Mike Venezia
1945 -   Class of 2008  Visual Arts / Literary Arts
While writing a book on cosmology and astrophysics isn’t exactly Mike Venezia’s “cup of tea,” especially when he must do it in only 32 papes and make it understandable, he’s up for the challenge.  As the author of hundreds of children’s books highlighting inventors, scientists, presidents, artists, and composers, the Glen Ellyn resident left behind a lucrative 33-year career in advertising to pursue his passion as artist and author.

Mike Venezia has been working in various capacities since the 1960s to promote and expand art awareness.  Born in New York City in 1945, he grew up in the Fox River Heights area north of St. Charles, Illinois, on the east side of the Fox River, and in 1963 graduated from Willowbrook High School in Villa Park.

While a sophomore in high school, Mike salvaged and then donated important architectural samples from Louis Sullivan’s Schiller Building/Garrick Theatre in downtown Chicago.  The items obtained during the 1962 demolition included a terra cotta bust of Thomas Jefferson that was given to his high school.
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“I’ve always been a storyteller,” he explained.  “I base all my research on me when I was 9.  What if other kids were like I was and want to know, what’s the big deal with Picasso?”  So Mike began his Getting to Know… series, recognizing early on how difficult it would be to explain Van Gogh’s ear mutilation and Bill Clinton’s questionable affairs.

In 1968, Mike received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago.  Just a year earlier, he began his 33-year career in advertising at the Leo Burnett Company in Chicago as assistant art director.  Consistently promoted thereafter until he became a vice president in 1991, Mike created hundreds of print ads and television commercials for such major clients as General Motors, Pillsbury, Hallmark, Kraft Foods, Mars Corporation, Kellogg’s, and McDonalds.  He also did creative work for Easter Seals promoting their telethon and designing stamps.

Mike Venezia learned the principles of design, history of art, and storytelling both in college and the corporate world.  While employed at Leo Burnett and starting in 1978, he wrote and illustrated sixty books for his Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists and Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Composers series, which were published by Children’s Press/Scholastic.  Rembrandt and Picasso were his first two biographies, and like his other books, featured reproductions of the artists’ actual paintings.

Starting in 2001, Mike pursued writing and illustrating children’s books full-time.  In 2007, he completed a series of 42 books, Getting to Know the U.S. Presidents, and he is currently compiling a series on inventors and scientists.  He has also written and directed a series of animated videos based on his books.  

“I really believe that art and music are what makes life worth living and if that can be instilled in a kid in a fun way so that they’re not afraid of it, then my books have been a success.”  His fact-filled, humorous approach has made learning about the giants of art, music, and history enjoyable and understandable for young readers.  Today, his books have been translated into five foreign languages, and more than 4 million copies have been sold.  Dozens may be found on the shelves in the Ryan Education Center of the new Modern Wing at the Chicago Art Institute.

Original illustrations from his more than 100 books were exhibited in a one-man show at the Art Institute of Chicago in the spring of 1999.  A member of several professional art associations, Mike has been interviewed for national newspaper and magazine articles, which have included professional journals for teachers, the Chicago Tribune, and Art News.

Counted among his speaking engagements are Carnegie Hall, the Art Institute, the University of Iowa, Bradley University, the Phoenix Art Museum, and locally, the Naperville Art League.  He frequently speaks to students in schools in the Fox Valley area and across the country and serves as a judge at art shows.

Mike won the American Library Association’s Notable Children’s Video Award for his animated Monet, VanGogh, and DaVinci videos.  In 2000, he was honored by the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans with the Giubileo Award – Man of the Year for the Arts.

According to Mike, “It’s a great honor being inducted into the Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame, much more important than a national award, as it just has a feel of closeness to where you live.”

Learn more about Mike Venezia at: www.mikevenezia.com
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 Artist, videographer, and author of more than 100 children’