Tinley man, daughter have six entries in Benches on the Avenue
By Mike Nolan firstname.lastname@example.org June 12, 2014 6:14PM
Pictured is Nick Schulien's "Angry Birds" bench on Oak Park Avenue. | Mike Nolan/Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 14, 2014 6:30AM
He taught high school art for 33 years, and customers in cities such as London and Paris have bought his paintings, but Nick Schulien says he has no idea where he gets his creative spark.
But anyone who has strolled along Oak Park Avenue in downtown Tinley Park the last several summers will see his handiwork on display.
Schulien has three benches in this year’s “Benches on the Avenue” in the village, and his Jennifer Lilly, has three as well. Now in its 11th year, the Benches competition’s theme this year is “Let the Games Begin.”
From 6:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Schulien, his daughter and the other artists behind the 19 benches on display will be on hand to talk about their works. It’s the third year the village has held the “Meet the Artist” event.
Schulien said he always enjoys talking with people who come out to view the benches.
“You get a lot of interesting questions (about your work), some you wouldn’t ever think of,” Schulien, 67, said.
The first 500 visitors Saturday will be given game cards and can collect stickers at each bench, then turn in completed game cards by the fountain in Zabrocki Plaza for a chance to win a prize, Nancy Byrne, project coordinator for Benches on the Avenue, said.
The “Meet the Artist” night is being held in conjunction with the season’s first Music in the Plaza event from 7 to 10 p.m. at Zabrocki Plaza. The group KO Bossy will perform Motown and disco hits.
It’s the 11th year for the Benches — they’ve been on display since May 8 — and Schulien has had at least one entry each year for the last 10 years. He didn’t know about it the first year it was held.
“I saw them (the inaugural year) and thought it was something I’d like to do,” Schulien, who paints and works with wood, said.
This year’s “Games” theme has entries depicting simple children’s games — one of Schulien’s benches is “Duck, duck goose” — video games and traditional board games. There’s a riff on Monopoly called Tinleyopoly, with streets such as Harlem Avenue and Oak Park Avenue replacing those found on the regular game board. Schulien also did Angry Birds and Jumanji benches.
A chess set and the game “Hungry, hungry hippos” are among his daughter’s entries this year.
The father-daughter duo last year snagged two awards for the “Fairy Tale Festival” theme. Schulien’s “Jack and the Beanstalk” was deemed the bench that best portrayed the overall theme, and Lilly’s “Little Red Riding Hood” received the Judges’ Choice award.
Byrne said a date for judging this year’s entries hasn’t yet been set, but will probably take place in early August. Awards are to be presented Aug. 23, she said.
Entrants are supplied with a bench and a budget for supplies, then it’s up to them to let their talents and imagination finish the job. Sponsors finance the cost and keep the bench at the end of the season.
It’s not the sort of job that even a talented and handy person is going to knock out in a weekend.
Schulien said he works on his benches outside, and started this year’s trio “after the snow melted.” Working eight hours a day, for six or seven days a week, it takes him about three weeks to complete one bench, he said.
He said he has created 30 benches over the past decade, and among his more memorable designs are his “Land of Lincoln” and “Where the Buffalo Roam” entries during the 2011 edition of Benches on the Avenue. A monster-themed bench he created belongs to the village’s park district, which displays it around Halloween each year, and a Jurrasic Park bench was featured on a brochure promoting Illinois tourism.
Schulien retired about 11 years ago after teaching art at Bolingbrook High School for 33 years. His specialty is painting animals, mainly using acrylic paint on canvas, and said he’s not sure where his talent comes from, noting his parents displayed no exceptional artistic skills.
Last November he had a display of his work at Tinley Park’s Garden Gallery & Studio, and sells pieces through a gallery on Chicago’s North Side.