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Angela Major
Ellen Owens uses chalk to mark a mural before putting down paint Tuesday, August 15, 2017, at Footville Park in Footville. The retired Parkview teacher is painting a mural on the back of the Footville Park stands depicting the history of the village.

Retired Parkview teacher has fun with second Footville mural

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Ashley McCallum
Saturday, August 19, 2017

FOOTVILLEPeople have different ways of defining “fun.”

For Ellen Owens, fun is a priority. She defines it in her hobbies: line dancing, square dancing, clogging, teaching, illustrating children's books and painting on walls.

So when the Footville Village Board was looking for someone to paint a new mural behind the grandstand in Footville Community Park last year, Owens eagerly said "yes."

“Fun is important to me. Life should be fun,” said Owens, 61.

Owens' penchant for fun is how she got started in art. While some kids are scolded for painting on walls, that's how Owens found her love for murals.

She used to paint on her bedroom walls as a teenager, and she didn't stop there.

When she had kids of her own, she painted their nurseries. She painted in friends' houses and at a day-care center. And in the 1990s, she painted the original mural in the Footville grandstand.


Angela Major
Ellen Owens uses scaffolding to paint a part of a mural depicting Footville history Tuesday, August 15, 2017, at Footville Park.

PATH TO PAINTBRUSHES

Owens didn't have any higher education in art until she received her master's degree.

She considered going to school for art, but instead she earned her bachelor's degree in special education at Northeastern Illinois University.

When she returned for graduate school, she wanted to become an art therapist, combining her love for teaching and art, she said.

But life got in the way, and that's OK, she said. She started a family and spent 30 years teaching in the Parkview School District.

She began as a special education teacher and then taught fourth-graders—because it was fun, of course.

“I love that age,” Owens said. “They're very sharp. They're fun. They'll still want to hold my hand. You can have discussions. They can run with stuff. They don't need you every second, and you can really do a lot of fun things.”

She spent two of those 30 years painting the first grandstand mural. For that project, she recruited some of her students to help.

The collaboration turned into a mural that wrapped around the stands and featured smaller student paintings along the wall above the seats. Each student got his or her own small section to paint.

That mural remained for almost 20 years before the paint chipped and faded, Owens said. The village repainted the walls, leaving scenes of people playing sports and taking walks, a testament to the past.

Painting the mural is one of Owens' fondest memories from her teaching years. So when the village board asked if anyone wanted to paint a new one, she was ready to have more fun with it.


Angela Major
Ellen Owens paints a mural depicting footville history Tuesday, August 15, 2017, at Footville Park. The section of the mural she's working is based on a photo showing one of the first softball teams to play on the field.

A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING

The new mural was painted on the wall behind the grandstand of America's first lighted ball diamond, Footville's pride and joy.

Owens knew from the get-go she wanted it to show the history of Footville. She just wasn't sure how to do that.

She visited local historian Kay Demrow, who showed her historical pictures that Demrow keeps in the First Methodist Church building.

One of those pictures stood out for Owens. It was a photo of Footville's first car and its owner, Mr. Owen, accompanied by his dog.

From there, she found other firsts: the first Christian, Catholic and Methodists churches, the first schoolhouse, the depot, the first softball team and the first resident, Ezra A. Foot.

“I didn't exactly plan it,” Owens said. “I knew it was going to be historic things. Once I saw this car, I didn't even know if I could paint a car, but I knew I had to. I just loved it.”

Those firsts inspired her second Footville mural: a compilation of historical photos transformed by color and paint.

TALENT TAKES TIME

Owens brushed on the first dabs of paint last summer, and the mural is nearly finished now.

The project has taken about two years—longer than expected, Owens said. She had to fight against nature and her health to get it done.

Owens was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome last summer and needed surgery, which delayed her painting. She also needed to spend time with her mother, who has Parkinson's disease, after a death in the family.

She was ready to go again this summer, but Mother Nature rained on her parade in June and July.

Once the rain stopped, Owens spent a lot of time in the park to finish the mural.

“I'm going to miss being down here because I'm going to miss seeing everybody,” she said. “Some of them remember doing the other one in the '90s.”

Other people remembered her as their teacher from years ago and brought their own kids to the park to see her.

Owens now hopes she can find another village project to do with her leftover paint.

BEHIND THE BRUSH

Owens is not a Footville native. She grew up on the northwest side of Chicago and moved here when she was 24 or 25 with her now ex-husband.

When the couple divorced, she asked to buy the home in which they raised their children.

She has lived in Footville now longer than she lived in Chicago, and she considers it home.

When she's not painting, Owens enjoys clogging, line dancing and square dancing, despite having a torn rotator cuff and a disintegrating disc in her back.

She keeps going with a positive attitude.

For people who are negative, she has one piece of advice.

“Just find something to do to take your mind off of it," she said. "However, standing on a (painter's) scaffolding is not the best idea.”



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