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Visit Farnsworth House, Sunday, 7/11/2021 Art Exhibit & Book Signing by Oil Painter, Joel Sheesley

Intrepid outdoor painter, Joel Sheesley, paints the natural beauty of the Fox river and surrounding landscape from his canoe tethered to a branch! <Scroll down for paintings>

Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame 2020 winner and renowned oil painter, Joel Sheesley, hasn’t let retirement from his Wheaton College art professorship keep him idle.

On Sunday afternoon, July 11, 2021, he will be at the opening reception for his painting exhibition, “Less (and) More: Modernism Greets the River Landscape,” and signing copies of his latest book, A Fox River Testimony, at Farnsworth House, 14520 River Road, Plano, IL. The exhibition features the landscape in which German-born American architect, Mies van der Rohe, set the Farnsworth House, considered to be his iconic modernist masterpiece.

(Scroll down for event details, book purchase and ticket information.)

Cover of Joel's book, A FOX RIVER TESTIMONY, published in collaboration with The Conservation Foundation to raise public awareness of preservation and conservation issues.

Brimming with 70 of Joel’s original oil landscape paintings, the book features work that was done primarily plein air throughout all seasons. His exceptional artistry captures the magic and raw beauty of this gently rolling riverside landscape. The $50 book includes landscape scenes painted as Joel travelled up and down the Fox river.

Joel began this 3-year painting odyssey by starting upstream at West Dundee and continuing downstream for about 60 miles to Ottawa where the Fox river flows into the Illinois river. The project, done under the auspices of The Conservation Foundation, also morphed into the inaugural 2020-2021 Farnsworth House artist-in-residence program for Joel.


“The Conservation Foundation conceived of this venture with the dual purpose -- as an art exhibit and a book,” Joel explained. “It was a way to get the public excited about the health, conservation and preservation of the Fox river and its watershed. The paintings convey the aesthetics of the landscape and its natural beauty.”

Joel painted outside during all seasons for stretches of 2-1/2 hours at a time. He’d take different-sized canvases with him to the site and begin painting, often without any sketching first. He also took 360-degree photos of the area to help him better understand the site when he returned to his studio.

“Seeing an area with your own eyes, is always better than painting from a photograph,” Joel said. “Photos are helpful to fill in some additional details about an area, but can’t replace viewing it in person.”

During the three years he captured the river and its adjacent landscape, he’d also paint seated inside his 16-foot canoe setting, up a French easel to work at, tethering to either a nearby branch or dropping an anchor. In the winter when the ice was thick enough, he’d walk right out onto it to work.


Because he’d sit so still for lengthy amounts of time, river creatures became accustomed to his presence. He saw quite the menagerie drifting by including, otters, beavers, minks, and muskrats. Luckily, no snakes!

Joel, who grew up in upper New York state didn’t think there would be anything interesting about a midwestern landscape when he first landed at Wheaton College for a teaching position after receiving his MFA at University of Denver School of Art.

“I never would have thought of myself as a landscape painter,” Joel said. “There might have been some landscape elements in the work I was producing, but it certainly was not my focus. However, in the last ten years that has changed, especially when in 2013 the Wheaton Park District commissioned me to paint the Lincoln Marsh Natural Area which spans across 150 acres. It taught me about the complexity and beauty of the land – not landscape effects as some painters might view it – but landscape as a particular place.”

And he added, it’s not his intention to just paint a pretty landscape picture, but to capture an awareness of something deeper.

“Twenty years ago, painting landscapes would not have resonated with me,” he observed. “Today, I’m far more open to seeing the natural beauty that does exist here.”


Sunday, July 11, 2021, 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM, the public will be able to view about 25 of Joel’s original paintings, and hear a short artist’s talk. A tour of Farnsworth House will require purchasing a ticket. To reserve your book copy for signing, visit the Farnsworth House Museum Shop online: Tours & Tickets - Farnsworth House.

Farnsworth House, constructed in 1951 and designed by Mies van der Rohe in 1945, is part of the Landmarks Illinois and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

For more information about Joel: Joel Sheesley

Fox River at Farnsworth House, oil on canvas, 20 x 20

January at Farnsworth House, oil on canvas, 18 x 36

Blasted Willow, oil on canvas, 18 x 24

June Morning Fox River Near Farnsworth House, oil on canvas, 16 x 20

Upstream Rob Roy Creek, oil on canvas, 16 x 20

House View #2, oil on canvas, 12 x 24


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