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updated: 9/28/2012 9:14 PM

Local Audubon members unite for exhibit at West Chicago's Gallery 200

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  • Member artist Jim Schnaitman is pictured with "Mums," an oil on canvas painting currently on display at Gallery 200, an artists' co-op and cultural initiative sponsored by the City of West Chicago and the Cultural Arts Commission.

    Member artist Jim Schnaitman is pictured with "Mums," an oil on canvas painting currently on display at Gallery 200, an artists' co-op and cultural initiative sponsored by the City of West Chicago and the Cultural Arts Commission.
    Krista Coltrin

Krista Coltrin

Local artist Jim Schnaitman presents the exhibit "Beaks, Bones and Flowers" with guest artists Sue Wagoner and Steve Panella (in memoriam) on display from Oct. 4-28 at Gallery 200, 200 Main St., West Chicago. The exhibit will feature an eclectic mix of Schnaitman's realistic mixed media paintings, the surrealistic paintings of Panella and the photographs of Wagoner, an avid birder and published wildlife photographer.

A common interest in birding led Schnaitman to invite Wagoner, a fellow member of the Kane County Chapter of the Illinois Audubon Society, to participate as a guest artist in his October Featured Artist Exhibit at Gallery 200. Schnaitman, a member of Gallery 200 since 2006, has been encouraged by fellow Gallery members to develop his personal art skills. As a way of "giving back," he saw the opportunity to invite a guest exhibitor as a way to further expand the exposure of the Gallery and introduce visitors and potential new members to the creative benefits found within the membership.

"The members have encouraged me to paint, providing me advice on techniques, pulling me along in my life-long dream to paint," said Schnaitman. After retiring from General Mills in West Chicago after 35 years of employment, he began taking art classes at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove.

The college eventually purchased several of his paintings for their private collection and he has had the opportunity to exhibit in combination with other artists at the college and the Paramount Theater in Aurora, as well as other locations.

"My first solo exhibits have been at Gallery 200. I've enjoyed great success as a novice painter and contribute it to others willing to give me a hand, which includes Gallery 200 members," said Schnaitman. He added that the Gallery has several young, juried members that are encouraged in the arts and he looks forward to inviting his fellow Audubon members, along with the public, to view works from the many talented artists on display.

Wagoner retired from Sherman Hospital in Elgin as the head microbiologist, where she cultured and identified bacteria to determine the appropriate use of antibiotics. Her continued part-time work there fits well with the birding hobby she began eight years ago when she joined the Kane County Audubon chapter. She mostly substitutes for staff on vacation during the summer months, which leaves the prime spring and fall birding seasons open for trips to regional viewing hot spots.

Her travels with Audubon members have included visits to observe Sandhill Cranes in Nebraska and Great Grey Owls in Minnesota. International trips have included Costa Rica and Ecuador with an upcoming visit to Brazil planned for November 2012.

Known throughout the United States as one of the best places to see Warblers, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area in Ohio is one of Wagoner's favorite locations. "It's a great place to photograph Warblers, which are one of my favorite birds. They stop at Lake Erie on their migration from Central and South America during the spring, when they are in their best plumage," said Wagoner.

Her interest in photography started when her father, also an amateur photographer in the 1950s and 1960s, gave Wagoner a Kodak Brownie camera at the age of seven. Today, she finds birding to be equally as challenging as photography and credits the advent of digital photography for easing the expense of film. She spends the winter months pouring through thousands of images to find that perfect shot. Said Wagoner, "I don't usually Photoshop my images. I take it, print it and show it."

Wagoner will also be presenting the work of her late son, Stephen Panella, who died in 2008. Art had been a life-long passion for Panella, culminating in a Bachelors of Art from Northern Illinois University and a Masters in Fine Art from the University of Florida.

Prior to his death, Panella had exhibited in Santa Fe, New Mexico and had shared studio space in Aurora. During the summer of 2012, friends had dedicated a show in memory of Panella and another young artist at the Mausoleum Art Gallery in downtown Aurora. The blog which he began is still available online at where visitors can read his poems and view his artwork. "It's important to me that I continue to show his works," said Wagoner.

Artists Jim Schnaitman and Sue Wagoner will be available at a free opening art reception on Friday, Oct. 5, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Gallery 200. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of their exhibited artwork will be donated to the Kane County Chapter of the Illinois Audubon Society.

Gallery 200 is a cultural initiative supported by the City of West Chicago and the West Chicago Cultural Arts Commission, and is one more reason West Chicago was named an Illinois Arts Friendly Community in 2007. Gallery 200 is open Thursday and Friday from noon to 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. For more information, including a complete list of current art classes, call (630) 293-9550 or visit