Streator is getting a new piece of artwork Friday, June 28, to Sunday, June 30, but this won’t be a mural or a statue celebrating the city’s history: The artwork will be a warning on the dangers of climate change from world-renowned artist and Streator-native L.G. Williams.
“The most important problem of our time is climate catastrophe,” Williams said in a phone interview. “There is no better place to look at the climate catastrophe and the bleak future than Central Illinois.”
To illustrate his example, Williams said the soggy conditions preventing farmers from getting in the field as well as the areas affected by flooding are the locales that feed America. Central Illinois’ May was one of the wettest on record and the weather has affected farmers' planting schedule.
“That’s why I want to do this project,” Williams said. “I want Streator to have one of the most important artworks in the entire world for their community. It’s a difficult topic but it wasn’t my choice. This is the problem we’re facing right now.”
Streator Mayor Jimmie Lansford said the idea for the project being called "Don't Look at That Tree," came about when he was approached by Benna McFadden Hermanson, who is planning a reunion for the Streator High Class of 1979. Hermanson is a real estate developer who has taken an interest in her hometown. She approached Lansford about hosting a Williams piece for the day of their reunion.
“(McFadden) still comes home and visits her mother and she’s really taken an interest in how Streator is changing and what we’re doing to make it more friendly,” Lansford said. “(They) asked if they could do something in the park and I think it’ll be a good thing. It’ll be something. It’s only going to be like a one-day thing. It’s whatever his artistic rendition will be but it’s only going to be for 24 hours and that’s it.”
Williams' plan is to cover the largest tree in the Streator City Park with yellow tape as though it were the scene of a crime, symbolizing the environmental issues he said have been ignored for decades.
“I want to people to look at the art and look at the bigger picture,” Williams said. “American life expectancy and quality have diminished. People are dying younger than ever before. Monsanto was just found guilty and forced to pay a billion dollar fine for using pesticides known to cause cancer.”
Williams' reference to Monsanto is in regard to the agribusiness company being ordered to pay $2.055 billion in a lawsuit after a California couple said Roundup Ready, a weed killer tied to non-Hodgkins Lymphoma by many different investigations, caused both of them to fall ill with the disease.
“There’s such a daft rift of ideology and this is where we are,” Williams said. “What we come down to is what am I doing? What do great artists do? Why is art important?”
Williams said the greatest artists deal with the greatest problems of their time by shedding light in ways that might be uncomfortable and describes his style as that of a “renegade intellectual,” somebody who views the world through a separate set of eyes in order to express different ideas not normally thought of.
Williams credits former Streator High School art teacher Jim Olmsted as inspiration and as someone who instilled a love of art in him from a very young age.
“I feel like I’ve done everything that an artist can do and it's time for me to do something in my hometown,” Williams said. “Olmsted was a great influence on me when I was in high school and I can’t thank him enough for the four years I spent in class with him. He was amazing and I thank my lucky stars for having been taught by a guy like him.”
Williams’ mother was Dr. Sandra Williams, a psychologist and former member of the Streator Elementary School Board.
He left Streator in 1980 after graduating high school to attend college at the University of California-Davis, a renowned art school. He joined a program run by "beat" artists, artists who strayed from the typical norms of the art community.
“I was taught as an outsider and to be an outsider is to see the whole picture without having to worry about offending the establishment,” Williams said. “My roots were perfect for creating transformative and radical art. I’ve never been included across the world despite my art getting acclaim. It’s always been as an outsider looking in and that’s a unique position when you talk about where we come from and talk about big institutions.”
Williams said the artwork will be cleaned up on June 30 but its effect on the city will remain and for just a few days at the end of June, Streator will have been home to an impactful piece of art.
Want to participate?
Anyone can assist in making the artwork; and help with clean-up. Installation is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday, June 28, and clean up is set for 10 a.m. Sunday, June 30.