As I pulled into the Little City campus in Palatine, my first thought was that this place is anything but little. On the vast 56-acre campus, services are provided for more than 350 children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live, learn and express their creativity.
I was there to meet Luke Tauber, a gentle, 64-year-old artist with an extraordinary past and a passion for art and music. As soon as Luke walked in the room we instantly connected—talking about Jewish holidays, sunny Arizona, where we both frequently visit, and his family. Though he didn’t speak much, Luke’s eyes lit up when I asked about his parents.
Luke’s mother and father, Eugene and Lola, were both Holocaust survivors who lost most of their loved ones in the war. It is unclear whether they met in the camps or afterwards, but they were married shortly thereafter, and lived in a displaced persons’ camp, where Luke was born in August of 1946.
Luke was seemingly still-born, without a detectable pulse. Upon his birth he was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he was revived. Perhaps due to this prolonged period without breath, due to the conditions endured during and prior to pregnancy, or due to other genetic factors, as he grew, it became increasingly clear that he had significant developmental disabilities.
Luke’s family eventually settled in the Chicago area just north of Skokie. And in 1968, at the age of 22, Luke came to live at Little City Foundation. At Little City, he found friends, encouragement, employment and, about 10 years ago, began to cultivate his love of art.
Frank Tumino, Studio Arts Manager for Little City’s Center for the Arts, described Luke’s art as “driven by several obsessions”—most of his paintings are of classical composers and musicians, usually depicted in their tombs or at the place of their deaths. His art also focuses around cheese, female wresters, and The Three Stooges.
His love of art and fascination with musicians can be traced back to his parents.
“My father did a lot of paintings,” Luke told me. His mother was a pianist, thus instilling in him a love for classical music and composers.
Perhaps the root of his fascination with death and mortality stems from his family’s experience during the Holocaust. Luke’s uncle, noted Holocaust expert Sidney Finkel, asserts that his family’s experiences in the Nazi concentration camps is the largest factor influencing Luke’s life and art.
We toured the Center for the Arts pottery studio, where I was able to see some of Luke’s sculptural work, including several menorahs he had sculpted in time for Chanukah. According to Tumino, Luke spends a lot of his time in the Center, but also participates in senior programming and spends time with his girlfriend.
The Center for the Arts program at Little City Foundation began about 20 years ago, offering the media arts like cable access shows and radio programs. After receiving a grant from the School of the Art Institute to bring in artists to teach, the program expanded to become the largest and most diverse of its kind, winning over 50 awards. In half a dozen studios, 75 artists have access to an art studio, a design center, a pottery studio, computers, the applied arts, media arts, short films, animation, photography and more. Recently, classes became open to members of the community, though most artists are residents of Little City.
“It’s really amazing the work that’s coming out of the media arts center now,” Tumino said, noting that it is a fine art program, not a therapeutic session. “If you treat it as a fine art program the therapeutic aspects will make themselves felt.”
For Luke, the work he produces at the Center for the Arts has also been profitable. Luke recently sold some of his work at the Holiday Bazaar at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and his work is available for purchase.
As the lunch bell rang, Luke and I parted ways, wishing each other a happy Chanukah.
For more information, visit www.littlecity.org or www.littlecityarts.org.