Inspiration realized: Barrels of Hope, 23 strong, to be unveiled July 5 in Flossmoor

Flossmoor’s Barrels of Hope are finally ready in force after an abbreviated first round in

Flossmoor’s Barrels of Hope are finally ready in force after an abbreviated first round in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A total of 23 barrels are expected to be unveiled July 5 in two major areas: downtown Flossmoor and the Flossmoor Commons. The project encouraged local artists, professional and amateuer alike, to paint whiskey barrels donated by Flossmoor Station Restaurant and Brewery. And Nancy Burrows, the chairperson of Flossmoor’s Public Art Commission cannot wait for the community to see them.

“It’s exciting when you see how many people in the area are just so talented and also have such a love for the community and the region that they will give their time to this,” Burrows said. “It’s heartwarming.”

A barrel painted by H-F High MVP students is posted in front of Flossmoor Public Library last summer as part of the pilot Barrels of Hope project, which will expand this year. (Chronicle file photo)

Barrels of Hope was first launched last July with the aim of inspiring people around Flossmoor’s key shopping areas. But only six barrels were displayed as a pilot last year. First pitched by Flossmoor’s Michelle Nelson before she became the village’s mayor, the idea picked up steam, more artists stepped up this year and the remaining barrels are ready to go this summer.

“She thought that it sounded like a fun, artistic endeavor that tied together community spirit and also sculpture and the arts,” Burrows said of Nelson’s pitch. “Part of the idea is they are supposed to reiterate in some way the ideas of Flossmoor, the ideas of inclusion. They are really to have a positive theme — welcoming, beautiful, connected. These are all parts of the inspiration of Flossmoor.”

Participants were provided with oak barrels to paint, sculpt or decorate. They were asked to fit the theme of hope and inspiration, and to steer clear of the violent, offensive, profane or discriminatory. They were also asked not to promote private businesses or citizens. But they otherwise had room to interpret the barrels in their own ways.

“The artists do have a lot of free rein,” Burrows said. “It’s very exciting. What is so exciting are the different interpretations people have, given a piece to decorate. Their imagination and inspiration — the ones that I’m seeing and the sketches that I saw were just really different and fun, some whimsical, some with heartfelt messages.”

That is a big part of what attracted Paula Mason, of Flossmoor, to the project.

“I’m always curious to see other people’s renditions,” Mason said. “You say the word ‘apple,’ and how many different renditions of an apple could there be? A whole bunch.”

Mason is the executive director of the nonprofit Partnership for Resilience and considers herself a “hobbyist” when it comes to art. She enjoys painting and drawing.

“I’ve always loved art,” Mason said. “A blank canvas is my best friend — just the ability to take something and turn it into whatever I’m feeling at the moment.”

She could not resist the opportunity to take part in Barrels of Hope when she read about it.

“It just reminded me of the Chicago cows and different iterations over the course of the years,” Mason said. “Just the opportunity to deposit something like that in the community was really exciting to me.”

Mason said her design for the barrel is “not tremendously artistic,” but employs the colors of the Juneteenth and African flags as a tribute to Juneteenth. Talking to the Chronicle before the state and federal governments declared June 19 a holiday, Mason said the hope was to take the celebration to a wider audience.

“I just thought that highlighting a holiday that currently is probably more cultural to become crossover really is something very helpful — to have something like that be all-inclusive, to not be looked at as an African-American holiday but an American holiday,” she said. “The idea of being able to raise awareness around that was intriguing to me.”

Artists were asked to submit descriptions and sketches of a preliminary design if they desired. They were notified at the end of April if they were selected to participate. Most of those selected were from the Homewood-Flossmoor area, Burrows said.

“Where they are really diverse is in the careers they have,” Burrows said. “Some are artists, some teach art, some just love art. … They’re in a variety of walks of life, as well as different age groups. We have some that are done by students and young people and some that are being done by older people.”

Among the participants is Matt Wright, who illustrates comics as his side gig. He got involved after a mutual friend put him in touch with a local Realtor.

“He wanted to be involved with the Barrels of Hope, and he was looking for an artist to commission a piece to signify some themes that he had in mind,” Wright said.

Among those themes is inclusion with the LGBTQ+ community. Superheroes on the barrel will feature a “wide range of people,” including those of mixed ethnicities. And Wright said he is including “real-life examples of real heroes,” such as police, firefighters, paramedics and members of the military.

“Superheroes can be fun on the screen, and we can read about them, but there are real-life heroes out there in the world,” Wright said. “I think the superheroes would respect them more for putting their lives on the line every day.”

He, too, is excited about the possible interpretations of the theme and in some ways is harnessing that into the message of his barrel.

“Hope is with everybody,” he said. “Hope is a very wide-open thing to interpret. Anything can give anybody hope. I’m curious to see what other people’s interpretations of the theme are.”

The complete barrels were given a clear gloss lacquer for outdoor protection, as they are to remain on display through September, with a virtual auction to take place until Sept. 11, ending the day of Flossmoor Fest. Proceeds are to benefit the village’s Public Art Commission, which maintains Flossmoor’s sculpture garden.

For more information, visit artflossmoor.com or flossmoor.org