In January, the late local artist Lois Wyka was featured in my column. I had inherited a few of his paintings and some of his works kept showing up in antique stores and thrift stores, so I asked if anyone else had paintings or knew something about it. When I mentioned the distinctive “Wyka” signature on his pieces, this led to the identification of a large painting in the second floor gallery of the Cedarville Area Historical Society that had long been labeled “artist unknown.” Thanks to a few readers who contacted me about the pieces they owned and to the woman who had taken lessons from Lois.
However, it was Jim Bade of the Cedarville Area Historical Society who became fascinated with the story, made it his mission to find the artist’s family, and therefore the museum’s current exhibit features some from the work of Lois Fink Wyka. You’ll see landscape paintings, hand-painted baskets and boxes, photos of Lois and two of her husbands, as well as a small booklet of love poems she wrote. Also, available for the taking, Jim created a seven page brochure titled “Brush and Pen, Cedarville Artist”, containing the information he discovered.
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Lois was born in Cedarville on August 26, 1921, to Oscar and Nellie Fink, one of several children (ages nine to 12, according to the story). In the 1920s and 1930s, the family lived in a small, two-story brick house on the southeast corner of Harrison and Cherry, across from the general store owned by Glen and Flossie Bear and later Jesse Purdue. In the 1960s, Ruth Garr and her husband added an addition; the house is still standing.
In the 1920s, Cedarville had a population of around 250, and a relative of the Fink family told Jim that the Finks were known to have few resources; children slept three to four in a bed, and were teased for being poor and their clothes reflected it. Lois ‘father was born in 1860 and was 24 years older than his second wife, Nellie Dwyer, Lois’ mother. He was said to have been a farmer, a carpet weaver and delivered rural mail on horseback and in a buggy.
Interestingly, Lois was among the students at Cedarville School who sang at Jane Addams’ funeral at Cedarville Cemetery in 1935.
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In 1940, the artist lived in Freeport, and in 1943, she married for the first time. By all accounts, Lois was charming and lively. She was working in a laundry at this time and while her husband was on duty, she studied to become a beautician, later working at two salons in Freeport. In 1953 she bought the Kurll-Mor Beauty Shop in Rockford and in 1971 she opened a boutique in In Aurora, where she also enrolled in her first painting class. She took other classes, began exhibiting her paintings, gained recognition, and taught painting classes in the Freeport area herself. The record is murky as to the number of her marriages, perhaps four or five, but she adopted Wyka, the last name of one of her husbands, as her artist signature.
In 2000, she married famous Freeport insurance agent Victor Duray, whom her relative called the love of her life. Lois passed away at the age of 90 on May 12, 2013, leaving behind a legacy of her work of art.
The museum is open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays to view the artist’s exhibition. Call 815-990-0417 for an appointment or use the doorbell to call the staff at the museum.