Art of our own; Public sculptures and murals celebrate suburban culture
November 30, 2001 — Source: Naperville Sun, The (IL) — Author: Michael Kapellas
Sometimes works of public art can be a little more subtle than a herd of colorful cattle lumbering down the sidewalk.
Some we pass a couple times each day on our way to and from work or to the store.
Some are right under our noses.
Each attempts to make the everyday surroundings a little less mundane.
Alan Leder, director of the visual arts program for the Illinois Arts Council, said more communities are implementing works of public art as a way to distinguish themselves.
"There does seem to be a trend throughout suburban communities in the greater Chicagoland area are looking into creating or exploring a public arts project," Leder said.
"A lot of suburban communities do look alike.
If you create something to stop people in their tracks, a public arts project can help build a community.
How many times do people come into (Chicago) and want to go to a suburb? But if they start to create a public art exhibit, who knows?"
Some communities have been home to works of public art for many years.
Here are a few pieces you might pass on a daily basis -- and who and what are behind them.
WHEATON Sometimes, art pops up in the most unusual places.
Al Rose, who owns the office building at 104 E. Roosevelt Road in Wheaton, wanted to put something in front of the building when it was constructed in the late 1980s.
"We were looking for something to make more of a statement," Rose said.
"To distinguish it."
Consider it done.
On a street lined with trees and the occasional McDonald's, the apple-red sculpture -- which some people have said resembles a paper clip -- stands out like a star in the night.
The sculpture is merely living up to its name.
Bruce White, a professor at Northern Illinois University, constructed the piece and named it "Nunkie" after a star in Sagittarius that is used by the space program for navigational purposes.
LEMONT A nod to history looks out from a building at Canal and Stephens streets in Lemont.
The mural, commissioned in 1975 to celebrate America's approaching bicentennial, celebrates the history of the village, which was incorporated in 1873.
Running through the mural, just as it runs through the village, is the Illinois and Michigan Canal.
The mural also includes steeples, which represent the historic churches in Lemont, the Argonne National Laboratory and -- added during the most recent restoration -- a blue heron.
Caryl Yasko, a Wisconsin artist, painted the mural and worked on its fifth restoration in 2000.
The mural also emphasizes the importance of women in the village's history by placing a woman working alongside the men excavating limestone.
Although women historically didn't work in Lemont's quarry, her presence in the mural was meant to symbolize the support women gave to men, according to Nancy Uznanski, president of the Lemont Artists' Guild.
The mural took on even more symbolism with its most recent restoration, Uznanski said.
Sonia Kallic, the storied Lemont historian and author, had her image painted as the visage of the woman working in the quarry.
Not only is the mural representative of the community, it also represents the handiwork of the town.
During each restoration, everyone in the community is invited to pick up a paintbrush and join in with a few strokes.
NAPERVILLE Standing sentry over Burlington Park just south of the Burlington Northern train stop in Naperville is a piece of historic art that resonates even more now as American soldiers fight overseas.
The statue is a tribute to those who died in World War I, including six Naperville residents.
Age has left the statue, which hundreds of people walk by every day, greener than old cheese.
The barbed wire at the doughboy's feet dangles off his pedestal, and while his right hand still firmly holds a grenade, his left hand is missing.
But, according to Brand Bobosky, president of Naperville's Century Walk, his organization is working with the Naperville Park District and the VFW to determine the cost of restoring the circa 1921 statue.
Work should begin within the next year.
The statue went up before World War I even garnered a Roman numeral, as the statue's inscription indicates.
"To perpetuate the memory of veterans of the World War 1914-1918," it reads.
The doughboy statue was one of about 134 made by an Indiana artist for communities across America, Bobosky said.
"Ninety-nine out of 100 Napervillians probably don't know that the doughboy is dedicated to the soldiers who served in World War I," he said.
LISLE It's a real zoo outside the Lisle Library on Front Street.
Well, it's not a real zoo, but it's a reasonable facsimile.
The Children's Sculpture Garden, which is home to 18 animal sculptures that call the retention pond in front of the library home.
Sponsored by the Friends of the Lisle Library, the garden's first piece went in shortly after the library opened at its Front Street location in 1982, and has grown to include a lamb, pig, duck and ducklings, frogs and a zebra -- which looks even bigger than those you'd see at the zoo.
There are two pieces left to be added to the collection and they're even bigger than the zebra.
Irv Goldstein, president of the Friends of the Lisle Library, said a llama and a giraffe, which will each cost about $5,000, will eventually find a home in the garden.
"We know that children are able to appreciate it better than adults," Goldstein said.
"Some adults might say it's pieces of junk put together, but it isn't. It's well done."
