Jean: The inspiration behind the Birkenstein Arts Movement

Jean: The inspiration behind the Birkenstein Arts Movement

Opening Reception: Wednesday, September 18, 5 – 8 PM

On View: September 17 – December 3, 2019

George Morrison Gallery

Jean – as she was called by all who knew her, including her children – was an artist, a teacher and a leader of the Civil Rights Movement in 1950’s and 1960’s Chicago. Her home served as a safe house and community center for rival gangs, where members were free to express themselves through art, drawing and painting in the Birkenstein household. Her own work emphasizes her belief that everything – human, animal or mineral – has its inherent dignity. Painting, drawing and printing on whatever materials were available to her, newspapers, mailers and reworked canvases, Jean created images of HER everyday life: their family pet ocelot, interracial couples, and gang members. Her media in the upcoming exhibit include oil, watercolors, lithographs, mixed media and prints. Her subject matter represents her eclectic interests, ranging from views of the Chicago El to cats eyeing fish on a table to colliding galaxies. Her work reflects both her insatiable need to share knowledge as well as her own lifelong thirst for learning.

Along with her artwork, the tactics employed by Jean and her movement colleagues are part of a year-long DAI program for middle school students, the Birkenstein Arts Movement. Its goal is to communicate and teach, as Jean dedicated her life to doing, that positive social change can be achieved by anyone at any age, manifested through knowledge and expressed through art.


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