New book, Peoria exhibit highlight art

The Bishop Hill State Historic Site will celebrate the birthday of renowned folk artist Olof Krans on Sunday as a book and museum exhibit bring renewed attention to his captivating paintings of 19th century Illinois.
The free party to mark Krans’s 176th birthday runs from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Bishop Hill Museum. Cake and coffee will be served, while folk group Hammer and Pick provides music at 2:30.
There will be a special display of archival materials related to Krans, including textbooks, folk art books and magazines in which his paintings have appeared.
Ribbons, photos and other material the 1896 Bishop Hill Old Settlers’ Reunion will also be displayed. Krans did his first 11 paintings of his boyhood memories for this reunion.
“Krans’s paintings are both works of art and documents of Bishop Hill’s history,” said Martha Jane Downey, superintendent of the state historic site. “His inspired decision to record his childhood memories of that unique communal settlement became the artist’s legacy and a gift for generations to come.”
Krans was born in Sweden but moved to the Bishop Hill religious colony as a boy. He lived there until 1867. He began painting late in life, producing scenes of rolling countryside, hard-working farmers and grazing cattle — all portrayed with simple lines and bright splashes of color.
He also painted portraits of his former neighbors — the original colonists — that captured “visages etched not only with toil and sorrow, but also faith and determination,” according to the late historian and author George Swank.
Krans is the subject of a new book, “The Art of Olof Krans: A Prairie Vision.” The Bishop Hill Heritage Association will sell copies at the birthday party.
“His unique contribution to American art is the pictorial record he created of the early days of Bishop Hill — the only Utopian settlement to boast such a record,” art historian Esther Parks writes in the book’s biographical essay on Krans. “He painted the full cycle of seasons, from sowing to reaping.”
Krans died in 1916.
The Peoria Riverfront Museum has also opened a new exhibit of Krans’s paintings and furniture and artifacts from Bishop Hill. “The Art of Olof Krans: Painter of Bishop Hill” runs until Feb. 22. For details, visit
The world’s largest collection of Krans paintings is displayed at the Bishop Hill Museum, part of the state’s Bishop Hill historic site. Several of its paintings are being used in the Riverfront Museum’s new exhibit.