BATAVIA – Two visual artists, two composers and an internationally known choir director are the latest inductees to be honored by the Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame.
They include Jeff Hunt, founder of the St. Charles Singers; portrait artist Vincent Chiaramonte of Campton Hills; and painter Joel Sheesley of Wheaton, who gathered Feb. 5 for the big reveal at the Batavia Public Library. Fellow inductees who could not attend are musicians Patrick Beckman and Kevin Braheny Fortune.
All the winners will be present to be honored formally at the Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame biennial awards dinner at 6 p.m. April 24 at Villa Olivia in Bartlett. The public is invited to the festivities.
St. Charles native Hunt said he was surprised and humbled at the award. He told board member Joyce Dlugopolski of Batavia that he'd followed the work of the Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame over the years, and always felt "lucky to be part of a community that honors arts and musicians."
The critically acclaimed choir he founded in 1984 originally was called the Mostly Madrigal Singers. It was none other than famed British choral composer John Rutter who suggested changing the name to one more encompassing of their diverse repertoire.
"You take that advice from the master," said Hunt, who has collaborated with Rutter over the years.
Hunt, who won last year's Charlemagne Award in St. Charles, is quick to credit the influence of his parents, the late Doris and Max Hunt.
The mid-April concert by the St. Charles Singers will include a piece specially commissioned in honor of Doris Hunt on the second anniversary of her passing.
The composer is the Grammy-nominated Jake Runestad of Minnesota, called "a rock star in choral music" by Hunt. It is titled "Cello Songs" and includes lyrics reworked with the permission of "Cello" poet Dorianne Laux by librettist Todd Bross of Los Angeles. Cellist Sophie Webber will be guest artist.
The piece will recognize "the energy she brought into our lives," Hunt said.
Two of his Congressional portraits hang in the U.S. Capitol.
"This is quite an honor," he said of being named an inductee. "We spend so much time in isolation as artists perfecting our craft. Wow [it's] meaningful to be around such incredible talents."
A self-described introvert, he said his love of art goes back a long way. His mother framed a second-grade report card in which his teacher said he excelled in drawing.
Chiaramonte said his art is spurred by an inner drive.
"To me it's divine, God-given," he said, adding the motivation is to keep improving through the gifts you've been given.
He paints in the home studio he constructed, working from photographs he takes of his subjects.
"Lighting is key," he said of his portraits that reveal the emotional life of his subjects.
Before art school he spent time working as a restorative artist in the funeral industry, benefiting from the anatomical expertise he was gaining, he said.
"I knew inside, I needed to pursue my art career," he said. "I'm grateful to the 22-year-old who decided to go back to art school."
The Wheaton College professor emeritus undertook a multiyear project to capture the Fox River on canvas, working with The Conservation Foundation. Its representatives Trish Beckjord of St. Charles and Dan Lobbes of Batavia were on hand at the announcement.
After three years, he's up to about 90 works he painted outdoors (en plein air) between West Dundee and Ottawa, Sheesley said.
"I'm still hooked on the Fox River, still painting," he said. "I know [the river] intimately. I wade in. I've painted from my canoe out in the river. All seasons, all weather. I tried to be out there and be part of everything, camping out a few times. The Conservation Foundation provided … great contacts and deep understanding [of the] importance of the river."
Lobbes said the foundation also helped gain Sheesley access from private landowners to places rarely seen on the river.
Sheesley said stepping into midstream became a metaphor for mortality and remembering to pay attention to the present.
Beckman grew up in Elgin and lives in Freeport, Illinois. He received his master's degree in piano performance from the University of Illinois at Urbana, where he studied with Soulima Stravinsky, son of Igor Stravinsky. During college, he was busy composing musicals and touring Europe as an accompanist.
A teacher, Beckman has been composing piano and vocal music. In addition to numerous choral compositions, he has written extensively for piano, able to utilize the language of blues, jazz, gospel, folk, rock and rhythm and blues. He has received critical acclaim for a number of his recordings, including “Big Muddy Suite,” a suite for clarinet and piano with Grammy Award winner Richard Stoltzman.
His choral works include the “Mass in Memory of Thomas Merton,” first performed at the cathedral in Salzburg, Austria, and the “Easter Mass,” first performed at the Vatican.
Kevin Braheny Fortune
Fortune grew up in Elgin and lives in Alta, California. He attended VanderCook College of music in Chicago, where he studied composition and was taught to learn and play every string, wind and brass instrument available. Yet he yearned for musical sounds beyond those tones. Driven to find a way to produce them, he would discover the new frontier of electronic music. His first synthesizer was the ElectroComp 101, and he began to experiment in ways to modulate frequencies into complex musical tones.
He learned engineering during recording sessions with top artists such as Miles Davis, Bruce Springsteen, and Sly and the Family Stone, and began to write soundtracks for Disney short educational films and many commercials. But it was the opportunity to work with Malcolm Cecil, a pioneer Moog synthesist who produced four of Stevie Wonder’s albums, that led to teaming up with Serge Tcherepnin, the creator of the Serge Modular Music System. Fortune has built his own “Mighty Serge” modular synthesizer.
One of Fortune's best known albums is "Lullaby for the Hearts of Space." He is a space music pioneer whose music is heard on hundreds of radio and television programs. He has been a featured soloist on many albums by Paul Avgerinos, including the Grammy-winning “Grace.”
“Ultimately, I perceive that the creation of music is all about love – the love of the electrons, the love of music, sound and space between the sounds," he wrote. "Music is only heard when it passes through the air rich with fields of invisible particles. Then it is gone and there is nothing left except what was imprinted or decoded or perceived about it. For me, whatever spiritual insights I can impart through my sounds, through my music, that is a love song.”
In introducing the five inductees, Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame President Susan S. Starrett of North Aurora called the "area arts scene such a rich and flourishing place in the hearts of those who value the arts."
In even-numbered years, the organization picks a class of inductees. In odd-numbered years, it contributes to arts projects. In 2019, it donated to a youth concert series championed by late arts benefactor Sterling "Stu" Ainsworth of St. Charles, which makes it possible for 8,000 school children to have a concert experience.
Her daughter, Susan Starrett, vice president of selection for the organization, called the inductees amazing people and praised the love and dedication they put into their craft.
Past inductees on hand to welcome the new honorees were ceramicist Joe Hernandez of Aurora and hammered dulcimer player Bill Robinson of St. Charles.
Founded in 2001 during a commemoration for the new millennium, the Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame is a nonprofit organization that gives public recognition to artists associated with the Fox Valley by birth, education, residence or service who have achieved national or international acclaim.
It also works to ensure a strong cultural legacy for future generations. Areas of concentration include: visual arts, performing arts, literary arts, media arts, and educator/curator/benefactor. Included artists must have 20 years in their profession.
This is the 10th class of inductees who are honored with engraved plaques displayed at the Hemmens Cultural Center in Elgin.
The community is invited to join the Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame and its inductees at the awards ceremony dinner at Villa Olivia at 1401 W. Lake St.
To register to attend, go to the Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame website at www.foxvalleyarts.org for information or contact Susan S. Starrett at 630-605-4000 or Vice President Murna Hansemann at 847-727-7165. Board members represent communities from Elgin and Aurora to Sugar Grove.