Tommy Nevin’s Pub once stood where sculptor and mosaic artist Anna Soltys’ latest sculpture now stands, just south of the Albion Evanston high-rise at 1500 Sherman Ave. The sinuous 15-foot-long by 10.5-foot-high piece is named Amalga and is made of steel, dense foam and fiberglass, with mosaic tiles applied to its curving indentations.
The glossy white sculpture, minus its mosaic tiles, was brought from Soltys’ studio to the site by truck, where it was bolted to two concrete piers. Soltys and an assistant glued and grouted the mosaic pieces onsite. Passersby were able to watch the painstaking process. The colored mosaic tiles are high fire tiles from Italy, and others are mirrored.
Soltys said that the sculpture’s title, Amalga, is derived from the idea of amalgamation, or the action, process or result of combining or uniting. “The biggest factor in the creation of this piece is the importance of looking past the exterior or shell of the living to understand the monumental depth of its core.”
Since its arrival in 2020, Soltys said viewers have been excited about how the piece changes depending on where it is viewed from. Soltys said she particularly likes hearing children respond to it.
“They will ask me what it is, and I ask them what they see. I’ve heard elephant, ghost, human doing a backbend … this is where the mind and soul meet: when we try to take familiar thoughts and patterns and connect them to what resonates within ourselves. My work is never truly spelled out, because the most important parts to me live in the space between what we want, and what is.”
Soltys is a graduate of Haven Middle School and Evanston Township High School. Before coming to Chicago in 1989 and Evanston in 1991, she spent her childhood in Poland and then lived in Paris for six years. Soltys studied fine art at Ball State University and Columbia College Chicago, focusing on a variety of art practices. During those years, she explored 2D and 3D media such as painting, ceramics, collage, drawing and jewelry making. She has been creating public art (soltysart.com) in the Chicago area for almost 20 years.
The sculpture was approved by the Evanston Arts Council, which advises private developers in the selection of works of art for settings accessible to the public. The developer made a one-time contribution of $50,000 to the city’s Public Art Fund for “installation of a piece of public art and a light program to benefit the immediate neighborhood.”
Soltys’ work is not the only sculptural element that is part of the park.
The south “wall” of two levels of the Albion’s parking garage is a broken plane of suspended aluminum squares that flutter in the wind, creating patterns and sounds. Called a “kinetic wall,” this sculptural element uses rubber gaskets to reduce the noise of its metal “petals.”
“They are light enough to move in the wind and big enough to create an interesting effect,” said Paul Alessandro, a partner in the Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture firm, which designed the Albion and the kinetic wall.
Kinetic walls of various designs have increasingly been used to screen parking garages, improving their exterior appearances and allowing light and air to filter into the garages.
A public park and public art as ‘public benefits’
In order to justify zoning variations required for city approval of the Albion planned development project, the developers committed to providing a number of “public benefits.” The park and Amalga are two of those public benefits. Among the zoning variations granted were those for density, lot coverage, building height and building setback. According to the approved ordinance conditions, 75% of the park must be maintained for public use.
While Tommy Nevin’s Pub is not returning, Amalga and the kinetic wall will soon share the park with outdoor diners from a new Dollop Coffee Company enterprise, opening later this year in the south end of the Albion’s ground floor.