On Sunday, April 28, I attended “A Life Celebration Memorial for Christopher Drew.” He passed away last spring on May 7. Chris was an artist and activist who helped to get the Illinois Eavesdropping law declared Unconstitutional.
Chris was one of the first people that I met when I moved to Chicago 20 years ago. Through the Chicago Reader’s classified section, I found out about a FREE Screen-Print workshop for artists. I called the number in the ad, and Chris answered. He invited me to come up to the Uptown Multi-Cultural Art Center (UM-CAC) to learn how to make silkscreens, and print art on t-shirts. The workshop ran every Sunday afternoon, and some Wednesday evenings. UM-CAC was located on the third floor of the American Indian Center in Uptown.During my first visit, I learned how to stretch a screen. It was similar to stretching canvas, which I had learned to do as a painter. Emulsion was then applied to the newly created screen and allowed to dry. I was told to bring a xerox of an image that I would like to see printed. Through a process which Chris experimented with and perfected, using vegetable oil rubbed onto the back of a photocopy and a light box, the image was transferred to the screen. The next step included washing out the screen. Back then, there was no running water on the 3rd floor. Buckets of water had to be hauled up the three flights of stairs and then poured into a pump-powered spray gun. Rapid-fire squeezing of the trigger was needed to wash away the parts of the emulsion that would create the image, before they settled into the screen and were impossible to remove. Another bucket sat under the sink and caught the run-off from the screen washing process. And then those buckets had to be hauled back down the stairs and dumped into the toilet. Need I say that this was a grass-roots organization?
For twenty five years, Chris ran that workshop, even up until his health had started to fail. He received small grants every now and then, just enough to cover the cost of supplies, but never received any funding for administrative costs. He was one of the most altruistic people I have ever met. He donated his time, energy and expertise to create a community center for artists to learn, share and grow. He was actually homeless when I first met him, and he crashed where he could, yet he still had the energy and motivation to teach artists what he knew. For free.
I made it to the celebration of Chris’ life and work that took place last spring in Roger’s Park, where he lived for many years. I could see that his health was deteriorating, but his spirit was as strong as ever, shining through in the brightness of his eyes. I got to give him one more hug, and then he went on his way…
He was a kind and generous person, with a wicked laugh and a warm smile, a big heart and a warrior spirit—fighting for Chicago artists’ first amendment rights in the courts and on the streets.
I miss you, Chris Drew. Thanks for being a bright light in the world.