At Evanston’s Space 900, an Evanston artist couple, also prominent as collectors and supporters of German Expressionist art, will get the chance to show their own artwork to the public.

Although not core members of the gallery, Pam and Jim Elesh will exhibit there as guest artists, but only for one week.

Pam and Jim Elesh, an Evanston artist couple, will show their works at Space 900. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Eleshes

Pam Elesh was the fine art teacher at Nichols Middle School after her graduation from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. It was at the Art Institute that she learned lithography and etching. She remained there, at the museum, as a docent, for 30 years.

”It was a wonderful 30-year experience and, as an artist and a teacher, it brought me closer to the masterpieces of our city’s premier collection,” she says of that time in her life.

As their family grew, Pam Elesh became involved with the Evanston Art Center, both as a member of the board of directors, then as a student in their printmaking department. The Art Center at that time occupied the Harley Clarke mansion and printmaking took up half of the second floor.

When that department was closed and moved to the Noyes Center, a number of students, including Pam Elesh, went instead to the North Shore Art League in Winnetka’s Community House, where she has been going ever since.

She gives nods to Carol Seidenberg and Giedre Zumbakis, both influential teachers for her at North Shore, as she learned to work in soft ground, aquatint, dry point and photo etching. 

An etching by Evanston artist Pam Elesh titled “View from Jane‘s House – Door County.” Credit: Courtesy Pam Elesh

She works out of her home studio but also rents space at the print shop at North Shore, where they have multiple presses and provide many of the supplies printmakers need.

She will have 12 framed images for sale at the Studio 900 exhibit and a portfolio of unframed prints, also for sale.

Jim Elesh, on the other hand, is showing pastel paintings. He has been working in pastel in the eight years since his retirement.

“Pastels suit my personality,” he says. “I fell in love with them.”

Although his career was in business, his avocation has been art.

When he was a student at ETHS, Jim Elesh says he took an art history class that made a huge impression. He chose to major in art history at Oberlin College in Ohio. In his junior year, he went to Europe, where he studied at the University of Paris (the Institute of Foreign Professors of French as well as the Institute for Art and Archaeology) and later at the Institute for Netherlandish Art in The Hague. 

On his journeys, Jim sketched in India ink during the day and created larger watercolors in his room at night. In Paris, Jim Elesh became fluent in French and was invited to show with two other artists that summer at Gallerie Solanges – quite a coup for a student.  He said it was “a great, hard year – the best year ever.”

Pastel by Evanston artist James Elesh titled “Blue Sunset – Stonington,” 2019. Credit: Photo courtesy James Elesh

In his senior year at Oberlin, Jim Elesh became interested in German Expressionist art – Lovis Corinth, James Ensor, Max Beckmann, Kathe Kollwitz, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Wassily Kandinsky. Jim Elesh purchased his first Corinth in 1965 and bought two Ensor paintings from the Allan Frumkin Gallery (Chicago/New York) 1965-66.

Elesh became so fascinated by Ensor that he began to research him, doing so for the next 18 years and eventually writing the catalog raisonné of Ensor’s paintings. (A catalog raisonné is a thorough and highly descriptive list of all of an artist’s works.)

Upon graduation from Oberlin, Jim Elesh went to business school at the University of Chicago, then bought his father’s business. Although researching Ensor had become his hobby, he occasionally did a drawing in India ink, for the love of it and “to keep up his hand.”

Pastel by Evanston artist James Elesh titled “Symphony in Orange and Black,” 2022. Credit: Photo courtesy James Elesh

The Eleshes became avid collectors of German Expressionist art as well as supporters of and donors to two museums, the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin and Northwestern University’s Block Museum in Evanston, first known as the Block Gallery. 

It was the Elesh collection of 14 self-portraits by Lovis Corinth that became a major gift to the Block, before the building was still in the pre-construction phase. That collection is now shown, some or all of it, by stipulation, every four years so that all NU students have a chance to see it.

Longtime Evanston residents, the Eleshes have two grandchildren who are the fourth generation of the Elesh family to live in Evanston.

The Eleshes’ exhibit will open from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, March 17 and will be on display for only a week. Despite the name, Space 900 is not at 900 Dempster, but at 816 Dempster. The “900” was the address of their original gallery space, on North Franklin Street in Chicago and part of their original name.

Gay Riseborough

Gay Riseborough is an artist, has served the City of Evanston for 11 years on arts committees, and is now an arts writer at the Evanston RoundTable.

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