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Along busy McCormick Boulevard from Dempster Street to Touhy Avenue bordering Evanston and in Skokie is the Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park, which has occupied the site for more than 20 years. Winding its way for two miles along the west side of Chicago’s Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s sanitary canal, this distinctive park was developed in the 1980s for cyclists, joggers, picnickers and for the installation of large-scale sculptures. The sculptures were the idea of Lewis C. Weinberg, then C.E.O. of the Fel-Pro Company, which faced the park on McCormick Boulevard. Mr. Weinberg was an avid supporter and collector of contemporary sculpture, and before he died in 2008, he saw this otherwise useless piece of land transformed into something worthwhile and pleasurable.
The idea of a site dedicated to large-scale, contemporary sculpture may have originated in the early 1960s at the Storm King Art Center on the Hudson River in New York State. By large-scale, the Guys mean sculpture too big for 99 percent of all living rooms and/or most backyards. To accommodate not just one, but many requires an expanse of land, which a former Rockefeller estate at Storm King made possible. In the Midwest several sites are devoted to such sculpture.
Two of the most impressive are the Manilow Sculpture Park at Governor’s State University, University Park and the Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Mich. Unlike the Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park (SNSP), these contain permanent collections donated by individuals. The SNSP has a number of works donated by Mr. Weinberg and his family, but the majority of the sculptures are on long-term loan from individual sculptors and are for sale. This provides not only a special opportunity for the public at large to see and enjoy the imaginative ideas of recognized and emerging artists, but also a chance to collect.
Twentieth-century masters of large sculpture, such as Henry Moore, David Smith and Andrew Goldsworthy, are not represented, nor are icons of public 19-th century sculpture – Augustus St. Gaudens, Daniel Chester French or Lorado Taft. Concepts and materials have changed. Marble and bronze are virtually passé, replaced by steel, fiberglass and other materials that not only transcend the limitations of marble and bronze, but also offer a new take on themes that have been around since the Egyptians and Greeks expressed their beliefs about life and its ambiguities in stone and metal.
The works in the SNSP are a mixture of figurative and abstract. The former are probably less complicated to understand, while the latter may leave viewers wondering. Titles hint at meaning, but viewers are essentially left to their own imaginations when interpreting the pieces. Most people are familiar with Auguste Rodin’s “Thinker,” but out of its original context it “means” a lot of things to many people. Rodin’s “Thinker” is actually a figure centrally located above his majestic work, “The Doors of Hell,” where the thoughts of “The Thinker” have practically nothing to do with later interpretations. The Getaway Guys are often baffled by the intent or “message” associated with particular works of art. A bunch of cows near a river and titled “Bovines on the Ohio” by so-and-so is easy on the brain, but something like the iconic classic “Homage to a Square” by Josef Albers (1888-1976) demands further thought.
Over the years the number of works on display at the SNSP has fluctuated, as have the identities of the sculptors. Some familiar pieces have disappeared, while others seem to be installed in perpetuity. Some may have been sold and others withdrawn for exhibition elsewhere. One of the interesting aspects of the SNSP concept is the way it evolves as new pieces are added. A number of the represented sculptors are recognized Chicago area artists, while others reside and work in other locales. The selection process, which takes place every two years, is competitive and open to all.
As usual, the Getaway Guys were split in their opinions. Neil favored the abstract works, and Alan leaned toward the figurative pieces. Neil admired “Trunnion II” by Dale Graham, “Circinus” by Drew Goerlitz and “Dry Run” by William Wareham. Alan got into “Reverie” by Shelia Oettinger, “Fairy Circle” by Mark Chatterley and “Charge I and II” by Ted Gall.
For this getaway destination the guys advise using a bicycle or feet. It is close by and costs nothing. SNSP’s website, sculpturepark.org, has more images and additional information.
Editor’s Note: The authors maintain a free website, www.getaway-chicago.com, which offers recommended outings to nearby destinations that are often overlooked, but of genuine interest and delight