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Plaster casts, Spurlock Museum, University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana

Champaign, Allerton Park, Arthur and Arcola, Illinois

getaway-chicago logo South-central Illinois sure is flat! Despite college years spent in the southern reaches of Illinois (Alan in Champaign, Neil in Carbondale), both Guys marveled at the flatness all over again.

As a former Champaign denizen, Alan had seen Robert Allerton Park ( many moons ago, but Neil had only heard of it while visiting Robert and John Gregg Allerton’s* National Tropical Botanical Garden on Kauai. Therefore, the Guys were curious about the fate of the Allerton Estate near Monticello, Illinois. Now a University of Illinois property, it isn’t easy to find (directions are scant, maps are vague and signage is sparse).

southerly5Built in 1900 by Robert Allerton (1873-1964), the heir to a Chicago fortune and given to the University of Illinois in 1946, Allerton Park is a sprawling affair with formal gardens and numerous examples of sculpture. Of the many that dot the landscape, two of remarkable quality are The Sun Singer by Carl Milles (1875-1960) and Antoine Bourdelle’s (1861-1929) The Death of the Last Centaur, and, not unlike the Park itself, they are somewhat difficult to locate. Situated far from the Allerton mansion, the Milles is poorly delineated on official maps and the Bourdelle is buried in the woods at the end of a muddy path. These interesting sculptures require perseverance and a good sense of direction, but carry on! Major benefactors of the Art Institute of Chicago and responsible for Chicago’s landmark Allerton Hotel, the central Illinois estate may be less grand than originally and a little shy on user friendly information. southerly6Although it is absent some of its original granduer, the Getaway Guys would return if close by (now that they know how to find it). This destination is essentially a pedestrian proposition and although bicycles are allowed, their use is limited. Architecturally, the Allerton mansion is large, but not particularly distinguished externally. The mansion is available for wedding parties and conferences, but does not appear to offer guides tours.

Champaign, Illinois isn’t a sleepy college town! Abundant in civilian and academic amenities, the Guys chose three sights to take in, the Krannert and Spurlock Museums and the Champaign Public Library. Seemingly baffled in art museums, Alan was keenly so by the more contemporary material of the Krannert and Neil, (who prefers 19th and early 20th century works) was typically unmoved by Alan’s plight and the objects of his confusion as well. Fortunately, the Krannert Art Museum ( collection consists of more than just “modern stuff” and the Guys got into a jolly dispute about who had the better taste in art. One of Neil’s favorites was a 19th century Romantic, “moon” painting by Albert Blakelock (1847-1919) from Krannert’s extensive collection of 19th century American and European paintings and a favorite of Alan’s was a stunning Wedgewood vase elaborately decorated with an equally stunning, 1785 John Flaxman design depicting Greek deities. The Krannert also possesses a fairly large number of 18th works on canvas as well.southerly4

Not far from the Krannert is the Spurlock Museum ( An ethnological collection of art and artifacts from around the world (essentially past, but some present), the Spurlock also features a stunning assemblage of full blown, plaster reproductions of classical sculpture. Interspersed with its original artifacts, these seemingly “out-of-date” and “out of place” reproductions somehow fit in with the narrative mission of the Spurlock.southerly3 In addition to marveling at original artifacts from the diverse cultures of ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome, as well as those of East and Southeast Asia, Oceania, Medieval Europe and both North and South America, Alan, the former librarian spent time trying to decipher the labeling (through no fault of his). Once a 19th century staple of major museums and universities (the Metropolitan Museum of Art recently sold its), classical plaster casts are now an interesting artifact in their own right. Among the 42,000 students at U of I there must be at least two or three who haven’t been abroad and therefore seeing casts of the Laocoon, the Apollo Belvedere or the Augustus of Prima Porta (to name a few) up close and personal has to whet an appetite for the real thing.

The Guys also visited the new Champaign Public Library ( designed by Ross Barney Architects of Chicago. Eye catching and interesting, the exterior doesn’t “spill the beans” about its “rocking” interior. With super abundant natural light, easy to navigate spaces and a harmonious blending of materials, the interior steals the show.southerly1 Not a library regular, Neil was pleasantly surprised by the number of people taking advantage of this technologically up-to-date facility and its relaxed ambience. Alan (the retired librarian) thought it the best public library he has seen, despite being married to the architect (Carol Ross Barney).

Familiar with Amish ways from his years spent in Pennsylvania, Neil is accustomed to seeing their quaint mode of transportation clip-clopping along highways and byways, but never as many as he and Alan witnessed in Arthur, Illinois ( after leaving Champaign. Unlike the Amish environs of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Arthur isn’t chock-a-block Amish everything. A small, agricultural community, this “one horse” town, is a pleasant mixture of up-to-date motorized transportation and black, one horse buggies, all apparently getting along alright. In addition to bearded men and women in long dresses going about their chores unobtrusively, there are several friendly shops devoted to merchandise made locally. Exquisite quilts and finely crafted lfurniture are two specialties in evidence. Although most downtown buildings date from the early 20th century, exceptional architecture isn’t abundant and fine dining isn’t on the menu either. Arthur is pleasantly interesting.southerly8 Not very far away in Arcola, Illinois however, things are different.

Allegedly Amish too (but no buggies), Arcola ( is a real surprise. At the Arcola Depot and Welcome Center (a restored railroad station) on North Oak Street, the Getaway Guys saw the world’s largest collection of corn brooms (we kid you not!) and learned that Arcola was once the corn broom capital of the World (with ten factories formerly devoted to production). Who (Neil and Alan?) would have given a corn broom a second thought? Maybe none other than the late Charles Kuralt did while doing his memorable On the Road pieces. Mr. Kuralt visited Arcola frequently enough to have a personalized coffee cup at a local eatery.

In addition to brooms of every imaginable configuration and application, the Arcola Depot and Welcome Center has a unique collection of Raggedy Ann and Andy memorabilia, which upon inquiry led to a second intriguing discovery. southerly7The Johnny Gruelle Raggedy Ann and Andy Museum is in Arcola, too. Sure enough, Johnny Gruelle was born in Arcola and a descendant maintains an incredible collection of all things related to these American icons (Ann and Andy) of childhood. Never a fan of dolls and with a childhood aversion to reading, Neil was aware of these two fictional characters, but not overly curious until visiting Arcola. Of course Alan (Mr. Librarian) knew all about them. Whether he was a fan of dolls, is another matter.

Along with a relatively well preserved main street (late 19th and early 20th century commercial buildings), Arcola can boast of another remarkable attraction, The Amish Interpretive Center Museum on South Locust Street. southerly9Deceptively undistinguished on the outside, this museum contains a professionally designed interpretive display of Amish artifacts and information panels which help to explain Amish beliefs and folkways in fascinating detail.

This two day getaway-chicago trip was a qualified success. The Krannert and Spurlock Museums and the Champaign Public Library are top notch. Allerton Park is interesting. Arthur is interesting too, but Arcola more so. Monticello, Illinois deserves a closer look. Decatur (where the Guys stayed overnight) is worthy of closer inspection. Its main business district is being nicely restored and has several attractive restaurants. The Guys ate at Gordon’s on Market Street, where the food and service were excellent, the atmosphere congenial and the prices very reasonable (right up Alan’s alley). Unfortunately for Arcola, the Raggedy Ann and Andy Museum is closing and will relocate to Rochester, NY in December of this year. July 2009

* Understanding the Robert and John Gregg Allerton familial relationship can be confusing. Robert Allerton adopted John Greeg in 1959 after a domestic life together dating from 1924


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