Drawn to History

One long-time Naperville resident has been making history come to life using little more than a pencil and paper. Jim Weren has illustrated more than 500 portraits, including those of famous historical figures.

After graduating from the American Academy of Art, Weren spent more than 40years as a commercial art and creative director, but it wasn’t until after he retired that he picked up a pencil and started his hobby. His favorite portraits are those of Civil War generals, but he wasn’t always so into history.

“I was a terrible history student!” said Weren. “I could care less about war and about dead people.”

All that changed after watching the classic film “Gone With the Wind.” He gained an interest in history and has since read close to 400 books about the Civil War.

“What really struck me is this human interest piece on these very ordinary men, both in the north and the south, who all of a sudden found themselves involved in an enormous war,” said Weren.

Today Weren continues to spend countless hours in his home studio perfecting each of his portraits. His latest project is a series of drawings about chaplains that served in the Civil War and the role religion played in the conflict.

“I add detail to them. I separate their hair. I give them wrinkles. I bring them alive,” said Weren. “By the time I’m done with them, they talk to me.”

Besides being a talented illustrator, Weren’s also an avid storyteller. As the nation observes the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, he shares the stories behind the faces he draws with the community, often speaking at local libraries. In fact, now the greatest part of his hobby is inspiring others to share in his love of history.

“When folks say ‘I learned so much about the Civil War and your artwork is beautiful,’ [I say] ‘Thank you but I’m just so happy that I made the Civil War fun for you and that you may want to learn more about it.’ That’s what I get a kick out of,” said Weren.

Weren also draws caricatures including TV stars- such as the Three Stooges, Chevy Chase, and Rodney Dangerfield – and Mayor Pradel, whose caricature is embedded in a remake of Mount Rushmore and can be seen at Braconi’s Pizzeria on Ogden Avenue.

And when Weren’s not drawing, he also loves to sing. In fact, he’s in a barbershop quartet called “Totally Tuned.”

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