Artist, Poet and Longtime Resident Featured at Grayslake Heritage Center

The works of Willadene Nicholas are on display in Behind the Brush, an exhibit at the Grayslake Heritage Center and Museum.

Willadene Nicholas was an artist by many aspects of the word. In her 97 years she wrote poems, short stories and books that included her own pen-and-ink sketches, and created a vast collection of watercolor paintings.

Those paintings, along with the works of two other noted Grayslake artists, are on display at the through November 3. 

Nicholas came to Grayslake with her husband, Ray in 1941, where she taught art in her home studio to hundreds of Grayslake area children and in Grayslake High School for many adults in the evening classes.

She was a founder and organizer of the well-known Town and Country Art Show that was held for many years at the Lake County Fairgrounds.

In 1981, she told an interviewer with the Grayslake Historical Society that the Ford Motor Company purchased one of her paintings of the Sears family home, the former Country Squire restaurant in Grayslake, and used it for the company's magazine cover.

"They paid me royalties to allow them to put it in a book which went all over the world," Nicholas told the interviewer. The painting was also in a company exhibit that toured the world and at one time was in the company museum in Dearborn, Michigan.  

To many of her art fans, her vibrant watercolors are real and about life. 

"Everything I write is drawn from personal experience," she said in a 1992 newspaper interview. "Poetry is life. You have to write about the real things."

Her strongest images are of flowers, a News-Sun art critic noted, adding that Nicholas' favorite medium is watercolors and she preferred early morning to draw scenes from a window of her Grayslake home.  

"I only paint when I'm in the mood and I only paint what impresses me," Nicholas told one interviewer in 1997. "That's why I paint so many flowers. Sometimes you look at one and think there couldn't be anything more beautiful."  

Nicholas: A Strong Student

Nicholas was born in Streator, Illinois in 1910. She skipped three grades and was 12 years old when she attended Galesburg High School where she received her first formal art training.

At 16 Nicholas studied as a freshman at Monmouth College, before transferring to the University of Illinois at Urbana where she studied art and English before moving to Grayslake.

ALong with art classes, Nicholas also taught Latin at the private Westminster Academy in the Northbrook-Wilmette area in the 1960s and 1970s. There she wrote her own Latin textbook when she couldn't find one that she liked to teach her students.

She also taught English, art, math, history and other subjects at the school.    

Willadene Nicholas died August 1, 2007 at Winchester House in Libertyville. She had been a resident of Grayslake for more than 60 years.

Behind the Brush Exhibit

The other atists whose work is on display are ; and the late Charles Oglesby Longabaugh, whose work has been exhibited nationally and had a studio in a Grayslake carriage house.

The collection features 23 water colors and two pen and ink drawinings from the collection of the Grayslake Historical Society, local collectors and the artists' families.

They will be on display at the , 164 Hawley St., through November 3.

Contributed by the Grayslake Historical Society 

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