Attached is a sculpture leased by the City of Evanston via the Arts Council. Its site, in Burnham Shores Park (along the lakefront between Hamilton Street and Burnham Place), was the choice of Jennifer Lasik, then-Cultural Arts Coordinator of the City of Evanston.

Sculpted by Evanstonian Janet Austin, it is an impressive work, full of meaning as a glance at the inscription will tell. This large steel, copper and mosaic sculpture was installed in September 2017, and the artwork and leasing program were celebrated publicly with music, dance and refreshments.

Attached, a sculpture by Janet Austin in Burnham Shores Park. Credit: Gay Riseborough

A large, sparkling wasp/hornet/yellowjacket rests on an 8-foot open shape that could represent a hornet’s nest and which the artist calls a “story vase.” The inspiration for the vase came from Swedish collective Front, which collaborated with South African women to produce vessels with beaded glass lettering around them. Austin’s steel letters here tell the same “story” as the plaque below. The insect, an amalgamation, was created primarily of glass mosaic tiles, with a baroque style design on its back, not specific to any one species.

An insect is lifted into place on Attached. Credit: Gay Riseborough

This artwork was the first piece in a leasing program established between the Evanston Arts Council and Chicago Sculpture International (CSI), a not-for-profit organization. Their program is titled Sculpture in the Parks and supplies artist-made contemporary sculptures not just to Evanston, but to the Chicago Park District and a park in Gary, Indiana. Austin was at the time – and still is – president of CSI.

At the time it was being considered for leasing, the Public Art Subcommittee, part of the Evanston Arts Council, went to see Attached at Austin’s studio, then at 831 Chicago Ave., a former carriage stable with memorable arched double doors. Austin has a small studio at her home now but works on her large sculptures at Hammerwell Metals in Chicago, where they are fabricated.

The plaque for Attached. Credit: Gay Riseborough

It is unusual for an artist to make her own base for her sculpture, but Austin had made a 2-foot hexagonal base and created an affixed plaque to accompany the artwork, both at her own expense. The plaque shows a variation on a quote by John Muir, world famous naturalist and environmental philosopher. The City of Evanston provided the large concrete pad upon which Austin’s base and sculpture rest, as they have since provided for the other leased works.

Austin holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Metropolitan State University of Denver and a Masters in Fine Arts from Villa Schifanoia Graduate School of Fine Art in Florence, Italy. She creates in sculptural media, including glass, mosaics, concrete, bronze and steel. Her work graces public spaces across the country, including parks, zoos, botanic gardens, plazas and transportation hubs.

Evanston artist Janet Austin. Credit: Janet Austin Art

“I am an Illinois artist who champions the coexistence of man and nature.” Austin says. “I always find inspiration in nature from diverse virgin ecosystems to the conflicted urban environment. In embarking on a career of public artist through large-scale sculpture, I seek the opportunity to continue to create art that supports my core conviction from which much of my work grows – When one tugs at a single thing in nature one finds it attached to the rest of the universe.”

Austin and collaborator Emily Moorehead-Wallace also created the pollinator habitat titled Meg Chilidae: Prairie Sanctuary in the Ladd Arboretum, just northeast of the Ecology Center at 2024 McCormick Blvd. The area is planted with prairie windflowers which provide sustenance for insects.

Austin’s Meg Chilidae: Prairie Sanctuary, located near the Ecology Center. The piece was co-created by Emily Moorehead-Wallace. Credit: Gay Riseborough

Meg Chilidae is made of steel and wood with a grant from the Arts Council and in-kind help from CSI, the Evanston Ecology Center and Horrigan Urban Forest Products. The grant also covered several outreach programs through the Ecology Center, where the artists supervised the gathering of nesting materials and led talks about pollinators.

Austin says the artwork became “female” – her name, Meg Chilidae, taken from the megachilidae family of native pollinators. The curved protective roof represents a bonnet that a prairie woman might wear. The sculture is a dwelling for indigenous pollinators, solitary bees and other insects.

There are pollinators living in the artwork now, but the concrete footing has shifted since its installation only two years ago and the whole thing tilts. The sculpture needs to be moved and a new footing poured. Since its presentation, this writer has seen many smaller variations on the insect habitat idea in Evanston gardens and for sale at garden shops and on the internet.

Through CSI, Austin and Moorehead-Wallace have together also completed a tree sculpture, Restful in Lincoln Park, as part of the Chicago Tree Project, turning old and dying trees in Chicago parks into interesting and beautiful art objects. See here for more information.

The leased sculpture program in Evanston has been successful and has resulted, first, in three changing sculptures, now five (including Austin’s) in various city locations. The leases are currently for periods of three years, rather than two, as is the case with Attached.

It seems clear that Evanston residents have become fond of Austin’s sculpture. A neighbor to the park, Judith Cohen, a member of the Public Art Subcommittee that approved the sculpture, says, “I have become quite attached to it!”

It was and is still not intended for the lakefront to become a sculpture “park” with more than this one single sculpture. Attached is available for purchase to the city for $25,000, with the artist willing to credit the entire amount paid for the leases. It might be hoped that instead of just renewing Austin’s lease every other year the City of Evanston and the Evanston Arts Council would step up and buy it.

Editor’s note: This is the eighth article in a series on public art in Evanston created by women. For the ninth and final article, click here.

Gay Riseborough is an artist, has served the City of Evanston for 11 years on arts committees, and is now an arts writer at the Evanston RoundTable.

One reply on “There is a message attached to ‘Attached’”

  1. “when one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world” is my favorite John Muir quote.

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