Thursday, June 19, 2014

Fort Sheridan's Arc of Nature

A couple of years ago you could see a beautiful oculus of a mosaic on the North Branch of the Chicago River, entitled Rora.  The lovely work won an Honor Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects in 1999, and was the creation of Ginny Sykes.  Unfortunately, the section of the work that could be seen from the river was removed due to the deteriorating condition of the old Erie Street bridge abutment upon which it was displayed.

Rora by Ginny Sykes -- Locus Tree by Nature (JWB Photo)
I had heard some time ago that there was a way to see another work that Ginny Sykes had a hand in, hidden under a viaduct at Fort Sheridan.  I got a chance to search it out on Tuesday when I paid a visit to the old Army base, once my home, and nosed around a little bit.  After limping down a three-story stairway, I found it . . . beneath the Patten Road bridge that lifts that road over another lane, now closed to automobile traffic, that used to carry cars full of bathers down to the enlisted men’s beach at Fort Sheridan.  This is now part of the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, which is R-E-A-L-L-Y cool.  If you have an extra hour or so, and you are up on the North Shore, this is one little trek that you may want to consider.

The work is worth the walk (JWB Photo)
Arc of Nature, which was placed there in 2010, is the work of Ginny Sykes and Augusina Droze, working with the Chicago Public Art Group.  According to Ms. Sykes’s website the work

. . .  speaks to the particular ecosystem within the ravine environment and the ongoing restoration work of the ravine.  Meant to inspire and engage visitors as they walk the ravine towards the lake, the mural suggests real and metaphoric connections between the variety of human experiences of nature, as part of nature, and that of nature within a larger cosmology.  The breadth of scale of the work is meant to suggest the sweeping sense of openness and peace that can be found in this area.

It all works – all of the glass tile, the painted surfaces, the aluminum rays – make sense.  A bridge crosses over a road, a road that once carried car after car down to the lakeshore.  Looking at the work of art, you forget the bridge as much as you are able, and you stand on a shaded and winding lane in the bottom of a lakeshore ravine, within hearing distance of waves on the lake, which occasionally get confused with traffic overhead.

Arc of Nature, Openlands Lakeshore Preserve (JWB Photo)
As I stood there, I remembered the old days, when this was a real road with cars carrying real people, many of them dead now, down to the lake, so eager, I suppose for a few hours in the sun, that they didn’t notice the nature that surrounded them. 

At this place we notice it now.  And that’s a good thing.

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