Painting the Prairie show

Exhibit captures the beauty of the Prairie State and spirit of Lincoln


The Link Art Gallery, formerly the Bicentennial Art Center, is holding its first annual Painting the Prairie exhibition in place of the Paint Illinois show of the previous 25 years.

Director Susan Stafford said the decision to broaden the criteria now allows entries from, or works depicting, both Illinois and Indiana.

“We do bring in a wide variety of people, but it keeps it local, more of what Illinois and Indiana are like,” said Stafford. “It’s actually a kind of tourism for us, people come from places like Danville, places farther away when we get entrants from there.”

For her, the artists are certainly the focus, saying the exhibit is about new eyes rather than landscapes in order to have a variety of unique experiences.

Stafford is pleased with the entries, but local participation is an area she wants to see improved. “The community is very supportive, it would be nice if local people would submit more,” said Stafford. “I know they’re out there.”

Board member Tiffany Gale agreed with the push for more local residents. She regards the Paint the Prairie project as something special

“It’s all paint media that makes it really interesting because it makes it look real,” Gale said. “You don’t find a lot of abstract.”

Stafford said, for her, everything about the Link Gallery comes back to the artists.

“I’m not an artist, but I’ve met some wonderful people from all over, that’s what’s really special,” said Stafford.

Not all those people are even artists. Stafford had several stories of the bridge club that meets in the gallery.

“They give an award at every exhibit to their favorite piece, it’s a very prestigious award,” said Stafford.

In addition, the Spirit of Lincoln Award, now in its third year, is part of the Painting the Prairie exhibition. Paris residents Alan and Christie Russell sponsor the Lincoln Prize, but neither they nor the winner, Siti Jackson, attended the exhibit’s reception. However, the gallery was filled with depictions of President Lincoln, a show of the award’s influence. Lincoln was a visitor to the building when it was the home of Milton Alexander.

The building’s history is a point of pride to Stafford.

“We think this is one of the only buildings still standing in Paris that Lincoln visited,” Stafford said. “It’s been around for a long time, and we’d like to keep it here.”

She also discussed future plans.

“We are in the process of changing our name, which is more difficult than you’d think, and we had planned to do some renovations,” Stafford said, although the building’s status as a historic site means getting permission for those renovations.

Stafford says repeatedly that she’s not an artist. However, when she and the exhibit’s judge look at one of the entries, it’s not long before they’re moving around the gallery, focused on discussing their favorite pieces.

The Painting the Prairie Exhibit is open at the Link Art Gallery until June 14. The next exhibit, the Wabash Valley Art Guild Show, opens June 21. The form to submit pieces for the exhibit can be found on the galleries website,