Galesburg Portrait Project, Summer and Fall 2015         

The Galesburg Portrait Project in its first installation at the Box (photo credit: Michael Godsil)

The Galesburg Portrait Project in its first installation at the Box (photo credit: Michael Godsil)

Creating a community portrait.

1. Here's a link to video from the WKQC's news coverage about the opening of the project.

2. I am releasing individual portraits each day. Click here: Facebook page and

... I'm John Bakker, the Fall '15 the Knox College Artist-in-Residence. Beginning summer, 2015 through the winter of 2016 I have worked to create a community portrait of Galesburg, IL. The residency program is made possible by Blick Art Materials. Additional support for this portrait project was provided by the Galesburg Public Art Commission and the Galesburg Downtown Council (among others to be identified later).  

Since the mid 90s, I've been producing public artworks consisting of hundreds of hand painted portraits of the people who make up various communities --  neighborhoods, churches, colleges, etc. Throughout history, portraits have been painted mostly for the wealthy and powerful, however, what interests me is the way a hand made portrait brings a unique meaning, attention, and dignity to us as individuals. The time and attention given to painting a portrait is a way of valuing people for who they are, not what they achieve or the money they make. I'm also interested in the way the act of painting a portrait challenges a culture of instant and disposable images, or, on the other hand, confronts highly manipulated advertising images that undermine us by destabilizing our sense of dignity in order to entice us fill that lack with products purporting to confer status. 

I prepared for my Galesburg project by making 310 wooden panels which can be stacked into a large arrangement, about 6' x 20'.  As it turns out, 310 individuals would be about 1% of Galesburg's population.  My goal has been to include as many different kinds of people as possible: parents, children, grandparents, roofers, professors, pastors, retail workers, students and teachers, people living in nursing homes, country clubs, and trailer parks, people who are like you and as well as people who aren't.  Because the project is meant to reflect and celebrate Galesburg as the wonderfully complex community it is, I will needed more images to choose from than could be included in the final work. See my blog for some thoughts on the editing process. 

I completed all the paintings. In the end I juggled and combined images of couples to include as many as I could. There were still about 50 people whose images, regrettably, i had to leave out. My best attempt at a final count is 310 paintings of 399 people (and three dogs, a cat and a half, a pet lizard, butterfly and Bob Nemuth's Harley) plus 8 mirrored panels so that visitors will see themselves as part of the Galesburg community now and in the future. 

As noted above, I'm coming back on March 31, 5–7pm to present the project. There are three more steps:

First, as noted above,  I am currently posting individual images to the Galesburg Portrait Project Facebook page so that you can share, comment on and occasionally correct my information. I hope that this catalyzes a conversation across Galesburg that strengthens your resolve to do good for one another.

Second, I plan to launch a website for the project that will have all the individual images. 

Third, Summer '16, I plan to print names and edited portions of email conversation on the boxes themselves so that in the decades to come this will be an historical document about the lives of ordinary people here in Galesburg. 

The finished project will travel to a number of venues in the community (college campuses, schools, downtown storefronts, the mall, the library, etc) before finding a yet to be determined permanent home. 

Thanks for your hospitality, to Galesburg, to Blick, to the Box, to the Art Department at Knox, to Mark and Jennifer Holmes who gave me a place to stay and a refrigerator to raid. 


John Bakker is the 2015 Knox Artist in Residence. This residency is funded by Blick Art Materials.