In recent years, downtown Kankakee has joined the trend of larger cities by adding small-scale murals around the area. This is part of the Kankakee Development Corporation’s mural series.
The parking lot of the Kankakee Farmers’ Market has a colorful mural of various produce painted by Jessica Carter, and across the street from the lot is a mural of a living room with blank photo frames.
Last week, paintings started popping up in those frames as the mural entered its second phase. Designed by Bill Yohnka and painted by muralist Peter Pagast, of Bradley, the mural was initially installed last October. The main focus is a couch surrounded by eclectic picture frames, intentionally left blank to be filled in with ideas from the community.
“The furniture is kind of based on a picture I had of furniture that was manufactured here in Kankakee in the 1930s,” said Yohnka, who explained that the ideas for the picture frames came from submissions during farmers’ market events last year.
All of the picture frames behind the couch are going to be things that are unique about the Kankakee community, such as honoring the birthplace of soft-serve ice cream, the Kankakee mallow, which is a flower that exists in the islands on the river in Kankakee, and a picture of Kankakee’s sister city in Mexico.
They received over 60 ideas from the community. Suggestions included paintings that represent agriculture, the history of manufacturing and the train depot.
Yohnka, who is the community engagement specialist with Kankakee School District 111, started the process of designing the community ideas and Pagast added in an ice cream cone and a mallow. There are eight more frames that are in the process of being designed and filled in. Yohnka, who wanted the mural to be “quirky and interactive,” said that they’re planning to add a plaque to the bottom that explains what each frame represents.
“Once you have the design, it’s just hard work,” Pagast said of the mural process. “It’s just mapping out everything and getting it up there, but it’s physical labor. It’s the design that’s the fun part.”
Now, in addition to finishing up the living room-styled mural, Yohnka and Pagast are continuing their partnership, with help from John Fetterer, to develop a mural at the corner of Schuyler Avenue and Station Street, which will face Key City Liquors.
“Because it’s right next to the bike lanes, it will be commemorating the Kankakee Ramblers bicycle club from the turn-of-the-century,” Yohnka said, adding that this club was responsible for making bicycling popular in Kankakee.
Pagast, who teaches painting courses at Kankakee Community College, also brought to life the design of Dave Baron’s “The Hub” at 135 N. Schuyler in downtown Kankakee. This was the first installation of the KDC’s mural series.
“It looks like a record, but it’s actually a map of Kankakee County,” Baron told The Daily Journal last summer. “You have to look kinda deep, but the changes in color actually are the roads and the blue that cuts across are the Iroquois and Kankakee rivers.”
Outside of the KDC’s mural series, Pagast is also the muralist behind the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired mural at 119. E Court St. which was commissioned by the City of Kankakee in 2017. Additionally, he worked with Merchant Street Art Gallery of Artists with Autism in 2018 to paint the mural on the side of the gallery’s building at 356 E. Merchant St, Kankakee.