If the unsharpened pencils and clean notebooks in your supermarket’s back-to-school display seem to be calling out to you rather than to your kids, answer back. Embrace the joy of learning this fall with any of eight adult-education classes that will introduce you to Chicago’s Bronzeville, medieval Britain, the vineyards of California, and five other lively topics.
Though Bronzeville is in the midst of a renaissance, many Chicagoans are still unaware of the South Side neighborhood’s cultural heritage. “In the 1940s, it supplanted Harlem as the cultural and political capital of Black America,” says Bart Schultz, a senior lecturer in the humanities at the University of Chicago. “This is where Langston Hughes read poetry and where Duke Ellington played, yet there is still this skewed impression of [Bronzeville].”
To help remedy this, Schultz tapped the oral historian Timuel D. Black to lead a one-day tour of the neighborhood for the university’s Graham School of General Studies. A collaboration between the Civic Knowledge Project, the Chicago Architecture Foundation, and the DuSable Museum of African American History, THE BRONZEVILLE EXPERIENCE visits the historic landmarks of this vibrant neighborhood, such as the Griffin Funeral Home, which houses a small museum of artifacts going back to the Civil War, and the Ace Hardware at 315 East 35th Street: known in the 1920s as the Sunset Café, this is where the New Orleans trumpeter Louis Armstrong rose to stardom.
Still, the real draw of this bus-tour/culture-cruise hybrid (the day ends with the poet Kim Ransom leading participants through an art exhibit and a poetry slam) is the 90-year-old Black, who narrates the story of the neighborhood based on his personal and professional experiences-which include his high-school friendship with Nat “King” Cole and the 1937 heavyweight bout at Comiskey Park between Joe Louis and Jim Braddock.
Offered by the University of Chicago’s Graham School of General Studies. Meets Saturday, October 13th, at 10:30 a.m. at the DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 East 56th Place. $25. 773-702-8821.
Though students arrive at Karen Avery’s BEGINNING WHEELTHROWING class at Lillstreet Art Center with high expectations for their clay creations, Avery encourages them to embrace the learning curve. “Everybody ends up with a cup, a bowl, and a plate, but they might have an uneven rim,” she says. “Personally, I think that these are some of the nicest pots. Usually, when somebody learns to throw thin and straight rims, they try to go back and re-create that looseness that beginners have.”
Avery, who has been teaching in Lillstreet’s ceramics department for the past 17 years, gets her students started with an easier-than-it-sounds centering exercise: keeping the clay in the center of the wheel as it spins. “It’s like playing a musical instrument,” she says of the process. “First you learn how to make a simple note, then scales, and then you learn to put it together.”
And just like playing the piano, practice makes perfect. To that end, Lillstreet is open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. for anyone wanting to put in a little extra time.
Offered by the Lillstreet Art Center. Meets Wednesdays, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., from September 10th to November 12th at the Lillstreet Art Center, 4401 North Ravenswood Avenue. $295 for members, $305 for nonmembers. 773-769-4226.
“Many people know my opinions,” says Rolf Achilles, the incoming chairman of the board at Landmarks Illinois and the instructor of CONTROVERSIAL ARCHITECTURE in the Continuum program at Loyola University. “I don’t shy away too much [from expressing them], even in front of the architects.” In this five-week class, students will join Achilles-an art historian and an adjunct associate professor at the School of the Art Institute-for a walk around the city to look at buildings that, by Achilles’s standards, have failed in either design or functionality.
The course will not be limited to criticizing Chicago’s skyline. “We will go around the world,” says Achilles, singling out as an example London’s infamous 30 St. Mary Axe, a 40-story-tall phallic-looking building popularly known as the Gherkin.
Achilles also plans to talk about buildings that have moved past their controversial status. “The biggest eyesore historically was the Eiffel Tower, but it has aged really well,” he says. “It’s like how some people are born really ugly-and by the time they are 22, they are drop-dead gorgeous.”
Offered by Loyola University Chicago’s Continuum program. Meets Saturdays, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., September 29th to November 3rd (no class on October 20th) at the Water Tower Campus, 25 East Pearson Street. $275. 312-915-6501.
THAT SCEPTER’D ISLE
Before Philippa Gregory gave The Other Boleyn Girl a voice and Showtime made viewers swoon over The Tudors, Matthew Bird was bringing British history to life at the Newberry Library. This fall, Bird and his class consider a time period that extends from the Norman Conquest to the death of Edward I, a turbulent era mediated through assorted modern historical novels and plays.
Though in the past lovers of historical fiction have flocked to this particular class-MEDIEVAL BRITAIN 1066-1307 THROUGH HISTORICAL FICTION-Bird says it is not a literature course in which texts are dissected for deeper meaning. “I don’t discuss the novels much,” he says. “I talk about the real history.” Students will read David Howarth’s 1066: The Year of the Conquest and Sharon Kay Penman’s Falls the Shadow (about the reign of England’s Henry III), as well as three other books and two plays.
