Sunday, April 20, 2008

#22 Follow-up: Prisoner's Art

Regarding the origin of the original art (#22) my previous post: In the early '70s my dad had competed with the prisoners of Stateville Correctional Center, a maximum security prison outside Joliet, Ill, as a one of team of chess players. The highly educated engineers and physicists from Argonne National Laboratory's team, the ANL Pawns, played the Stateville Rooks under the supervision of the Chicago Industrial Chess League. The CICL Bulletin archive has a record of my dad's team playing the Rooks in their February 1974 issue.

Here's my dad's take on the event (his is the "one" game with a non-convict win):

"Bill Walsh, one of the Argonne players, decided to call a Chicago Tribune reporter after the match to tell him that the convicts won all their games but one.

The story made the front page of the Trib and got Bill into a lot of trouble with Argonne management! It was very unusual for Argonne to make the front page and they certainly didn’t want to be there with a “negative” story."

Having grown up with his prize painting on the wall of our split-level suburban home, I never thought it was all that unusual until I was in my teens. It is a large (4 ft by 6 ft) canvas, an abstract oil painting, depicting what appears to be a silhouette of a pine forest—aflame. The lower half of the canvas is black, spiking with the pine trees' peaks into a chaotic sea of yellow, orange and red streaks that fill the top of the frame. Only in my adolescence did it occur to me to think that this high-contrast, high-energy, and somewhat violent art maybe didn't fit in fully with our tame slate foyer, goldenrod carpeting, faux-buckskin recliner, and warm wood upright piano in the living room.

Even so, I've always loved it.

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