The Renaissance Woman on Grove Street


The description was compelling: come meet a woman who was hidden as a child in France during the Holocaust, worked as an archeologist in Israel and now designs jewelry in her studio in Evanston. Offered by Beth Emet The Free Synagogue as part of its Fall 2014 Adult Education program, I signed up immediately.

The talk and gallery tour met at the Eve J. Alfillé Gallery & Studio in downtown Evanston. The gallery is deceiving at first glance. The soft peach tones of the walls immediately disarm the viewer and relax the eye. What was probably one big room 30 years ago is now a warren of cozy spaces created for consulting with clients. Designed by renowned artist and designer Celeste Sotola, visitors wander among the Pearl Room, the Gem Room/Library, the Diamond Room and the Wedding Band Alcove. I walked around the gallery and studied the showcases. Interesting and unusual items such as vases, garden objects, and found objects creatively displayed the jewelry pieces, which included necklaces, rings, earrings, bracelets, pendants and pins. I saw a rainbow’s array of rare pearls, gems and stones in unusual settings and daring combinations.  The staff is friendly, solicitous and discreet without being pushy. They are eager to tell you about each piece.

Twice a year, Spring and Fall, Eve presents a new collection; the Fall 2014 collection is Garden of Eden. The collections range from twenty to one hundred unique pieces, incorporate a theme and include a narrative that shares the sources of Eve’s inspiration, such as poetry, literature, nature and personal memories. The names of the collections are diverse and represent Eve’s wide range of interests.  Everything in the collection comes from Eve’s imagination, which she conveys to others through sketches. Based on theses sketches, artisans make models to test the piece as it looks as a dimensional object. This collaboration continues between Eve and her goldsmiths until the piece is perfect.

Eve talked about her childhood and life’s experiences and how those experiences are expressed in her work. For several years, she and her parents hid among several different secret locations, and at times Eve was hidden in a separate location from her parents. Yet in spite of the inevitable stresses, her parents protected her body as well as her psyche; Eve’s memories of this time in her life are not anguished, and she still finds inspiration in how her parents coped with and survived such a horrendous time in their lives.

After the war, the three of them–their extended family on both sides having been murdered by the Nazis–immigrated to Canada. Eve attended the prestigious McGill University and graduated with a degree in business and accounting, starting her career as a CPA. But she was too creative and ambitious to remain solely in accounting. She volunteered and worked at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, learning how to reassemble pottery from ceramic shards recovered at archeological digs. Perhaps most significantly, Eve began to make her own jewelry and to teach herself about the materials and tools.

A few years later Eve married, and soon she and her husband Maurice were parents to two young children. Her husband’s business took the family to the Midwest and they settled in Evanston, IL. Eve went back to graduate school at the University of Illinois and received degrees in linguistics (she is conversant in ten languages!) and medieval poetry. She found work as a high school language teacher, and traveled to Israel during the summers to work at archeological digs, helping to reassemble ceramic pieces. When romance languages fell out of favor and her teaching services were no longer needed, she took some metalsmith classes and learned how to weld. She incorporated these new skills into her jewelry-making business, now based in her home studio in the family’s basement. She moved her business into the current location in 1987 and expanded the space to its current size and look in 1991.

Today the business is truly a family enterprise with Eve at its hub: Eve’s daughter Diane is an established glass artisan, and together they collaborate on various pieces in each of the collections. Diane’s husband, Matthew, a professional photographer and art director, designs and maintains the Eve J. Alfillé online presence; Eve’s husband is involved in the back-end operations of the gallery, and years ago designed a specialized computer program to track inventory and sales.

So often word ‘unique’ is bandied about carelessly without any thought of its true meaning, but unique is what you will find here. No two pieces are exactly the same and everything is made by hand in the studio in the back. For the woman who has everything, for a couple looking to select personalized rings that symbolize an upcoming engagement or marriage, for any occasion or no occasion at all, an ideal gift may certainly be found within the walls of the Eve J. Alfillé Gallery & Studio.

