RAVENSWOOD — The next time you're playing host to someone visiting Chicago, a local historian and artist hope you'll have a new fun fact to share because of them.
"When you take someone who's not a native person to The Green Mill, you say, 'Oh, this is Al Capone’s" old haunt, said Phil Thompson, the man behind Cape Horne Illustration. "These stories are the fabric, but there are a lot more out there that aren’t really discussed."
Thompson teamed up with Max Grinnell, who studies, teaches and speaks on the workings of cities as The Urbanologist, to prove that history lessons needn't be dull or long-winded, but that they can be brief, beautiful and something you want to tell your friend.
Their first collaboration was a lyrical history of the Chicago River dyeing from Grinnell with an illustration — doubling as a printable St. Paddy's Day greeting card — from Thompson.
For Wrigley Field's 100th anniversary Wednesday, the two created an infographic that shows a side-by-side comparison of the park in 1914 and today and a progression of the team's logo and name.
The two said they see a growing craving for "authentic experiences" in Chicago, with the rising popularity of history pub crawls, specialized walking tours and other activities outside of regular tourist stops.
"People love history more than maybe they even know," Thompson said. "This is such a great city for it. It's got an interesting history, but it's not so far back that it's been obscured yet. It's all out there for the grabbing; someone just needs to unearth it and bring it to the surface."
"We both have this shared passion and nice, complementary work style, and that same kind of ability: We see something interesting, we’re on it," Grinnell said.
The duo is especially interested in architecture and urban planning, which is Thompson's specialty in his detailed ink drawings.
"What we're exploring just lends itself to something illustrated — maps, the geography of a place, architecture. It makes sense," Grinnell said.
Their next projects include explorations of the average day for an early 20th century immigrant, Chicago as an ecosystem and the legacy of former Mayor Richard J. Daley on the city's layout.
For Grinnell, of Lincoln Square, and Thompson, of Ravenswood, the challenge of the series is to get the average Chicagoan to enjoy seeing the city from their perspective.
"If we find it fascinating, that’s one thing, but we want people to want to share something," Thompson said.
Thompson and Grinnell based their decision to pair minimal text with a single-panel illustration on what Grinnell described as a "visually rich culture."
"I think attention spans definitely have gone down, and images have really benefited from that," Thompson said. "If you look at what goes viral, it's a short video or image."
"A cat meme or two," Grinnell said.
The two hope their meditations on the first time someone tipped green dye into the river, or the changing curve of an outfield in a baseball mecca, can have a place among the Internet fluff.
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