Bloomington/Normal a Hidden Camelot

I live in the twin towns of Bloomington/Normal which is about two hours south of Chicago by train. In most bios I write that I live in the middle of nowhere. Last year after living here for 10 years I decided to get out and about and far away from social media as I possibly could and actually get out and meet my neighbors. So I took my first love with me which is photography and started to document their stories.

I learned that the single woman who lives in the corner house from me is a poet. She writes poems on found objects such like what Jean-Michel Basquiat used to do with art with the trash he'd find in the streets of New York. 

Further down the street to me is Tom Kirk. I pass by his house in my three wheel bike most days but today as I stopped he happened to be outside and I asked to take his photo. He was completing his latest rock sculpture by placing a sword through it like in King Arthur's Court. 

Tom Kirk finishing the latest rock sculpture in in front lawn.

Tom Kirk finishing the latest rock sculpture in in front lawn.

Tom doesn't call himself a sculptor. When I asked him he  said he was a tinkerer. He has a lot of ideas of future projects but he is secretive. I was able to determine that the next sculpture has to to with metal and of course, rocks. 

A turtle built of rocks by Tom Kirk. See the car behind and the brick fence to get an idea of scale.

A turtle built of rocks by Tom Kirk. See the car behind and the brick fence to get an idea of scale.

When Tom first began work on his court of rocks, the neighbors didn't take too kindly to the mess on his front yard. It turns out that Tom is building his massive rock garden with rescued rocks from his day job which is excavating stones which are no longer in need so he takes them home and recycles them according to the Pantagraph.

Another artist in Bloomington/Normal is Jeff Bess whose series of vintage and nostalgic objects such as typewriters, pay phones, motors, farm equipment, and trailers many of which he paints floating in mid air, as if to say they are no longer within our reach. Jeff finds them and then paints them hence in a way recycling as well and preserving them for prosperity.  

Jeff Bess | Vintage outboard motors | 30"x24" acrylic canvas  Evinrude (sold) | Elgin (sold) | Seahorse Sea King

Jeff Bess | Vintage outboard motors | 30"x24" acrylic canvas  
Evinrude (sold) | Elgin (sold) | Seahorse Sea King

Barry Blinderman is another local art celebrity. His recent curatorial of Walter Robinson was the hit of New York last year. I visited him in his office in Normal which is in the University Galleries he is the director of. In his office I found objects which made me stop in my tracks. There is a Keith Haring drawing from the subway. Barry was friends with Keith.

Barry Blinderman

Barry Blinderman

I mentioned to Barry that I have been able to accomplish more in this town than what I did when I lived in Miami. He said the same is true for him since everybody leaves you alone here. This may be true since David Foster Wallace was also one of the residents of Bloomington/Normal when he wrote Infinite Jest.

While Tom Kirk's work is more visible than others, it seems there is one common denominator between the artists, poets, and writers here. They mind their own business and get on with their work tirelessly because only they are able to hear the calling between the endless rows of fields of corn, blankets of endless blue without a skyscraper in view and sometimes angry winters. And this town in the middle of nowhere is where you may finally find your own personal Camelot.


Didi Menendez is a resident of Bloomington, Illinois. When she is not writing, she is painting, growing sunflowers, riding her bike, taking photographs of her neighbors, and running an independent publication she calls PoetsArtists.

THE NEW NUDE | Issue 86 | Curated by Walt Morton
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WOMAN AS WARRIOR | ZHOU B ART CENTER | AUGUST 18, 2017 | CHICAGO