Midway Village Museum recently acquired a portrait of Winston Ward, a former slave who built a new life as a free man in Rockford, Illinois. The painting is now on display as part of the Many Faces, One Community exhibit, featuring Ward's life and legacy. This acquisition is an exciting addition to the museum's collection and is essential to celebrate African-American history in the Land of Lincoln.

Winston Ward's Life

Winston Ward was born a slave in Tennessee, somewhere between 1833 and 1841. During the Civil War, he was befriended by a group of Rockford residents who helped him move north following Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. A local lumber dealer and Civil War veteran, Marshall Regan, helped Ward acquire five acres on Rural Street. Although Rockford's black population was small at this time, Ward's neighborhood was integrated and included several other former slaves and their families.

Over the years, Ward worked as a laborer, carpenter, and gardener. He raised his family on Rural St. and, in 1900, the census recorded that Ward owned his house free and clear without a mortgage. Winston Ward lived a long and fruitful life in Rockford, and his memory is the perfect way to honor African-American history here in the Land of Lincoln.

Keith Kelly/Dickerson & Nieman
Keith Kelly/Dickerson & Nieman

The Painting and the Artist

The painting is dated 1929 and is signed by well-known local artist J. William Hallquist. Hallquist was born in Rockford in 1895 to Swedish immigrants, studied art in New York, and at the Chicago Art Institute. Among his publicly displayed portraits were those of local ministers and industrialists. How Hallquist came to paint Ward remains a mystery. The painting hung for many years in the offices of Reno & Zahm, LLP, before the recent donation to the collections of Midway Village Museum.

Here is an audio clip of the press conference Midway Village had to unveil this artwork.

What's Next?

There is always more to learn, and the museum team has a lot of questions they want to keep digging into to get a comprehensive look at things. They are keen on finding out more about the earliest of the Sanborn Fire insurance maps to see the shape of the house and determine whether it was added on over the years or not.

Additionally, the team is also interested in learning more about the artist himself and his family. Midway Village Museum has one other portrait by Hallquist, and the Rockford Art Museum has included him in some of their exhibits from time to time. They suspect that when they are ready to look down that path, they will find a file on him as well.

Midway Village Museum's acquisition of Winston Ward's portrait is an exciting development that highlights the importance of African-American history in Rockford, Illinois. By sharing Ward's story, the museum is keeping the memory of the fight against slavery and the ideal of freedom enshrined in the Emancipation Proclamation alive.

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