By Anne Eickstadt

ANNE EICKSTADT PHOTO Belvidere Republican
Elaine Wallis and Noella Cotnam update and refresh the American House mural that Elaine designed 25 years ago.

Arrangements for this work on the American House mural were made while Mike Chamberlain was still the mayor of Belvidere. COVID got in the way of it actually being completed. This year, the artist who designed the mural in 1997 made the journey back to Belvidere to work on it again.

Elaine Wallis of Niagara Falls said, “I designed this mural 25 years ago. This year, I am changing the color scheme and freshening it up. Noella Cotman from Ontario is working with me on this.

“Belvidere has changed dramatically in 25 years. It is very vibrant and dynamic. I am sure it is the legacy of public artwork. It draws people. Public artwork is the backdrop to everything.”

The historical plaque beside the American House mural says:

Built in 1842, the American House, one of the most well-known hotels in northern Illinois, actually existed in this building. The hotel also served as a stagecoach stop on the Chicago-Galena route. Elaine Wallis of Niagara Falls, Ontario, and her enthusiastic team get the credit for this 60-foot landmark

In June of 1997, Belvidere hosted a massive public art event downtown called “Walldog Rendevous.” The Walldogs, a grass-roots mural painting group that promotes public art through the creation of vintage advertising and fine arts murals in small-town America, held their third annual gathering in Belvidere. In four short days, and involving over 300 artists, the Walldogs left 6000 square feet of murals gracing Belvidere’s downtown. Tens of thousands visited Belvidere before the event concluded. The Walldogs went on to create hundreds of murals around the world since their founding in 1993.

‘Walldog Rendevous’ and the city of Belvidere received the Illinois Art Council’s 1997 Governor’s Award for the Arts, the Illinois Governor’s Conference on Tourism Award for City-wide Promotional Campaigns, and the official designation from Governor Jim Edgar as Illinois’ “City of Murals.” The community worked in cooperation for over two years to develop the ‘Wall to Wall Arts Festival’ that was sponsored by the Belvidere Area Chamber of Commerce and co-sponsored by the Letterheads, the Belvidere Women’s Club, and the Boone County Arts Council.

“A successful town has to have art as a part of its culture or you do not have a successful town,” said Jay Allen, Boone County Arts Council president. “

We were born in caves, we had to collaborate, we had to work together. Everybody’s got a tribe whether it is artists, bikers, or anything else – they share a passion and start talking. There come times of momentary interactions when walls are down and you can see who they really, truly are.

“Walldogs are gentle. All of them. I don’t care about the murals or about public art. What I care about is that they bring people together. The story gets painted on the wall. I was talking with some female Walldogs while we were working on a mural one time. We were discussing professions and how women have difficulty within those professions. I looked up at the sky and said, ‘There aren’t any glass ceilings out here.’

“This is the last time that I will be setting up a job site in Belvidere. I am retiring from the Boone County Arts Council in December. It is bittersweet.”

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