19 donations accepted to the Dunn Museum collections

Items include remnant from balcony of Genesee Theater to watercolor paintings

LIBERTYVILLE – The operations committee of the Lake County Forest Preserves authorized 19 new donations to the Bess Bower Dunn Museum’s collections.

The donations range from a 1927 plaster architectural remnant from the balcony of the Genesee Theater in Waukegan to watercolor paintings depicting everyday scenes in Libertyville and Lake Forest in the 1980s.

The Dunn Museum, operated by the Lake County Forest Preserves, is frequently contacted by people and organizations who have items they wish to donate.

“When someone offers to donate an item to our collections, it goes through a thoughtful review process before a decision is made,” Dunn Museum curator Diana Dretske said in a news release.

Curators and other museum staff review the item to gauge how well it represents the people, places and events of Lake County, and if it enhances the museum’s ability to tell the county’s history.

“Every item in collections tells a story. As humans, we love stories,” Dretske said.

In the museum’s exhibit galleries, 1899 W. Winchester Road, objects from the collections are rotated on and off display to share new stories and care for the collection. The collections comprise nearly 20,000 artifacts and 1,000 linear feet of archival materials housed in a modern, environmentally controlled care and storage facility.

“The storage facility is an excellent environment for the preservation of the collections the Dunn Museum holds in the public trust,” Dretske said.

“The collections and the process through which we accept donations are two reasons the Dunn Museum is among only 3% of museums nationally to have earned accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums, an industry mark of distinction,” said Angelo Kyle, president of the Lake County Forest Preserves.

Recent donations include:

  • A shirt worn by James Hugh Bonner, circa 1881: The museum has only two examples of men’s clothing (with history of ownership) dating to the 19th century. A shirt belonging to Bonner (1850-1928) is now the third item. In 1850, James and Margaret Bonner came to America with their children, including their newborn son, James Hugh. They briefly lived with a paternal uncle, William Bonner, at what is now Bonner Heritage Farm in Lindenhurst. James Hugh’s father purchased land near the Bonner Farm and named it Bonnie Brae Farm. The Museum of the Grand Prairie in Mahomet, Illinois, donated the item.
  • Milk can for Hawthorn Farms Dairy, circa 1930s-1940s: The milk can was used by Leslie S. Bonner (1887-1968), son of James Hugh Bonner. Leslie Bonner farmed Bonnie Brae Farm on the west side of Route 45, just south of Sand Lake Road. The milk can’s lid is for Bowman Chicago and the base for Hawthorn Farms. Julie Vollbrecht was the donor.
  • Five watercolor paintings by Debra Fitzsimmons, 1980: Fitzsimmons attended Southern Illinois University before moving to Mundelein with her husband. She taught visual art at Mundelein High School for more than 20 years and then was an adjunct faculty member at Lake Forest College. She received a master’s degree in education from Carthage College and a master’s of fine art and doctorate in educational leadership from Northern Illinois University. She donated five paintings from field trips she would take her children on in the 1980s. The Lake Forest Library used book fair, Libertyville farmers market and Lake County Fair are among the subjects of the paintings she donated.
  • Architectural remnant from the balcony of the Genesee Theater, 1927: During the theater’s recent renovation, the balcony was enlarged and reshaped. The original plaster moldings were removed and cast to make new moldings that fit the new balcony. In 1939, Waukegan’s Jack Benny premiered his movie “Man About Town” at the theater.” The city of Waukegan was the donor.
  • Fort Sheridan drawings, 1975: Four drawings of Fort Sheridan by Jean Carol Ensign featuring the main gate, tower, post commander’s residence and the bachelor officers’ residence and mess hall are in the donation. Ensign (1935-2016) was an artist and teacher. She and her husband, Lt. Col. Allyn Ensign, were stationed at Fort Sheridan. Jean Carol Ensign is buried at Fort Sheridan Cemetery. Rebecca Melson was the donor.
  • Black powder log splitter, circa 1865: A black powder log splitter used by William Bonner (1815-1881) on the Bonner Heritage Farm is now part of the collection. According to John Bonner, William Bonner’s great-great grandson, the log splitter was a “labor-saving device at a time when wood was vital for fences, heating, cooking and building. It was used to split logs for rails and to blast stubs out of the ground to clear fields for farming.” John Bonner was the donor.