JOLIET – Several months ago, Chris Zurales asked Morris artist Margie Glass Sula for suggestions for the Shirley Oberwortmann Community Art Wall at Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet.
Sula recommended her friend and former Joliet Junior College classmate Pedro Palacios, 33, of Joliet.
Zurales, relations coordinator the Joliet medical center, said he doesn’t know much about art but Palacios’ sculpted religious and immigration-themed pieces appealed to him. Palacios’ exhibit will remain in place through Oct. 16.
“It catches the eye right away,” Zurales said of Palacios’ art. “It has this almost dark appearance to it, but when you look closer, it’s very positive and uplifting. It has a juxtaposed feeling to it.”
Sula, an adjunct art teacher at JJC who met Palacios about 15 years ago, is impressed with Palacios’ growth as an artist and his dogged determination at fighting the lingering side effects from childhood brain cancer.
“He’s very strong and a hard worker,” Sula said. “He’s always very positive and looking to make things better.”
Palacios also has created a 3-by-2 foot sculpture for the Day of the Dead exhibit at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago. The exhibit will be up through Dec. 13, according to its website.
Most of Palacios’ artwork is a combination of wood sculpture and acrylic paint, with the occasional addition of mixed media. He no longer works in oils because of their extended drying time. He enjoys the ease of sculpting with wood and modifying found objects – such as medallions – to fit his pieces.
“Some of the things I make, we have a love-hate [relationship],” Palacios said. “It’s very tiring and hard on me sometimes, but I just have to do it.”
Nearly all the art reflects Palacios’ two loves – religious themes and immigration rights.
“No. 1, I’m Catholic,” Palacios said. “I know a lot about immigrants. I like their stories of coming here to the United States to better themselves and have a better life for their children.”
No stranger to challenge – or sincerity
For Palacios, life is precious. He was 9 when he suddenly became violently ill. His doctor, concerned with the projectile vomiting, immediately sent Palacios for blood work and a CT scan.
The scan showed a mass, which was diagnosed as cancer. Palacios was scheduled for surgery to remove part of his cerebellum and brain stem, but his prognosis was poor.
“I was given six months to live,” he said.
As he recovered, Palacios dabbled in art and later took art classes at Bolingbrook High School. Through the years, he has refined his style, despite ongoing side effects of the cancer – which is gone – and its treatments, such as short-term memory loss, hearing loss, stunted growth and osteoporosis.
It’s for these reasons – as well as Palacios’ character – that Joe Milosevich, art professor and director of the Laura A. Sprague Art Gallery at JJC, collaborates with Palacios. Milosevich instructs Palacios, whom he calls Pierre, on an independent study basis.
Several years ago, Milosevich and Palacios even created “Common Borders,” an exhibit they showed at a Chicago gallery that depicted Mexican-American relations.
“Pierre is one of the best students I’ve ever had, and I’ve been teaching since 1979,” Milosevich said. “He’s an incredibly talented emerging artist, and as a person, he’s one of the nicest, most genuine, sweetest guys I’ve met in my life. He’d give you his last dollar. He might borrow one [dollar] from time to time, but he always gives it back.”
Palacios also has been a student worker in many capacities at JJC, Milosevich said. He has served as Milosevich’s lab assistant, as well as the lab assistant in ceramics classes and the computer lab.
Palacios volunteers in gallery, where his expertise is a good resource for students, Milosevich said.
“I like good art, but I like good people even better,” Milosevich said. “He’s both; he’s the best.”
If you go
WHAT: Pedro Palacios art exhibit
WHEN: Through Oct. 16
WHERE: Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center, 333 Madison St., Joliet
To suggest an artist for the Shirley Oberwortmann Community Art Wall at Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, contact Chris Zurales, relations coordinator, at Chris.Zurales@PresenceHealth.org.
Art will remain on display about three months. All pieces must be uplifting and reflect the hospital’s mission and values.
The Shirley Oberwortmann Community Art Wall went up in 2009 with the addition of West Tower. After her death, Shirley Oberwortmann made a sizable donation to the PSJMC Foundation.