“To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything.”

As someone born, raised and living in Springfield, this quotation by Abraham Lincoln has always been meaningful. He made the remark as part of a short speech before moving to Washington, D.C. to serve as president.

When local photographer John Muchow suggested including the quotation as part of a project to bring some old artwork to life, I was in.

The Artist’s Story

When INB was established in 1999, the bank’s founders remodeled an old utility company, Central Illinois Light Co., at 322 E. Capitol Ave. In the early days, INB occupied the first floor. Eventually, the bank expanded its footprint in both the building and in downtown Springfield.Different Springfield buildings painted by one person

In those early years, INB’s founders purchased work from local artists; most of which depicts the historic buildings and other landmarks in our city. One of the artist is area-native Robert Johnson who now calls Park City, Utah home.

He says, “I did a lot of work in Illinois. I painted originals of almost every important building in central Illinois. I did all of the Lincoln historical places from the cabins in New Salem to the Lincoln Tomb and Library. I did reproductions of many of those originals also.

“I started painting at the Springfield Art Association back in about 1982. I took some classes and progressed slowly by doing home portraits and graduated to bigger more challenging pieces like the state Capitol.”

In an interview with the Park Record in 2011, Scott Iwasaki wrote:

Johnson’s first public display was at a Baskin Robbins Ice Cream shop he owned while living in Illinois.

"I did a little painting of some leaves and asked if it was possible for me to hang it in the store," he said. "I ended up selling the painting for $25, and…figured out I had to scoop 400 ice cream cones to make $25 in profit, so I thought it would be nice if I could sell more paintings."

Within 10 years, after selling his art during shows and art fairs, Johnson sold the store and turned to painting watercolors full time.

As “I moved to Utah in 2008 and I have continued to work on big watercolors that challenge my skills. Most of my current work is related to my life in the Utah mountains. I live in Park City which is a ski town at 7000 feet.”

You can see some of Robert’s work on his Facebook page: RJJohnsonwatercolors.

Facelift Readies Art for Years to Come

As with many things two decades old, Robert’s paintings at INB were beginning to look a little tired. The dark matting and gold-colored frames were definitely weighing down the intricacies of the paintings themselves.

So as INB was brightening up office space in our main headquarters, we asked Muchow to lead the charge on giving both a hallway and artwork some modern-day pizzazz. Four of the paintings measured 21” x 29”; a horizontal one was 19.25” x 26.25”.

INB had five painting in all . . . one vertical image and the other horizontal. By moving to a simple white matte and black frame, the images really stand out when placed on the newly painted, 36-foot grey wall.

John notes, “If you look at the frame closely, you’ll notice the inner bevel is slightly lighter than black.” The staff at Prairie House Custom Frames suggested using the frame as a way to make the artwork stand out even more. He notes that’s something he wouldn’t have known to do if he hadn’t sought the expertise of the frame shop. He adds, “The watercolors themselves do not have a ton of color, but when paired with the frames, the subtle colors become more vibrant.”

Typically, John installs his own photography, but took on this project because he says he has always loved art. “Seeing it, being around it; art always puts me in a good mood. I also think I have a knack for art presentation and design. Most of the time when someone comments on my photographic print, they take a moment to say they also like the frame as well. Plus, I got to say, it was truly a joy to frame and hang someone else's work.”

‘To this place . . . I owe everything.’

Instinctively, John knew things untrained designers don’t know. He knew the original glass wasn’t appropriate when trying to preserve a piece of art. He knew the ideal width and color of white to use for the matte. He knew the ideal hanging height.

John proposed adding some word art to the display. He was looking for something to grab attention and send people down the long hall to look at the watercolors. He suggested the Lincoln quotation because it had significance not only to Lincoln during his time, but has meaning to INB staff in the 21st century. Ace Sign created and hung the lettering.

The installation of the artwork was a little tricky given our headquarters building has some old, uneven, cement walls. To make sure each framed piece would stand the test of time, John brought his dad, John Sr., in for the job.

Artist Robert Johnson said of INB’s recent project: “It’s nice to know my work is still hanging at INB. . . . thanks for all the effort to pull them back from extinction!”

Add box highlighting what building are in the artwork. Watercolors include: Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Illinois State Capitol, Illinois Supreme Court Building, Lincoln’s Tomb, INB main headquarters.