Ruth Ann Frazier is the sculptor of the abstract Shore Bird at the Evanston Ecology Center, in the circle at the entrance. The address of the Ecology Center is 2024 N. McCormick Blvd, but the entrance and the sculpture are on the Bridge Street side.
The time to look for the sculpture is now or very late fall. In the summer it is often obscured by surrounding grasses.
Shore Bird is made of corten steel, a type of steel intended to develop a rusted appearance but that doesn’t actually rust, the surface remaining permanent. COR-TEN, invented by U.S. Steel, refers to corrosion resistance and tensile strength.
Although she lived in Wilmette at the time, Frazier was very active at the Evanston Art Center for many years when it occupied the Harley Clarke lakefront mansion. There, she worked in the metal studio, which occupied the attached greenhouse/conservatory.
Frazier’s daughter, Carolyn, says that her mother spent approximately six hours a day working in the studio at the south end of the mansion. As “monitor” for the metal sculpture classes there, Ruth Ann would have kept an eye on the equipment and supplies and seen to the safe handling of tools. Frazier is in memory care at present.
It was also there, in the former conservatory, that the artist created a series of Shore Bird sculptures, her daughter said. Each was different, as the birds were a favorite motif.
Evanston’s Shore Bird was donated in memory of Walter F. Lucansky and dedicated in 1999 when the new wing of the Ecology Center went up. The signage for the sculpture, also of corten, was done by Lucansky’s son, now an architect.
Linda Lutz, former Director of the Ecology Center, said Lucansky was a regular volunteer at the center and with Keep Evanston Beautiful, where he was a founding member. Keep Evanston Beautiful is now part of the Evanston Environmental Association.
Lutz says of Lucansky that he was “the kindest, most upbeat, most optimistic man I ever knew!”
When, in its early days, the Ecology Center consisted of just one room, Lucansky painted two sets of ceiling-to-floor panels, covering them with painted native plants and foliage. The panels hid some very unattractive but necessary storage. Lutz recalls that he played classical music softly on his radio every day he came to paint.
In 2019, the Public Art Subcommittee of the Evanston Arts Council discussed the possibility of buying and putting Janet Austin’s larger, more easily visible leased sculpture Attached (Elliott Park, 2016) in the Ecology Center’s circle instead of Shore Bird.
But Karen Hawk, who was at that time the Parks Department Facilities Manager, said there was an agreement with the donor to always keep the Shore Bird sculpture in the circle, as well as the little magnolia tree planted there to honor Director Lutz on her retirement.
The subcommittee had proposed a different setting for Shore Bird, one close by and still at the Ecology Center, because the piece seems small for the circle and is barely visible in summer, as the native grasses grow up around it. Recently, the sculpture seems to have tilted somewhat, probably with winter’s freezing and thawing.
Perhaps a better solution for the habitat of this striking Shore Bird would be to simply mount it on a pedestal.
Regardless, Evanston is enriched by its presence.
Earlier articles in this series by Gay Riseborough: