A Lombard trustee's efforts to finish an incomplete painting on display at village hall is drawing criticism from an area artist, but some say the critique may be more political than artistic.
Trustee Laura Fitzpatrick began working last month to complete a painting of historic buildings in Lombard by the late muralist Vern Milem. She says the late Village President Bill Mueller wanted the painting completed and had considered hiring an artist, but she is doing the work for free.
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News stories about her efforts prompted Brian Diskin of Wheaton, a freelance cartoonist who teaches at the College of DuPage, to suggest Fitzpatrick shouldn't be altering another artist's piece.
"It just irritates me that someone is taking it upon herself to fix what she thinks needs to be fixed," said Diskin, who grew up in Lombard. "Just because you think it needs to be fixed does not give you the right or permission to do it."
Lombard Village Manager David Hulseberg said he gave Fitzpatrick the go-ahead to finish the painting when it was taken down from its perch above village hall's main counter, which is undergoing renovations.
"I said, 'If you're looking to enhance it and make it better where it's incomplete, I'm happy to provide the paint so that can get done,'" Hulseberg said.
He said Lombard has many more important issues to address than Fitzpatrick's right to complete a painting the village "rescued" from the trash more than 10 years ago when it was discarded by the dry-cleaning shop that had displayed it.
"To me, it appears it's all associated with who people are and not what the issue is," Hulseberg said.
Fitzpatrick's husband, Kevin Fitzpatrick, said the approaching April 9 election raises questions about the motivation behind Diskin's criticism.
"The timing on this is peculiar in the sense that we're in another political season," he said.
Fitzpatrick's District 5 village board seat is not up for election this year.
Diskin said he has met a few Lombard trustees, but not Fitzpatrick. Asked if his concerns about Fitzpatrick and the painting are politically motivated, he said "no, not really."
"It still comes down to the fact this is someone else's artwork," Diskin said, "and she has no right to touch it."
Artists commonly restore and clean artwork by other artists, attempting to bring the piece as close to its original condition as possible, said Patrick McDonnell, a professor in the media arts and animation and game art and design departments at the Illinois Institute of Art in Schaumburg.
McDonnell has restored works by Andy Warhol, David Wojnarowicz and others, and considers himself an art conservator. While he said he would not undertake a project like Fitzpatrick's to finish a painting with some elements drawn only in pencil outlines, he said it raises no real ethical or copyright concerns.
"If the village president wanted her to do it and she felt she wasn't going to harm the piece, I don't think there's anything to say badly about it," McDonnell said.
Fitzpatrick said her intent is to improve the painting, which she thought should not have been displayed in its unfinished state.
"I've left all of Milem's drawings intact," Fitzpatrick said. "They're good drawings. I have lots to work with."
This is not Fitzpatrick's first experience with art, as she studied fine and applied arts and photography at the University of Illinois and Governors State University. She also helped create the annual DuPage Invitational Sculpture Show held during Lombard's Lilac Time.
"I don't understand why this would be controversial," Fitzpatrick said. "I'm just finishing what Milem started, which is what I feel about it. I think he'd be glad."
Fitzpatrick has spent more than 30 hours on the painting and is not yet done with her work, but Hulseberg said it already has improved.
"It did have an appearance that it wasn't finished," Hulseberg said about the painting. "She's made it much nicer."