MACOMB, Ill. — A public art project, slated to be unveiled near downtown Macomb in the coming weeks, is more than just a piece to be viewed and appreciated. It’s a tribute; it’s a reminder; and it’s a local civic movement created to remind motorists to watch for agricultural machinery on the roadway.
Tractor Town Macomb began as an organization just two years ago after Macomb-area farmer Tim Sullivan was struck May 22, 2019, on U.S. Route 67, north of Macomb, as he drove his tractor northbound on the four-lane highway. He passed away the following day.
As a tribute to Sullivan, local farmers parked their tractors on the blocks leading from St. Paul Catholic Church in Macomb to St. Paul Cemetery for his funeral and burial May 28, 2019. The tribute was organized by WIU alumni Seth (07) and Jessica (09, 11) Lambert and included machinery donated by local implement dealerships.
It was the striking sight of machinery on both sides of the roadway that impacted Macomb artist and teacher Kelley Quinn to start Tractor Town Macomb, with goals of incorporating arts and community events, agricultural education and awareness, local foods and food security and environmental sustainability. Nearly 50 people showed up for the group’s first meeting to help with the effort.
To reach the group’s first goal, Quinn has spent the last year using an antique Farmall tractor as a canvas to create a series of mosaic images on all sides of it. The tiles depict windswept local fields, barns and agricultural crops, even including the recently installed wind turbines north of Good Hope, Ill. The tiles also show an interpretation of a local sunrise and sunset, and the four seasons.
“When this started, I had ideas to work on tractor safety and awareness,” said Quinn. “At first I thought I wanted to mosaic an old car, but when we went to the Western Illinois Iron and Metals scrapyard to look, we found this tractor, which was later donated by the scrapyard owner for the project.”
Quinn Googled mosaic tractors and found that no one had yet created one on a tractor and knew she was on to something that was unique for her community.
Local business owner Harold Gooding sandblasted the tractor to prepare it for a fresh coat of red paint by Jeff Derry, of Car Care Center in Macomb. Gooding also donated a tire which was put on by Moore’s Tires, and Birkey’s Farm Supply of Macomb fixed the tractor’s brakes.
“The tractor is not functional, but we need to be able to move it,” said Quinn. “We have probably had $20,000 in donated services, including an Illinois Arts Council grant, money from Citizen’s Bank and the donation of a display base by Laverdiere Construction. There has been a real outpouring of support from the community.”
Once completed, the tractor will be installed on a concrete pad in Mummert Pocket Park, visible from the train station and adjacent to the Forgottonia Brewing on Macomb’s North Lafayette Street. LED lights will be added to create visual interest at night and highlight the mosaic work. Quinn hopes that the central location will draw people to Macomb for a closer look and get out the word about tractor safety and awareness.
Work on the tractor is being completed in the Facilities Management building, on the north side of the Western Illinois University campus.
As with most activities, the project has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing has limited how many people can work on the tractor at one time, but Quinn has adapted and taught online workshops in topics like one-point perspective landscapes and sunsets. The workshops have allowed people to learn how to create a rural landscape and play with color, and has allowed high-risk participants to create at home.
“It’s coming together as we go,” said Quinn. “We hope to eventually complete at least four tractors so people see Macomb as a tractor town, and I think it’s quirky enough to become a draw for tourism. There are lots of opportunities to make this something bigger, and I think it represents Macomb well.”
Volunteers participating in the project with Quinn vary in ages from 5 to people in their 80s. Students from VIT in Table Grove, where Quinn teaches, have also participated in the project and have been involved in updating work on the tractor in social media. To date, there has been a glass-cutting workshop with Mark Sullivan of Macomb Glass and two online landscape drawing workshops by Quinn in preparation for the mosaicking phase. Numerous young people have been part of affixing the glass tiles to the tractor, as well as several entire families who come in to work, including Quinn’s own family. Participants have learned to cut tile, use a grinder and nip the tiles into shapes as part of the project.
One of those volunteering as part of Tractor Town Macomb is Sullivan’s wife, Cynthia, a 1980 WIU alumna. She said the awareness component of the organization is key to her and to the region.
“I think it’s really important to emphasize awareness of farm vehicles in our area,” she said. “We are a large farming community and it’s nice to recognize that. I think this project is one way, visually, to help with awareness and to create an appreciation of agriculture in our community. Ag has done a lot to build the economy and the strength of our community.”
Quinn is no stranger to public art and its placement in the region. She has completed numerous mandalas and labyrinths around Macomb, including on the sides of Project Insight on Macomb’s North McArthur Street and Lakeview Labyrinth at Lakeview Nature Center. For more information about her work, visit kelleykquinn.com.
For more information about Tractor Town, or to watch the progress on the tractor, visit bit.ly/TractorTown.
— Western Illinois University
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