“Sunset Foods feels like a neighborhood – it’s a place where you can run into someone from down the street, talk to someone who knows your name and exchange a recipe, or talk about what your children are up to,” says longtime Lake Bluff shopper and artist Sandra Bacon of her favorite place to shop.
Reminiscing on the five-store gourmet grocery’s longstanding history in the community, and its unparalleled food and customer service offered, Bacon awakened her native language of painting to show her appreciation.
“This store feels like a throwback to old time graciousness; managers who have worked [at Sunset Foods] for many years are nattily dressed in stylish suits with bright colored shirts and complementary ties,” says Bacon about the special connection she has with Sunset Foods, and the edge it has. “The staff [always offers to] bring your groceries to the car.”
That old-timey and neighborhood-like feel within each store inspired Bacon to create a mural unlike other artworks she’d rendered before. The work of art symbolizes how much Sunset Foods means to the artist, and to the greater community the stores service.
“Painting this mural [in Lake Forest] felt like being embraced,” says Bacon, who has been painting murals since winning a competition in painting a Queens grocery store back in the ‘80s. “When I explained that the message was for Sunset Foods to say ‘thank you,’ people thanked me for bringing in color.”
Inspiration for elements in the mural came from every food angle. The painting’s main elements separate vertically into three tiers, with a banner-like “Thank you, Sunset Foods” message toward the top, a scenery snapshot in the middle and an array of vegetables at the bottom; these elements are flanked on both sides by many foods from seafood to salad to macarons. The mural came together through a combination of house paints (for the background) and Golden acrylics (a professional acrylic).
“I have been waiting to paint this my whole life,” says Bacon about the opportunity of a lifetime, and how the creative process drew inspiration from store employees and customers alike.
When looking closely at the mural’s design elements, the seafood depiction mirrors how fish is flown in fresh; the wine sommelier makes superb suggestions, and how the flower shop provides a lovely ambiance, according to Bacon. But rather than taking full credit for creating this mural, Bacon insists others played integral roles as well.
“The idea for this mural came from Chris Puszynski, a longtime customer of the store and a student of mine from my drawing/painting class I teach at Deerpath Art League,” says Bacon of the process that started in October 2017 but only began materializing later on in warmer weather conditions. “[Puszynski] imagined a mural on the wall and approached John Cortesi. We went through seven to eight ideas for the style of the mural.”
Like any skilled artist, Bacon created multiple sketches well before executing the finishing stages.
“My original sketches were more traditional, showing the story of the grocery store [founded in 1937] centered on the [vintage] car along a road that showed local farms and history,” says the Maryland Institute College of Art alumnus of her preliminary painting stages. “We worked collaboratively with the staff, [who] encouraged me to come up with a style that felt more modern.”
After reviewing chalkboard murals near restaurants throughout the Chicagoland area, Bacon settled on a style.
“I would say [this] is bold, fresh and inspired by a ‘woodblock’ look,” says the fine art painter and muralist. “We tried to combine some of the store’s history with images of food and symbols of the store’s philosophy [of valuing locally-sourced product and providing quality customer service, too].”
Canvases vary for Bacon – she’s painted inside of the Lake Bluff train station, in schools, on a lighthouse near the John Hancock building, and so on. As president of “Artist on the Bluff,” Bacon also serves as a “Working Artist” for Golden paint (specializing in acrylic paints) and enjoys teaching the craft of painting throughout the Midwest. You might even find Bacon teaching a workshop or two at a Sunset Foods store near you in the near future.