What influences a young boy to pursue a career in painting? In the case of Charles Vickery, it may have started with the box of crayons his parents bought him. Or, he may have been inspired by a border in their family’s home, a retired gentleman whose hobby was painting.
But, Vickery said that the real defining moment was when a grade school teacher asked him to display his drawing of a clown to the entire class. According to Vickery, “something clicked” and he knew this was something he wanted to do.
In 1930, the local Western Springs newspaper reported that Charles Vickery, 4374 Woodland Avenue, had received two blue ribbons for the paintings he had displayed at the Central States Fair in Aurora. What was amazing was that he was just 17 years old and had not received any formal art training other than his courses at Lyons Township High School.
Later that year, the Western Springs library displayed 12 of his paintings, just one of the hundreds of public exhibitions that would follow in his lifetime.
After high school, Vickery attended the Art Institute of Chicago and, later, the American Academy of Fine Arts in Chicago.
Between the ages of 20 and 27, Vickery had some lean years. There were occasions where he would have to sell a painting for less than the cost of the frame in which it was displayed. He also had to make ends meet by working in a factory and as a surveyor’s assistant. But, as time went by, his works became more sought after.
From 1950 to 1957, Vickery toured the Dakotas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska, during which time he painted murals for churches. And, at one point in his career, he did portraits. However, he most enjoyed visiting the Lake Michigan Dunes and painting the tranquil water, often camping overnight. This evolved into his seascapes and maritime paintings, for which he is best known. See photo.
Vickery would often visit the East and West coasts to view the ocean first hand. He even once traveled by freighter to Turkey so that he could witness open ocean storms firsthand. He also spent time on the East Coast following Hurricane Hugo to study the towering waves whipped up by the storm.
At one time, those interested in his works could simply visit Vickery at his studio at 177 West Burlington in LaGrange and order a painting to be done. However, as his fame spread, his works were handled by dealers in Michigan, London, and LaGrange. He was also the recipient of numerous awards.
Vickery was reportedly shy and unassuming. But, he was generous with his time, serving as a frequent guest artist at various churches, art leagues, and senior groups. He also donated numerous pieces of his art work to worthwhile charitable causes.
Today, Vickery’s works can be found in many private collections, as well as in local grade schools, high schools, churches, banks, and historical societies. If you know of a favorite Vickery painting, please post a comment.
Each week, the Western Springs Historical Society presents a “Blast from the Past”. For more information, visit us at www.westernspringshistory.org.