Robert Cumpston, a retired farmer from Colfax, Ill., is the artist behind the sculptures, which are
"We believe in doing things for the children," Goldstein said.
"The library is more than an area for books.
It's a cultural area.
These pieces of sculpture are cultural."
PLAINFIELD Golf courses, with their splendid landscapes and plush green settings, have inspired more than a few artists to put brush to canvas.
"Prairie to City," a mural on Caton Farm Road at the west end of Wedgewood Golf Course, is just as beautiful as anything you'll see on the 18 holes around it.
The 10-foot-by-28-foot, two-sided mural depicts images of the prairie before it was settled, the farmers who settled it and the neighborhoods that now occupy it.
The mural also has an image of the Rialto Square Theatre, the jewel of downtown Joliet, which reminds the burgeoning far west side of town of its roots.
The mural is a project of the Friends of Public Art, a Joliet organization that has been the catalyst behind the nearly 100 pieces of public art on display throughout the city, according to Kathleen Farrell, one of the founders of the organization and its president.
Kathleen Scarboro was the lead artist on one side of the mural and Javier Chavira was the lead artist on the other side.
Both sides share one thing in common: Each has names of farm families, such as Cryder and Eisenbrandt, whose farms used to sit on the land that in recent years has turned into neighborhood upon neighborhood.
"Since so many cities look so much alike, with strip malls and the same chains of restaurants and grocery stores, being able to celebrate the uniqueness of your community develops pride," Farrell said.
"Public art is part of making people connected to their community and getting involved.
I think it's especially important in new areas."
ST. CHARLES There's a piece of public art in St. Charles that jumps right out at you.
Following the theme of the Fox Chase subdivision, where all road names end in Course (a term for the way a horse runs a race), there is a life-size depiction of a girl on the back of a jumping horse standing at the entry of the subdivision.
The piece was done by artist Clemente Spimanato.
It fits in -- according to Pat Francis, the chairman of the Public Art Committee in St. Charles -- with St. Charles' rich history of emphasizing public art, especially in the historic downtown.
Francis said the public art group is a couple months away from finishing its master plan, which will consist of about 30 projects, most of which will blend into the downtown cityscape.
"Public art enriches the lives of people who live in a community, work there and play there," Francis said.
"People do not plan a trip to a dull city.
AN ARRAY OF ART Other public art works in area suburbs include:
* Aurora: "Swimming Stones," a fountain sculpture by German artist Christian Tobin, is in downtown Aurora at Stolp Avenue and Benton Street. Tobin, who has designed sculptures in Germany, South Africa, South Korea and the Princess Diana Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens in London, sculpted four 4,000-pound, 12-foot granite obelisks. It was commissioned in 2000 by the Aurora Public Art Commission.
* Batavia: "ArtStop 1," a sculpture garden, is a work in progress at Route 25 and Wilson Street. The plan is to place four sculptures atop limestone pods in the garden and rotate in new sculptures every six months until the re-routing of Route 25 is completed, about two years from now. One of the four pods is designated to be used for student sculptures. The first sculptures are scheduled to be installed in December. The Batavia Mainstreet Design committee continues to solicit works of art.
* Downers Grove: Work is just finishing on the mural in the Downers Grove Public Library, 1050 Curtiss St. The mural is a stylized version of the Burlington Northern train route from Aurora to Chicago. Most of the 40-foot-by-4-foot mural, which is being created by Aurora artist John McDavitt, focuses on the sights of downtown Downers Grove. "By actually using Downers Grove it really does emphasize the library's place in the community," said library director Christopher Bowen.
* Frankfort: Books aren't the only thing to view at the Frankfort Library, 21119 S. Pfeiffer Road. In September they dedicated the J. Edward Mahoney Sculpture Garden, which features five pads to house sculptures outside the library. "It's something that enhances the experience of the entire community," said Detlev Pansch, the library's administrative librarian. "It makes us a cultural institution that services all the arts."
* Mokena: If it's possible for a mural to fall in your lap, then just that happened at the Mokena Public Library, 11327 W. 195th St. In 1999, Jenn Higgins, who worked as a page at the library before heading to the University of Illinois to study art, painted the mural heading down the stairs toward the children's section of the library. She did it for cost. "We didn't have $5,000 to spend on this kind of work," said library director Phyllis Jacobek. "And it wouldn't have meant as much because of all of Jenn's hard work."
Lemont artist Caryl Yasko, wearing white, prepares to work on the Lemont Bicentennial Mural, which she and assistant Mila Mila, right, are restoring after 25 years of wear. Yasko originally painted the mural. (Herrle photo) -- John McDavitt of Aurora paints a train mural in the children's section of the Downers Grove Public Library. (Klein photo)