Love in the Afternoon

Yesterday I took advantage of the sunshine and explored a well-traveled bike route. Biking along the lakefront from Clark Square Park to Northwestern, I traveled through campus to the lakefront path, past the soccer fields and fraternity houses, north on Sheridan Road to Sheridan Place, then south on Ridge. On the northern grounds of Evanston Hospital I found a plaque marking the location of an ancient Indian village and chipping station (a place where arrowheads and tools were made). From there I continued west on Central Street to Greenbay and McCormick where another bike path begins.

The trail greets passersby with a large silver sculpture followed by a short patch leading up to the Evanston Ecology Center and 23-acre Ladd Arboretum. After Bridge Street the path becomes the North Shore Channel Trail. Along this path and within the arboretum lies the Rotary Club of Evanston International Friendship Garden (designed to mimic the Rotary Club logo), flags of many countries (representing the ethnic diversity of Skokie) and the Jacqueline Gorell Park, named in honor of the first female mayor of Skokie. At Dempster Street, the first of four half-mile segments of the Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park begins, which continues down McCormick Boulevard to Touhy Avenue in Chicago. I rode as far as Oakton Street before circling back to head home.

The sculpture park is visually interesting from a car, but absolutely fascinating when exploring by foot or by bicycle. Many of the sculptures include QR codes to connect the viewer to information about the sculptor; there is also a self-guided walking tour and booklet with information about each artist and the thoughts behind each work. Many are permanent installations.

The Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park sponsors a biennial competition, the Lewis C. Weinberg Competition, open to interested artists. Applications for the 2015 contest are due before July 1, 2015.



Why Vote?

I believe in the importance of voting. It is a civic duty and a form of self-expression I cherish, especially as I see others in our country being denied the right because of onerous restrictions and overtly partisan reactions to suggestions of voter fraud. I wish more people voted rather than shrugging with frustration and not taking advantage of this special privilege. It is easy to be apathetic; it takes effort to try and make a difference.

Two weeks ago I took advantage of early voting and cast my ballot in the Evanston Civic Center. There were no lines and the room with the ballot machines was bright, almost cheerful. It wasn’t crowded, but there were plenty of people coming in and out while I was there. I lingered in the hallway to admire photos of some inspiring young faces. 2014-10-24 12.14.33


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In the lobby there is a magnificent statue of an eagle donated by Marjorie and Charles Benton, ‘in honor of the city we love and have lived in for 60 years.’

Share the love; please vote.

Life Itself

2015-03-31-1427768386-5860183-lifeitselfposterI love good movies as much as I love good books, and Life Itself is both.  I watched the movie last night through On Demand TV, and while it isn’t the same experience as seeing a movie in the theater as part of a crowd, it is excellent nonetheless.

Roger Ebert loved movies. His enthusiasm for movies, culture, food, drink, women and good conversation come through in glorious detail. He was a raconteur, a bon vivant and a cineaste. His range was impressive: thousands of movie reviews, hundreds of blog posts, more than 30 books. He wrote the screenplay for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls in 1970 and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for his movie criticism.

The movie is funny, smart, sad and at times, difficult to watch as Ebert’s health deteriorates. The movie celebrates this wonderful and brilliant man, the friends he had, his love for the loving and lovely Chaz, and the enthusiasm he had for everything. Aptly titled, Life Itself is worthy of your time.

Visit the Custer Street Fair Today

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Just rolling along at the Custer Street Fair.

Soak up the sunshine, munch on fun snacks (more than 30 food vendors), take in the music and performances. Great people-watching. Street performers, face painters and balloon sculptors galore! Support over one hundred local businesses and peruse the wares of talented artists and craftspeople at the Custer Street Fair starting at the intersection of Main Street and Chicago Avenue.  All businesses open until 7PM tonight and some until 9PM.  An easy ride on the CTA direct to the Main Street stop on the Purple line.

And if you hear a weird flapping noise, keep your eyes peeled for this street performer. Totally different and very edgy.

Art and Architecture at Madlener House

A slight departure from the ‘only in Evanston’ theme…Visit the galleries of the historic Madlener House, an architectural gem and home for the Graham Foundation for the Advanced Study in Fine Arts. They have a terrific bookshop and library highlighting the work of the Foundation, in part the relationship between art, architecture, urbanism and design. The building is stunning and the staff is incredibly helpful. Admission is free, Wednesday to Saturday, 11AM-6PM, 4 West Burton Place in Chicago.