“These are authors who are both good storytellers and [people who] have done their historical research,” says Bird, who has a BA in history from Princeton and a Ph.D in international politics from the University of Wales. Bird and his students will examine such topics as land tenure and military service, the relationship between church and state, and the role of women in medieval Britain. Bird also provides a bibliography of other recommended historical novels for students who want to keep reading-and who may want to sign up for Bird’s new follow-up course, which covers Britain through the Wars of the Roses.
Offered by the Newberry Library. Meets Tuesdays from 5:45 to 7:45 p.m., September 18th to November 27th, at the Newberry Library, 60 West Walton Street. $180. 312-255-3700.
You don’t have to be fluent in French to join Zineb Chraibi’s PILATES and YOGA classes at the Alliance Française de Chicago-though students may want to memorize the phrase “posture du chien tête en bas” (that’s “downward-facing dog” for you monolingual yogis).
“I repeat everything in English,” explains Chraibi, “so it’s a fun way to either get introduced to French, since the class is highly visual, or maintain your French.” The classes are also small, which allows Chraibi time to provide personal guidance to her students, who represent a wide range of dexterity levels.
When she was a teenager in Casablanca, the Paris-born professional dancer-Chraibi has done stints with the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre and Winifred Haun and Dancers-was introduced to yoga by her best friend’s mother. Pilates became part of her daily routine after she moved to the United States to study. For the past three years, Chraibi has offered the two classes back to back (the Pilates class comes first). If taking both classes is a bit of a stretch but you want to get in a little extracurricular socializing, sign up for yoga. “People stay and have discussions of various current events-in French,” says Chraibi.
Offered by Alliance Française de Chicago. Meets Saturdays from September 20th to December 4th at Alliance Française de Chicago, 810 North Dearborn Street. Pilates meets from 9:15 to 10 a.m.; yoga meets from 10 to 11 a.m. $129 for members and $159 for nonmembers for Pilates, $159 or $189 for yoga. 312-337-1070.
REDS, WHITES & BLUE?
If navigating the wine selection at your local grocer leaves you perplexed and depressed, Chicago Wine School’s introduction to all things vino will brighten your spirits. Aptly named THE BASICS, this first course in a series of three-it’s followed by classes at the intermediate and advanced levels-is a no-nonsense overview of grapegrowing and winemaking, as well as an introduction to different varieties of the drink. “Some people have been out and tasted a lot, but didn’t know what they were tasting,” says Patrick W. Fegan, the school’s founder. “Some have been out to a vineyard but couldn’t tell you what the grapes are. My course puts all that together.”
In addition to learning about the process of winemaking and the art of winetasting, students will sample everything from rosé to Champagne (Fegan’s favorite). Fegan has been in the business since he caught the wine bug in college more than 35 years ago and took off for France to learn more. Today he is the only Chicagoan to have passed the world’s most rigorous winetasting exam, administered by the Institute of Masters of Wine in London. Though you shouldn’t expect to develop his refined palate overnight, Fegan is confident that anyone who joins his female-heavy seminars-a hint for all you singletons-will leave with a better appreciation for wine. “Stick with it and have an open mind,” he advises.
Offered by the Chicago Wine School. Meets Mondays from 6:30 to 8 p.m., September 10th to October 8th, at the 404 Wine Bar, 2856 North Southport Avenue. $170. 312-491-0284.
OLD INTO GOLD
Why are certain people willing to pay millions for the right baseball card? Why is one Seinfeld script worth more than another? And why would anyone dish out hard-earned cash for Madonna lyrics?
Those are the types of questions Gary Piattoni attempts to answer in TOMORROW’S ANTIQUES, the class he leads at Northwestern University’s School of Continuing Studies. With no crystal ball to guide him, Piattoni-a 20-year veteran of the appraisal business and a regular on PBS’s Antiques Roadshow-relies on trends and theory when discussing future collectibles. “We discuss what makes things collectible and valuable now,” he says, “and how those mechanisms can apply to things in the future-from multimillion-dollar impressionist paintings to Pez dispensers. It’s about uncovering the psychology of collecting.”
Offered by Northwestern University’s School of Continuing Studies. Meets Tuesdays from 6 to 9 p.m., November 6th to December 4th, at the university’s Evanston campus. $495. Call 312-503-1582 for more information.
ALL THAT JAZZ
Last semester, when he taught a course in jazz history at Loyola University, Karl Seigfried encountered quite a mix of students. “Some of them had never heard any jazz music,” he says. “One guy was really surprised to learn that jazz used instruments besides the piano, and one young woman said she was taking the course because she wanted to learn how to be a professional jazz musician.”
Keeping that diversity in mind, Seigfried promises he will “not talk like a musician” in his new class, a spinoff from last semester titled JAZZ AT THE MOVIES. The six-week course will screen several classic jazz films, such as the 1957 George Sidney musical Pal Joey, with Seigfried’s lectures establishing the background of the featured artists and music.
Offered by Loyola University Chicago’s Continuum program. Meets Wednesdays, 7 to 9:15 p.m., October 3rd to November 7th at the Water Tower Campus, 25 East Pearson Street. $275. 312-915-6501.
illustration: Dan Page