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Paintings for the People

A one-of-a-kind art collection in a most unlikely place: a Chicago Park District field house on the South Side

At the field house at Ridge Park in Beverly, you’ll find the beat of basketballs on hardwood, the splash of swimming lessons—and quite possibly one of the largest collections of American impressionism in the Midwest. The John H. Vanderpoel Memorial Art Gallery, on the second floor, houses masterpieces by Maxfield Parrish, Mary Cassatt, Grant Wood, and dozens of other noted painters. The collection began as a tribute to Beverly resident John Vanderpoel, a teacher at the Art Institute. After his death in 1911, artists and former students contributed paintings and sculptures in his memory, creating a treasure-trove of more than 600 works in all. At any given time, nearly 200 are on display, and curator Grace Hamper and her husband, Sidney (pictured), can narrate the stories behind almost all of them. A highlight: Roscona at Sunrise, a maritime painting by Walter Francis Brown that won first prize at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. The collection is ­priceless—but admission is free.

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