Five hundred years ago, only royalty had their portraits painted; it was an affirmation of their dignity. The Old Town Portrait Project will allow ordinary people who live or work in the Old Town community to submit a photo of their choosing to Art on Sedgwick, so that each person maintains control of their own representation.

Veteran Chicago artist, John Bakker, will then use these photos to create hand painted portraits that will last over 100 years. The concentrated focus on each individual is an affirmation, an embodiment of the intrinsic dignity of the people who make up the neighborhood. Bakker has completed similar projects in Roseland and Galesburg.

Each portrait is hand painted on a wooden box with a hand lettered biography that tells the story of those pictured on the side.

What will it look like?

Assembled boxes for the Galesburg Portrait Project
The completed Galesburg Portrait Project

How to be a part of it?

The Old Town Portrait Project is at the very beginning. When complete, it will be a moveable mural 20 feet wide by 7 feet high with more than 400 portraits. We need your help because we need your photos! You can send in a photo of yourself — or with their permission — of your children, your significant other, your parents, your grandparents, etc. Please keep in mind that any photos submitted to the project and turned into a portrait will be on public display and both your original photo and portrait may be featured on social media or other materials related to the project.

What kind of photos should I submit?

  • Headshots of 1 or 2 people
  • Please submit the original digital photo from your phone or camera without compressing (the file size of Facebook photos is too small)
  • Light from the side is better

It can be a photo at a special occasion — weddings, graduations, birthdays, baptisms, backyard BBQs, holidays — or just your favorite photo of yourself. Include a bit about your story with your photo with the email submission of your photo. A brief biography will be hand printed on the side panel of your portrait so that in 100 years people will still know who you were. Who are you? How long have you lived or worked in Old Town? If it’s a special photo, include why.

For each person you send, please include:

  1. Their full name.
  2. Where they grew up, schools attended, etc.
  3. How long they’ve lived or worked in Old Town.
  4. What do they do now?
  5. What would their friends say about them?
  6. What is their superpower?
  7. Or other information you want to share!

These Old Town neighbors submitted their original photos
and were transformed into completed portraits.

What does it cost to participate?

Nothing. It’s free. Art on Sedgwick is sponsoring the project so that everyone can participate. It’s yet another good thing that Art on Sedgwick is doing to make Old Town a more cohesive, vibrant neighborhood. Why is Art on Sedgwick sponsoring this? Because this art draws us all together, literally in this case. 

Do I get to keep my portrait?

No, all the portraits in the project need to stay together. However, it will be in Old Town and you could be a part of Old Town history forever.

Submit your photo to

This project is supported in part by a CityArts Grant from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and by community grants from the Related Affordable Foundation and Old Town Triangle Association.

John Bakker


John Bakker is a Chicago based artist. His work has been represented by two of Chicago’s most significant Chicago galleries in the 80s and 90s: Marianne Deson and Deson Saunders. His work is included in private collections including Vivian Day and John Stroh in Detroit, corporate collections such as Steelcase Corporation in Munich, Germany, and public collections such as the city of Chicago’s Office of Public Art and the Sloan Collection at Valparaiso University.


His work has been exhibited in the Midwest and across the country. In 2015, he was the Knox College Artist-in-Residence where he produced the Galesburg Portrait Project. Currently, he is producing a seventh portrait project for the Roseland neighborhood on Chicago’s south side.

Bakker is also an educator. From 1982-2014 he chaired of the Department of Art and Design at Trinity Christian College in Chicago’s south suburb of Palos Heights where he still teaches. Among the graduates of Trinity’s program are prominent artists, designers, highly placed art world professionals, professors and educators.

Bakker currently serves as the director of Trinity’s Seerveld Gallery, a premier site for serious contemporary art in Chicago’s south suburbs. He has held this position periodically over the last four decades.


See the project as it develops portrait by portrait, one neighbor at a time by following along on social media.



  • Help Art on Sedgwick expand the project and fulfill our goals.
  • We are still raising funds as each portrait costs around $300 for materials and labor.
  • Contact Charlie Branda to learn about sponsorship opportunities.

Donations of any
amount are welcome.

Sample Portraits from John Bakker’s last Portrait Project in Roseland