“The old countries were worn to the shape of human life, made into an investiture, a sort of second body, for man.” Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather
Aurora is the only city on the Fox River whose downtown sprawls across an island in the river. Settlement of the island, according to folk tradition, came about when in 1834 pioneer Joseph McCarty built a campfire on the island, perceived it to be a fitting place to settle, and invited his brother to join him. They set up a grist mill and a saw mill. By 1837 the settlement they started boasted a post office and the town took on the name Aurora, goddess of the dawn. Today the island is known as Stolp Island, named after another early investor in Aurora’s future. Aurora is the second largest city in Illinois.
I’m painting a view of the Fox River looking north from the North Avenue bridge just below Stolp Island. Unseen from my perspective the north point of the island is vested with the Hollywood Casino, the Leland Tower rises more or less from the island’s center, and the SciTech Hands On Museum covers the south end. All around are 41buildings and various streets that dress the island in commercial and public structures.
Traffic on North Avenue is constant and though I’ve turned my back to the street I listen to its persistent noise as I concentrate on the way early winter light breaks across the water. I find myself wondering how Stolp Island might have been dressed a couple of hundred years ago and then – what structures it will wear two hundred years from now?
In Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop the priest, Father Latour, compares the eighteenth century unbroken wildness of the American southwest with his memory of the French countryside. One seemed molded to the human enterprise, the other, the American southwest, had not yet been transformed into “a sort of second body, for man.” The human body has been the center for endless philosophical reflection. Generations of debate have brought us no closer to concord on how to live contentedly in our bodies. Still we impose an “investiture” on the landscape and work from one uncertain body to another.
Written by Joel Sheesley, Artist-In-Residence for Art of the Fox, a program of the Fox River Initiative