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Local News

Artist’s abstract work borrows from nature

MUNDELEIN – Old wood and metal, even animal bones, dirt and dead bugs have found their way into the distinctive art of Doug DeWitt.

“My ‘found-object’ work represents relationships between humans and nature where harmony exists only through decay,” DeWitt said. “On a more positive note, they are also about playfulness and looking at commonplace things from a different point of view.”

DeWitt’s work is being featured in the exhibit “Finding Latitude” at The Art Center in Highland Park through Saturday.

By day, DeWitt, 52, of Mundelein is a restoration ecologist and project manager at Tallgrass Restoration in Schaumburg, which restores native prairie, wetland and woodland habitats by planting native species and removing invasive weeds. He also has worked as an exhibit and graphic designer at the Field Museum of Natural History and Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

DeWitt was an artist from a young age. He loved to draw and found he was rather good at it. As he grew older, his interests evolved from traditional landscape paintings to contemporary land art. DeWitt’s site-specific ecological land art is developed over many years as degraded landscapes are restored to health.

“The land art work is more about rebuilding damaged landscapes using natural elements. My art is also about the passing of time and the effects it has on all things. Perhaps my work also represents a bit of a rebellion against societal expectations in that I’m creating art that may be challenging to the viewer – not as easy to like or understand as a more traditional form of art,” he said.

Inspired by the Midwest landscape, DeWitt said his aesthetic sense was formed during childhood as he explored his grandparents’ Ohio farm.

“Much of my work seems to want to make itself and just needs me to facilitate the process,” he said.

For his object-based artwork, DeWitt uses a variety of weathered materials including wood, metal, glass, rubber, bone, soil, sticks and dead insects he finds on old farmsteads and lake shores, at flea markets, even roadside garbage bins.

“People sometimes give me things they think I’d like, which might mean they are looking at those objects more closely than they would have otherwise,” he said.

Paying it forward

Through his art, DeWitt wants to inspire people to see beyond what is obvious and often taken for granted.

For example, he said, “The human brain understands that the sky is above the horizon and the land is below the horizon. Since our brain already knows this, many colors, textures and patterns are simply overlooked because they blend in with the recognizable landscape.”

To evoke a different perspective, DeWitt turns his landscape photos sideways, challenging our typical viewpoint by distorting what we traditionally see. He feels his abstract art actually is more representative of the landscape than if he were to paint a realistic view of the scene.

Joyce DeWitt said her husband’s art has opened her mind to what art can be. “I certainly look at objects differently than I used to. An old rusty metal piece that I find on the beach is now cool and beautiful when it never would have been before I met Doug.”

DeWitt said he wants his art to be subjective and personal to each viewer.

“I’d rather just let the viewer fill that in,” he said. “From my perspective, it’s a lot about harmony through decay. The harmony may not necessarily be in our favor. It’s all about humans trying to live in this world without destroying it. But it’s also just letting myself have fun with materials that I enjoy working with.”

A lifetime of learning

Over the years, DeWitt estimates he’s created more than a thousand works of art, some taking just minutes to complete, others taking years. His ongoing ecological restoration art project, “This is Not a Garden,” began five years ago.

DeWitt displays his art in his home but also sells pieces. He also participates in five to 10 gallery exhibits each year. His work has appeared at shows throughout the Midwest, on the East Coast and even in South Korea. 

DeWitt’s work is featured in a two-person show at The Art Center in Highland Park and in group exhibits at the Highland Park City Hall, Bridgeport Art Center in Chicago and Water Street Studios in Batavia.

“I hope people are inspired to look at commonplace things in a more thoughtful way,” DeWitt said of his work. “Objects of all kinds have meaning that extends beyond how they are at first perceived, just like people.”

“Rusty junk and weathered wood was used by someone before it was discarded. An oak tree, young or old, is more than simply a tree because it’s also interacting with its environment at all times. The simple forms of spirals and concentric circles are the same things we all drew as kids, and that all the world’s primary cultures have drawn for thousands of years,” DeWitt added.

For more of DeWitt’s artwork, contact information and sale and commission inquiries, visit

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