July 2, 2014

Belleville on exhibit: 200 artifacts highlight city's history

The 1945 photo shows a convertible full of servicemen, their wives and girlfriends, cheering with the crowd while riding in Belleville's Victory Over Japan Day parade.

"They were celebrating," said Bob Arndt, 80, who watched the parade with his parents at age 12. "It was such an exciting time. V-J Day was the very end of World War II.

"And then there's a companion photo where people were jumping in the fountain (on the Belleville Square)."

The historic images were captured by the late News-Democrat photographer Pete Kern.

They're two of about 180 photos in a new video that will be shown as part of "Belleville Bicentennial Exhibition: 200," which opens Thursday at Schmidt Art Center at Southwestern Illinois College.

"(The video is) not just a bunch of photos out of history books," said co-organizer Judy Belleville, 73, who worked with Arndt to select them. "We have candid shots. There are a few buildings, but not many. They're mostly people."

The exhibit is one of many activities planned this year to commemorate Belleville's 200th birthday.

It consists of more than 200 artifacts on loan from local residents that help tell the story of Belleville's past: Military uniforms and sports memorabilia, musical instruments and brewery equipment, women's garments and kitchen appliances.

"This is the end of almost a two-year process," said co-organizer Will Shannon, 36. "And with all the planning and all the people who responded with their items, I have to say I could not be happier with how it turned out."

Will is chairman and Judy is a member of the bicentennial's History and Archives Committee. They produced the exhibit with Schmidt Curator Nicole Dutton and Curatorial Assistant Jessica Mannisi.

The artifacts are the stars of the show, but Judy hopes people will take time to watch the 16-minute video.

"The exhibit is wonderful, and it took a lot of time to go out in the community and collect things and research them," she said. "But the video will be here when everything else is gone. It has some lasting value."

Judy is collections coordinator and Bob is photo editor at Belleville's Labor & Industry Museum, which owns about 6,000 old photos. All those in the video came from this collection.

One of Judy's favorites shows female gymnasts at Belleville's Turner Hall in 1924. They're posing in front of a stage screen with hand-painted advertisements.

"You can learn so much about the community just by looking at this screen," Judy said, pointing out businesses such as Belleville Laundry and Karr Range Co.

Another of Judy's favorites is an 1892 portrait of Amy Hartleb, who sold "hair goods" out of her family's jewelry store. Her head is turned sideways, showing off a braided hairpiece.

"I'm intrigued with women's work and women in business," Judy said. "You can research Belleville and go through all the county atlases and histories, and there isn't a female picture in them. Well, maybe one or two.

"Now what does that tell you? It certainly doesn't mean women weren't working in those days."

Photos in the video are arranged by the same categories as the exhibit: Belleville begins, Belleville grows, Belleville works, Belleville serves, Belleville learns and Belleville plays.

Each photo tells a little something about local life. Female Belleville High School graduates are lined up in Quaker-style clothing in the late 1800s. Downtown Belleville is inundated by telephone and telegraph wires in the 1920s.

Bob is gradually restoring some of the museum's 6,000 photos that are tattered or creased.

"I enjoy it, bringing these photos back into good condition, to the point that they can be enjoyed by everyone," he said.

At a glance

What: "Belleville Bicentennial Exhibition: 200"

Where: William and Florence Schmidt Art Center at Southwestern Illinois College, 2500 Carlyle Ave. in Belleville

When: Thursday through Aug. 15

Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays and noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays (closed Fourth of July)

Admission: Free

Information: Visit or call 618-222-5278

Related content



Entertainment Videos