Doug and Eileen Leunig, Co-Founders of Big Picture Initiative, said Portraits of Peoria is a project they’ve been working on for a few years, starting with “Abraham Blue” on the county Courthouse. They said in 2018, the focus switched to honoring historically innovative figures from the city.
“We want to really extol all the virtues of Peoria and these two people we’ve started with are prime examples of how somebody from Peoria can change the world and change the community,” Eileen Leunig said.
The two portraits of Peorians Betty Friedan (by Eliza von Zerneck) and Dr. Romeo B. Garrett (by Kevin J. Bradford) can be seen at the intersection of Adams St. and Main St. in downtown Peoria.
Betty Friedan was an influential feminist who wrote The Feminine Mystique and inspired feminist movements. Dr. Romeo B. Garrett was one of the first people to earn a master’s degree from Bradley University, later going on to become the first African-American Professor to teach at the school.
Doug Leunig said public art adds vibrancy to a cityscape, but also serves as a powerful educational tool.
“One of the things we want people to be is curious about this,” Doug Leunig said. “When they see Betty Friedan, who does not photographically look like Betty Friedan, that they’re going to wonder.”
Peoria artist Kevin J. Bradford created the mural of Garrett and said he is excited about projects like this popping up around the city.
“We have a lot to offer,” Bradford said. “I feel like if they do more stuff like this, we can make this place very captivating.”
Bradford also said hiring local artists to create public pieces makes art more accessible and inspiring.
“We can use this type of blueprint to include artists all over Peoria, and for other agendas, beyond, you know, just education,” Bradford said.
The Leunigs said artists will be paid $1,000 for their work is selected and all submissions are due by June 25.
To learn more about submitting artwork and Portraits of Peoria, visit Big Picture Initiative’s website.