If you have visited downtown Effingham in the past few days, you may have noticed some portraits on the buildings.

That’s thanks to a grant from Illinois Humanities to the Effingham Public Library for a project titled, “Effingham at the Crossroads of Education.” Effingham was one of 10 projects selected statewide to receive a grant from Illinois Humanities.

Assistant Director Johnna Schultz said she found the Illinois Humanities grant opportunity in May for a community resilience project. She said the grant opportunity paired artists and writers to capture the experiences of community resiliency during COVID-19 pandemic.

She said her first thought was to highlight the different ways education was being delivered this year.

“I reached out to Tytia Habing and she suggested we should try a portrait series that featured teachers, students and administrators with masks on or off,” Schultz said.

Habing, a professional photographer, created all of the portraits for the project while Schultz is taking interview questions from people in the portrait and writing a profile for each portrait. Twenty people were photographed, 18 from Effingham County and two from Sigel in Shelby County. Schultz said portraits and interviews will be posted on the Effingham Public Library by mid-October.

Schultz became familiar with Habing’s work after Habing photographed the library opening in Sept. of 2016 and thought Habing would be a perfect fit for the project.

“Administrators are having to oversee in-person classes as well as remote learning,” Schultz said. “Teachers have to teach their regular classes with their masks on, then have to turn around and teach remote classes too.”

“It’s challenging this year. I think it’s amazing how the community has stepped up by working together for the best interest of the students,” Schultz said.

Habing spent most of Wednesday morning and afternoon posting the 20 portraits for the project on brick walls throughout downtown.

“We started on this project a couple of months ago,” Habing said. “The library interviewed them and the I took photos.”

“It took a while to get everybody scheduled,” Habing said. “We photographed everyone outside because they obviously didn’t want us to go into the schools.”

Habing said after she took the photos each photo was printed out on a special 20 lb. bond paper used for architectural drawings at Dean’s Superior Blueprint Inc. in Champaign. She then added a black background to the printed portraits then accented each one with silver and gold paint and markers. The special thin paper is needed to attach the portraits to the wall with a bio-degradable wheat paste made from flour and water.

Photography has been part of her life since she took her first darkroom photography class in 1998 and a second photography class during her 1999 semester as electives while pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. Habing graduated from the University of Illinois in 1999. She also received a Bachelor of Science degree in Horticulture from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale in 1992. She is a 1987 graduate of Effingham High School.

She spent 16 years on the Cayman Islands before returning to Watson with her son and husband in 2011 close to where she grew up. She visited the Cayman Islands with a friend during spring break while attending the University of Illinois in 1994. She came back to Illinois to finish out her semester and put her last year of university studies on hold returning to the Cayman Islands to find a job. Habing came back to the University of Illinois in 1998 to finish her Bachelor of Science degree.

She started taking photos professionally nine years ago for advertising and editorial projects and her photos have appeared in several magazines including SIERRA Magazine, The Sun, National Geographic and F-Stop magazine to name a few, received several accolades for her photography, participated in several solo and group fine art shows and featured on CNN Photos in May of 2016 for a series of photos she created for a project featuring her son Tharin.

The following is a list of portraits of students, administrators and teachers with their location in downtown Effingham

Wiedman Dry Cleaning – Talitha Wiedman, 2nd Grade Teacher South Side and Sophia Baldyga, student

Bike & Hike – Tharin Arsenault student and Ronan Bailey, student

Joe Sippers – Charlotte Habing, 4th Grade Teacher, Sigel St Michael Grade School and Cameron Budde, student

Effingham Family Dental – Christy Dietzen, Teacher, Buckeye Friends School and Cooper Volpi, student

The Library – Martha & Jackson Stice, homeschooling family

CEFS Building – Amy Nice, Librarian, Teutopolis Schools Unit 50 and Remington Hutson, student

The Blend – Jacy Boatman, student

America’s Groove – Ashley Meers, Junior High Science Teacher, Altamont Grade School & Adeline Bailey, student

H&R Block – Amber Kidd, Principal of ASPIRE and Tri-Star Academy

Joe’s Pizza – Jenny Seachrist, Special Programs Coordinator, Unit 40

Old Subway Office – Stacey Zerrusen, Dieterich Art Teacher

Effingham Daily News – Julie Flach, Technology Integration Specialist, Effingham Unit 40 and Mary Mendoza, student

An Instagram page was created to display portraits from the project: instagram.com/crossroads_of_education/

Charles Mills can be reached at charles.mills@effinghamdailynews.com or by phone at 217-347-7151 ext. 126.

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Reporter/Videographer

Charles Mills is reporter and videographer for the Effingham Daily News. A 1983 graduate of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, he worked as senior video editor for a Nashville television station. He is a native of Vandalia.

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