MONTICELLO — Award-winning photographer Bea Nettles distinctly remembers spending time at Allerton Park while doing graduate work at the University of Illinois in the 1970s.
As a matter of fact, she credits the Monticello-area park with shaping her work as the budding artist used the former estate of Robert Allerton as a canvas for her photography.
Nettles, now a professor emerita at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, will share thoughts on her distinguished photography career at a presentation at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 28 in the Allerton Mansion Library at 515 Old Timber Rd.
Tickets for her appearance at Allerton are available here.
Like many who visit the 1,500-acre park, complete with a 1900-era Georgian-style mansion, formal gardens and extensive artwork, Nettles distinctly recalls her first visit to Allerton as a U of I graduate student.
“Someone told me about this place called Allerton Park. So I get in my van and I went out there all alone and I couldn’t believe it. There was this Victorian Garden in the middle of nowhere,” she said during a recent talk at the Krannert Art Museum.
Since that initial time at Allerton, Nettles has gone on to hold more than 50 solo art exhibitions, including showings in the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, Light Gallery and Witkin Gallery in New York City.
The Florida native calls the Allerton Park and Retreat Center one of the sites in Illinois “that became very important to me.”
Nettles also remembers a different time at the park, when 50 years ago visitors could still climb a spiral staircase and walk along the walls of the formal garden to get a birds-eye view.
“That’s not safe these days; no way would they let you do it. But I was curious. And then I did some drawings and photographs from that perspective,” Nettles said.
Her first artistic creations at Allerton were small pieces featuring black and white photos developed in a darkroom and hand colored by Nettles.
Later, she superimposed a nude of herself as Eve on another photo taken at Allerton, calling it “Eve Expelled.”
With Allerton playing the role of Eden…
“It’s Eve being expelled from what appears to be Allerton Park! And it is!” Nettles quipped.
Nettles taught photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Tyler School of Art then the University of Illinois, where she obtained state certification for students to earn a degree in photography.
The U of I alum and professor emerita mixes mediums often to create what are often esoteric in nature, and has included them in several books, including a square-shaped one called “Corners: Grace and Bea Nettles.”
“It’s a square book, and four a reason,” Nettles said, explaining it represents four ages of life.
She said it also honors her mother, who was also a poet and mentor to Nettles.
Nettles was selected for the ACE Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019 and the UIUC Art & Design Distinguished Alumni Award for 2020.
She continues to lecture and teach workshops internationally.
More information about the artist/photographer is available at https://beanettles.com/.