Cornfields Inspire Sculptures by Illinois Artist Herb Eaton

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Illinois artists

Herb Eaton. Photo by Michael Tedesco

Herb Eaton grew up on a corn farm in Peoria, but until he started selling band instruments in nearby communities at age 21, he never really noticed the beauty of the fields surrounding him.

“I actually became entranced by the voluptuous spread that I live in, and realized that this is part of who I am and what I am,” says Eaton, known for his depictions of corn through watercolor, oil paint, metal, fiberglass and mixed media. “It took me quite a few years to actually kind of internalize that and start making images of corn, and just simply painting and drawing the plant and trying to find out what was truthful to me about it.”

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Fueled by an interest in industrial products, two decades ago Eaton started sculpting tassels, stalks and cobs in stainless steel and aluminum. He can hardly contain his excitement as he talks about his latest bronze casting of a boy holding a cornstalk “spear” on the Bradley University campus in Peoria.

“I’ve kind of elevated this stuff we grow out here, these vast fields of grainy grasses, into a banner,” he says. “Medieval knights would go with their pictures of growling bears and lions and bulls, and I gave this boy an ear of corn. There’s a certain humor to that, you know.”

Customers who’ve moved from the Corn Belt to the West Coast often visit Eaton Studio & Gallery in downtown Bloomington to purchase a reminder of home. (The storefront is under renovation and will reopen in 2019.)

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After all these years, Eaton’s fascination with corn remains strong. “I think everything is about a story,” he says. “That’s what an artist should be – writers, musicians, whatever. Corn is the image from the story of my life.”

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