CHICAGO — Blanche Wille was a social worker who died about 35 years ago. Chicago area friends fondly remember Blanche and her husband Wilfred who had worked as a journalist and was a founder of the Newspaper Guild. They made their home in Evanston, Illinois, just north of Chicago, and they were ardent supporters of peace and justice organizations.
During the scoundrel times of the 1950s, the Willes heroically assisted victims of political persecution in the Smith Act trials and the McCarthy era witch-hunting House Un-American Activities Committee.
Blanche took up painting after retirement from social work and was largely self-taught. Some would call her style “naïve.” She created hundreds of paintings and drawings, everything from landscapes to portraits of political figures including the late Claude Lightfoot, a Chicago activist.
Around 1975, friends organized a showing of many of her paintings at a women’s art gallery in Chicago. Several works sold, and predictably she gave the money to organizations she supported.
Happily, I have one of her paintings hanging in my living room, and I often find myself drawn to its image of a young girl examining a large bug with a magnifying glass. She wears a red dress with a wide white collar, her dark hair is beautifully braided and on the table in front of her is an open book with pictures of various bugs. Through the glass doors in the background one sees a garden flooded with colorful flowers.
Recently, there has been renewed interest in Blanche Wille’s paintings. A campaign has begun to locate more of her paintings and to assemble her biographical materials-and of Wilfred too. The organizers would like to have an exhibition of Blanche Wille’s artwork at a major gallery, and a serious catalog.
Several of us recall that at the memorial for Blanche, Wilfred read a remarkable poem of his love for Blanche that stunned the mourners and brought everyone to tears. Organizers of the new project ask that all who remember the Willes please hunt through your archives for materials for the exhibition and catalog – especially that poem!
For more information, and if you have something to loan to the exhibition or the catalog, please contact Ms. Jerri Zbiral: firstname.lastname@example.org.