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Local History: A Tour of Deerfield’s Public Art

CUMMINGS 300 1Who are the artists and art collectors whose work shapes the Deerfield community?

Find out on our Deerfield Public Art Tour. Register here and join me on June 24 from 10 a.m. – 11 a.m. for a guided walking tour through the Library and downtown Deerfield. We’ll meet in the Library’s front lobby and explore nine major works of art that put our town on the artistic map. We’ll feature recent acquisitions, decades-old donations, and even a brand new mural by a Deerfield High School student. There are some truly amazing and surprising stories that I cannot wait to share with you!


This tour was inspired by our very popular walking tours of the Deerfield Cemetery. We were looking for some other local locations we could illuminate with a guided tour. After some initial searching and asking around, it became clear that there were some neglected and untold stories behind some of Deerfield’s public art. The idea also fits in well with this year’s summer reading theme: Reading by Design.

Public art has always fascinated me because it can say something about a community and what it values. A prominently hung painting of a town founder might suggest a place that honors its history. An abstract, modern work might imply a forward-thinking community, open to new ideas. But public art can also be derided as “plop art,” dropped down with no relation to its surroundings, as if it were selected out of a catalog (and truthfully, sometimes it is!).

In Deerfield, there are artworks I’ve passed by my whole life and always wondered who the artists were and how their work came to be part of our community. What I found out made me see that there has been real intentionality to much of Deerfield’s public art, with many local inspirations, artists, and connections that give our artwork additional meaning.  

Behind the scenes: Deerfield and Picasso?

We thought we’d share a little sneak peak into one of the stories from our art tour.

Vilato 9 12 71 Chicago Tribune 1Chicago is known for it’s large Picasso statue in Daley Plaza, but Deerfield has it’s own claim to the influential artist. I’d always been curious about a painting we have by our meeting rooms, a cubist still life. An internet search for the signature, “Vilató,” resulted mostly in links to art auction sites with little biographical information. I searched “Vilató Deerfield,” and found a link to a two-paragraph Chicago Tribune article from September 12, 1971.

We have a cubist painting by Picasso’s nephew, Javier Vilató!

From there, I could search through the physical archives of the Deerfield Review around that time to find other stories of the painting’s donation, as well as delve into Vilató’s close relationship with Picasso. It was only recently that we found the library’s old art archives, which let me put a few more pieces of this puzzle into place, like where the painting was hung (or, for a time hidden!) in various parts of the library.

This is actually only one of the connections Deerfield’s public art has to Picasso. Through library databases, InterLibrary Loan, and several original interviews with artists, we’ve put together a really special tour that will make you see Deerfield in a new light.

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