crafts, and fine art. This 1920s landscape evokes a somber sunset in a naïve style, and has more in common stylistically with Grandma Moses than Roberts’ Prairie architecture.
Other notable artists with paintings in the OPAL grouping that led the Interiors sale on May 6 included: Karl Albert Buehr (Lot 5), who studied at the Art Institute of Chicago; Ellsworth Young (Lot 13), a noted landscape painter who was employed by the Works Progress Administration; and John Thomas Nolf (Lot 10), an artist who preferred people to landscapes as exemplified in his featured portrait, Girl in Woods.
Interiors on May 6, 2020
We invite you to peruse the full assortment of OPAL lots that were part of the Interiors auction on May 6. This was a rare opportunity to own a piece of Chicago art history while supporting an essential part of the area’s cultural landscape that helps foster artistic development for all and advocates for local artists.