It was a dream, a reccurring dream that would not go away,” says Mary Berg, owner of Simply Chicago Art,1318 Oakton Street
“It was a ridiculous idea,” continues Ms. Berg. “I am not an artist. I did not study art. Why would I open an art gallery?”
Ms. Berg came to Chicago in the early 1970s from Sacramento, Calif. as a young woman. She soon married, had three
children and settled in Evanston. After her children had grown and moved away, she was working as a commodities balancer in downtown Chicago when her dream appeared.
Sitting in a folding chair, legs crossed, in the middle of her bright and airy gallery, Ms. Berg looks around at the art on the walls, the exposed wood beams, the skylight that at this exact moment appears to be shedding light directly upon her, and smiles.
“I had a vision of this exact place. It’s uncanny,” says Ms. Berg, who says she is tickled by the fact that her odd dream has become her reality.
After ignoring the persistent dream for a while, Ms. Berg decided to go for it. Then her husband was diagnosed with leukemia. She put her plans on hold for a year to support him while he faced, and eventually recovered, from the illness. Then her mother died.
“I thought, ‘I can look at this in two ways. Either these doors are being slammed for a reason and I should not open an art gallery, or I can see it as life happens and how many things am I going to let get in the way of moving forward?’”
Within months, Ms. Berg found the space, just three blocks from her home, and on Nov. 1, 2008, Simply Chicago Art opened. The gallery features local artists, many of whom are from Evanston, and exhibits are rotated every four weeks. An artist reception is held Saturday afternoons 1-5 p.m. and all artwork is available for purchase. The gallery is also open Saturdays 11 a.m.-7 p.m. and Sundays 1-6 p.m.
“I knew there were artists out there,” says Ms. Berg, “but I had no idea how many were in this area until I started talking to people.” The gallery currently has artists booked until March of 2011.
Ms. Berg selects the artists, by simply listening to her heart. If she likes the artwork, she will display it. Although she never studied art, she says she has a deep appreciation for all types of artistry and for the artists themselves. She chooses a wide variety of media from oil paintings to jewelry to wood carvings, and hosts artists from all walks of life.
Throughout the month of August, two artists will be featured: Susan Cua, a native of the Philippines who spent time as an adult in Paris, and is influenced by French impressionism; and Joseph Kinney, a homeless man who works in pastels.
When Mr. Kinney came to Ms. Berg’s door with his drawings, she closed her eyes and thought, “Please, let me like his work.
“I opened my eyes and they were stunning. … absolutely beautiful,” says Ms. Berg, adding that money has been raised so he can have eight pieces of his artwork framed for the gallery in August.
As the sunlight shining through the skylight begins to move from Ms. Berg and dance along the gallery’s artwork on display, Ms. Berg appears pleased with the chances she has taken. She says she sees her role as a liaison between the artists
and the community.
“Many of the artists I’ve featured have never shown their work in a gallery,” says Ms. Berg. “This place gives me an opportunity to not only be surrounded by beautiful art, but also gives the community a chance to meet these talented and creative individuals.”
To learn more about the gallery and upcoming events go to www.simplychicagoart.com.