The Fox Valley Jewish Neighbors (FVJN), a community group for Jewish and interfaith families, is located on the iconic Third Street in Geneva, Illinois. They were designed out of a need in the Fox River Valley for Jewish and interfaith families to gather for religious events, social events, educational events, and community service.
Fox Valley Jewish Neighbors wanted to do something to celebrate and commemorate their 10th anniversary, something that would be long-lasting and allow them to give back to the community that has been so welcoming to their organization. The idea of a public art piece was formed, in particular, a mosaic wall mural.
Mim Evans, FVJN volunteer, reached out to local artist Danielle Dobies, known for her mosaic wall murals in the area. Together, they came up with a concept, presented it to the FVJN board of directors, and were given the green light to proceed… with one precaution. With FVJN being a 501(c)(3) nonforprofit organization, how would they raise the funds for this piece of art?
Before the project even officially took off, Danielle invited members of the FVJN to an exhibit where some of her work was being displayed, to show them the process and the final product. It was there that members of FVJN met members of the Geneva Foundation for the Arts. As they began talking, a collaboration was born: the GFA was looking for a project and the FVJN needed some assistance funding their wall mural. The FVJN team submitted a grant proposal and GFA approved it at a 50/50 matching grant. Mim explains, “The timing was just great, they were looking for a project and we needed financial support so they agreed to pay half the cost of constructing and mounting the mural with the rest to be raised by Fox valley Jewish Neighbors.”
From there, they began brainstorming on the project. Danielle hosted a session for adults and children, all members of the FVJN community, and asked them many questions, which uncovered common themes they wanted displayed in the mural: family, education, working together, Jewish traditions, and Geneva, the community that has been so welcoming to them.
You’ll see these themes throughout the mural: In thanking Geneva, they have included actual buildings from Geneva, including the recognizable courthouse, as well as the Fox River, represented in pieces of mirror, flowing throughout each panel of the mural, connecting them together. Danielle explains, “The Fox Valley Jewish Neighbors wanted to thank Geneva with this piece. Because that’s where they’re located, but they’re also part of the community, and members of the community of Geneva are members of FVJN. They go hand in hand and have a lot of ties there. The mural was a gift to Geneva.”
You’ll also see the word “Shalom,” a Hebrew greeting meaning “hello,” “goodbye,” and “peace.” In the initial drawings, the word “Shalom” was written in Hebrew, but later changed to English to feel more inclusive with the community.
The pieces you see that make up the mural came from many sources. Much of the tile was donated from various businesses in the community. But some of the pieces were old plates members of the Fox Valley Jewish Neighbors brought, smashed, and used the pieces to make up parts of the mural. Artist Danielle explains, “In addition to the generous donations we received, I asked members of FVJN to bring in glassware or dishes they wouldn’t mind breaking. It adds a personal touch and brings some family history into the mural. All the pomegranates are made from a red glass someone bought. And some pink leaves in the tree of life – the light pink pieces with mercury – that was an heirloom plate.”
The wall mural from concept through unveiling took two years to complete – but the Fox Valley Jewish Neighbors wouldn’t have it any other way. As Mim says, “Whenever we are around here doing something at FVJN it’s always fun to stop and watch people pause, people who don’t expect to see it… I think the community really has taken to it and we’ve never heard anything other than positive feedback.”
The piece has added value to the community. It’s on the side of the Fox Valley Jewish Neighbors building, owned by Mike Simon, at 121 South Third Street. It graces a tranquil walkway with benches for passersby to rest and view the mural.
The Geneva Foundation for the Arts is extremely proud of the piece. Tim Vetang, Vice President of GFA explains, “It was everything you’d want in a public art project: bright colors, told a beautiful story, the community was being involved with creating it. It was just a perfect project for our first public project that the GFA would support.”
The team at Fox Valley Jewish Neighbors is appreciative for the partnership that occurred with the GFA, Mim Evans explains “Fortunately, early on we got in touch with the Foundation for the Arts who was very supportive right from the beginning. We were very appreciative when the Geneva Foundation for the Arts volunteered to collaborate with us on this and cover the cost of half of the project.”
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About Danielle Dobies, Artist
Danielle Dobies has a BFA in Sculpture, Painting, and Drawing from Elmhurst College. It was there that she learned of the public collaborative mosaic process, while studying under John Pitman Weber, CoFounder of the Chicago Public Art Group. Danielle continued her studies at Northern Illinois University where she received an MFA in sculpture. She continued practicing public art while studying at NIU, including installing wall mural projects on the NIU campus.