JEFFERSON PARK — The Ed Paschke Art Center opened Sunday in Jefferson Park on what would have been the internationally acclaimed pop artist's 75th birthday, giving a shot of adrenaline to efforts to transform the area into an arts and culture mecca.
The art center, 5415 W. Higgins Ave., funded by the Rabb Family Foundation, is the first museum to display works from throughout Paschke's career, many of which were in storage or scattered throughout the country.
"I think Ed would have been happy," said Lionel Rabb, the head of the foundation. "It is great to see people and families experiencing art, especially people who have never seen art of this caliber. That's a big win. That's emotional."
Heather Cherone discusses Sunday's opening event:
Paschke, who often was called Chicago's most important visual artist, rose to prominence in the late 1960s as part of a group of artists known as the Imagists. The son of Polish immigrants, Paschke was born on the Northwest Side near Central Park and Diversey avenues and raised in the northwest suburbs.
Marc Paschke, the artist's son, toured the gallery with his wife and three children, ages 3, 7 and 9, recalling the history of each work, many of which featuring vibrant and somewhat surreal up-close pictures of people's faces.
The 2,800-foot gallery includes some of Ed Paschke's most famous works, including "Accordion Man" from 1969, which features a large-bodied man — with a very small head — playing a very large accordion.
"He did it just to be silly," Marc Paschke told his children, who he said had never seen so much of their grandfather's work exhibited in one place.
Marc Paschke, who said he never thought his father's legacy would result in a gallery of his own.
"I thought maybe we'd get a room in a university somewhere," Marc Paschke said. "I never envisoned this."
Rabb renovated the first-floor of the building for the art center using private funds.
Dubbed Mr. Chicago for his love of the city, Marc Paschke said his father would have been glad the art center was on the Northwest Side, not far from where he raised his family.
"Jefferson Park is a very blue collar neighborhood, and he would have liked that it is a good representation of Chicago," Marc Paschke said. "These are his people."
Many of those who toured the center Sunday said they knew Paschke, and recalled chatting with him about his work, which has been featured in a retrospective at the Art Institute of Chicago and at the Pompidou Center and Louvre Museum in Paris. A street by the Art Institute is named in his honor.
Jane Feit, who visited the museum with her 10-year-old daughter, grew up not far from Ed Paschke's studio and once stopped him for an autograph.
"Seeing all of his work in one place is amazing," Feit said.
The three-level art center also features a re-creation of Ed Paschke's Howard Street studio at the time of his death in 2004, based on a photograph taken by his son. It features a painting of a boxer that he was working on when he died.
The center will also include 1,700 square feet for educational programming, including a spot for an artist in residence.
"We hope he would have liked it," Paschke said. "That's all we can do."
Admission to the art center, which will be open from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. seven days a week, will be free, in keeping with Paschke's desire to ensure that his art is accessible to everyone, not just those able to afford a ticket to an art museum or gallery.
Some of Paschke's work during the 1980s focused on manipulating the images of iconic figures such as Elvis Presley, Abraham Lincoln and Adolf Hitler. He also cited the animation of Disney and cartoons as sources of his inspiration, along with the work of his father, who was also an artist.
The art center is in the heart of the Jefferson Park Business District, which has struggled for years to fill empty storefronts and attract shoppers and diners. The art center will be just off the CTA Blue Line, near the Jefferson Park Transit Center.
Maureen Brown, who has lived in Jefferson Park her entire life, said she was thrilled to see her neighborhood brimming with new life.
"I never thought Jefferson Park would be this cool, but it is," Brown said.
As part of the celebration of the art center's opening, an art festival took place in Jefferson Memorial Park, across the street from the center, that featured projects inspired by the artist, including mural painting and the recreation of Ed Paschke's paintings — in Legos.
The artwork created by the children during Paschke in the Park will hang in the art center, Rabb said.
Heather joined DNAinfo Radio to discuss Ed Paschke's life when the center was announced: