Iowa artist Laurie Allen and her husband, John, take a trolley tour through Naperville in March to get acquainted with the city. Allen is making a watercolor painting, "The ABCs of Naperville," to benefit the Jeanine Nicarico Memorial Fund for Literacy.
The first time artist Laurie Allen "did an alphabet" was shortly after her friend's mother passed away. As a tribute to Elisha Darlin, several friends came up with a reading, "An Alphabet for Elisha." "As they were reading off the letters, I could see pictures dancing before my eyes," Allen said. "I started working on little drawings using pen and ink and watercolor and I eventually gave it to my friend."
The project was so well-received, and Allen enjoyed working on it so much, she soon began doing similar ABC projects, including one for her hometown of Dubuque, Iowa. She's also done drawings for Galena, Ill., and Door County, Wis., and does alphabet-based drawings for special occasions such as anniversaries.
Most recently, members of the Jeanine Nicarico Memorial Foundation for Literacy commissioned Allen to design "The ABCs of Naperville." Money raised from sales of the print will benefit the foundation, which works to promote literacy in the name of Jeanine Nicarico, a 10-year-old Naperville girl who was kidnapped and murdered in 1983.
Barb Jansz, a member of the foundation and recently retired River Woods Elementary School teacher, found Allen's work at a store in Galena.
"She called and asked if I would be interested in doing one for Naperville and I said sure," Allen said, "especially since it's for a worthy cause."
In early March, Allen and her husband visited Naperville to get ideas and "a flavor of the community" for the drawing, she said. While here, she met with members of the foundation and, among other things, visited Naper Settlement and took a trolley tour of the city.
Second-graders from across Naperville also submitted suggestions for the alphabet project, said Kitty Ryan, principal of Kingsley Elementary School. Allen will take these suggestions into consideration as she completes "The ABCs of Naperville," Ryan said.
An educational audiologist during the day, Allen said she has always had an interest in the arts. However, it wasn't until 1989 that she rediscovered her creative side after a good friend who was an art instructor talked her into taking a drawing class.
"I was hooked," she said. "And once I got hooked, I wanted to do more and more."
After the initial drawing she did in memory of Darlin in the early 1990s, people asked Allen to create more alphabet projects. To many, especially in her hometown, she is known as the ABC lady.
Of the ABC drawings, Allen describes them as "a little bit historical, (whimsical) and nostalgic."
"Hopefully it will provide some information a person didn't know about or trigger a memory," she said. "I try to incorporate some local things that are meaningful to local residents."
She also likes to include little surprises, she said. For example, one might expect B to portray the beach in Naperville and C to stand for carillon. Instead, she said, "the beach might be in the Naperville ABCs, but it might not necessarily be under B."
Along with each print, which Allen said typically are reproduced so they are easy to frame, she includes a key with explanations about the drawings.
In some cases, Allen finds creative ways to represent certain letters. For example, on one project she did, "ABCs for School Days," she drew two pencils crossed together to form the letter X.
Allen is now working on "The ABCs of Naperville" and expects to have a draft completed by the end of June, she said. She will then take the drawing to the Nicarico Foundation for final approval.
 Contact staff writer Melissa Franic at email@example.com or call her at (630) 416-5103.