Champaign council to consider honorary street for renowned artist Harry Breen

The next honorary street sign could be designated for renowned artist Harry Breen, who died in January.

The Champaign City Council will discuss the request Tuesday to designate West Clark Street between Prairie and Elm streets as Honorary Harry Breen Way. The honorary street would be in front of Holy Cross Catholic Church, where Breen helped renovate the interior in 1983 with “extraordinary vistas of Illinois farmlands and visions of cherubim and seraphim surrounding the blessed sacrament,” applicant Michael Franklin-White wrote.

A University of Illinois professor from 1959 to 1985, Breen was known for his landscape paintings and ceramic animal sculptures.

His works are in collections around the country and locally are on display at the home of the University of Illinois president, the Chapel of Saint Thomas More, OSF Medical Center, the Meyer Capel Law Office, Busey Bank and Kranner Center for the Performing Arts.

He and his wife Diane, who has since passed, received medals from Pope John Paul II in 1993 and later presented the pope with one of his paintings.

After Holy Cross, Breen designed the renovations for seven more churches, including two cathedrals.

Breen died Jan. 2 at age 90 due to complications from COVID-19, according to his obituary.

Franklin-White mailed the request last June, but it didn’t arrive at the city until November, according to a city staff memo. If approved, this would be the second honorary street designation this year, after the Black Lives Matter honorary street was approved for the stretch of Chester Street in front of the City Building.

The city allows up to four honorary street designations per year, and they last for 10 years.

Meyer Capel attorney David Sholem, who wrote a letter in support of the designation, said Breen’s painting of a Champaign County farm scene hangs in the law firm’s first floor conference room, along with several of his watercolor paintings of rural scenes in downstate Illinois.

Sholem called Breen a “delightful, talented guy.”

“I can think of no one who is more deserving of such recognition,” Sholem wrote.

Franklin-White wrote that Breen’s “rendition of prairie clouds is legendary.”

In addition to being a great artist, Franklin-Write wrote that Breen “is a humanitarian, much loved by his students to whom he has been kind and generous.”