The Women of Duna

Arne and Mary Oldberg Park in downtown Evanston boasts the lovely, weatherbeaten equine statue, Duna, by Deborah Butterfield. This statute was given to Evanston by a donation from the Estate of Catherine Rassinier Stallings and installed May 15, 1998.

Catherine Rassinier was born in Louisville, Kentucky, home of the Kentucky Derby. Although she was bright and eager to attend college, family circumstances intervened and she was unable to do so.  Undeterred, Catherine worked and saved her money.  She was a modern woman in every way: independent, confident, goal-oriented, thrifty and adventurous, traits she retained throughout her life. Shortly after World War II ended, she moved to Chicago, alone, and rented an apartment across from the Lincoln Park Zoo. 

Patriots Park

The city’s first public art project is a monument and flag pole honoring Evanston soldiers who gave their lives in the Spanish-American War, the Civil War and World War I.  In 1929 the Fort Dearborn Chapter (established in 1894) of the Daughters of the American Revolution commissioned the work. Stephen Beames (1896-1969), an Indian-born, Canadian artist who studied, lived and worked in the United States, created it. He also taught at Rockford (IL) College until 1931, when he moved to California; later he made his living as a bookkeeper.

The small park is on a sliver of land at the intersection of Davis Street and Sheridan Road, perpendicular to Lake Michigan and the beachfront. Stop by for a closer look at this memorial to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Rhino Celebrates Poetry

RHINO The Poetry Forum 2014

Evanston is home to Rhino Poetry, a regionally and nationally recognized annual collection of poetry from new and established writers. The last Friday of every month they hold a poetry reading with featured poets as well as open mike time for those willing to share works in progress and new work. The Friday readings are usually held at Brothers K Coffeehouse at 500 Main Street, a venue I frequent often and an unofficial ‘hub’ of the Main Street corridor. One of my friends planned to read some of her poems on April 25 and I decided to attend.

This was my first poetry reading and I had no idea what to expect. It was fascinating and thought-provoking. I challenged myself to really listen to the spoken words delivered by their creators; the breadth of creativity among the 50 or 60 people in the coffeehouse was humbling. So many published authors! The atmosphere was friendly, welcoming and very supportive. The open mike time showcased probably a dozen writers and followed by Ralph Hamilton presenting the Paladin Award to Allison Joseph, director of the Young Writers Workshop, an annual summer residential creative writing workshop for high school writers. She also holds the Judge Williams Holmes Cook Endowed Professorship at Southern University of Illinois and is the poetry editor of Crab Orchard Review, among her many accomplishments.  Allison read some of her poetry and it was fantastic.  Next up was Rochelle Hurt reading from her poetic novel, The Rusted City, “a coming-of-age fable set in the haunting dreamscape of the Rust Belt, where industrial corrosion becomes a funhouse mirror of personal loss.”  I only heard a few pages, but it is powerful and gripping.

Push your boundaries and comfort level: experience one of Rhino’s poetry readings in the future.

A Movie Star in Our Midst

One of the first friends I made in Evanston was Bindy Bitterman, owner of Eureka! Antiques and Collectibles.  Both the store and Bindy were the subject of my first blog post.  To know Bindy is to love her. Bindy taught me about ephemera, introduced me to steampunk and regaled me with stories about Chicago and Evanston history. Little did I know she is also a movie star.

A newly released documentary, Finding Vivian Maier, is getting a lot of critical acclaim. The movie is about an odd Chicago-area nanny who photographed thousands of rolls of film, all of them never developed, hoarded them away, and the man who rescued them at auction and brought to the world’s attention a captivating body of work. The film’s website and Facebook pages brim with information about the collection, the movie and its reclusive subject. Bindy knew Vivian and participated in the movie, as this scene from the trailer shows.  

Scene from Finding Vivian Maier

Bindy Bitterman, a star in the making.

The movie is currently playing at Chicago’s Century Centre and Highland Park’s Renaissance Place. Bravo, Bindy!