Feature, Local News

Sculpture park: Great art is front and center, available to all in Flossmoor

Editor’s note: This story originally was published as the cover story in the September 2016 print edition of the Chronicle.

  “Child,” a bronze sculpture
  located in the roundabout
  garden in downtown Flossmoor, 
  is one of the village’s prominent 
  works of public art.
(Photos by 
  Tom Houlihan/H-F Chronicle)

The young girl, frozen in time, looks skyward. She may be gazing at stars, or watching a sparrow in the trees. She is filled with hope and innocence but also wonders about the world and that it’s so large and unpredictable. She is all of us — we share her humanity and fragility.

Richard Bumstead, who chairs Flossmoor’s Public Art Commission, says he loves “Child,” the bronze statue by Judith Shea located on a traffic island just west of the village’s Metra station.

“She’s so naïve,” he said. “What’s she looking at?”

Bumstead said Shea originally created the statue from a piece of wood.

“You can see marks on the bronze from the grain of the wood,” he said. “It’s a great piece of sculpture.”

  Northeast corner 
  of Leavitt Park.

Bumstead, like hundreds of other Flossmoor commuters, walks past “Child” five days a week going to and from the train station. That, he said, is one of the wonderful things about public art. It becomes a familiar part of our lives. The inquisitive bronze girl in the center of Flossmoor becomes our constant companion as we go about daily tasks.

“Public art has always intrigued me,” Bumstead said. “It’s right there, front and center in your life. You can see great art without having to go to a museum. And people see it every day.”

Flossmoor’s Public Art Commission oversees the village’s Sculpture Garden, a collection of pieces that are either owned by the community or leased from the artist. Flossmoor currently owns eight sculptures and leases two. 

  Park Drive and Argyle
  Avenue just west of the
  Flossmoor Public Library.

There are seven commission members, all volunteers, and they are responsible for maintaining the Sculpture Garden and its works and selecting new pieces for the village. The commission receives no tax dollars and is responsible for raising money for the public art program.

The commission also has a relationship with the art department at Homewood-Flossmoor High School that has led to two sculptures created by students; the latest piece, “Kinetic Vision,” was installed this spring outside the village’s library.

  North side of Leavitt Park.

Another of Bumstead’s favorite sculptures, “Minions” will be celebrated at a Public Art Commission fundraiser next month. The installation at Leavitt Park, created by artist Scott McMillin, depicts a towering chair surrounded by a group of smaller chairs of varying size.

“It’s a symbol of our community,” Bumstead said. “It’s about a group coming together to create something greater than the individual parts.”

To bring Flossmoor’s artwork to life for the community, the commission is hosting “Pull Up a Chair,” a fundraiser at Wiley’s Grill on Oct. 8 where people can bid on repurposed chairs that have been decorated by local artists. Participants can leave the event with a piece of art that helps support Flossmoor’s Sculpture Garden and is a constant reminder of one of its most recognizable pieces.

Other public pieces are non-representational — viewers are free to decide what they mean and why they are significant.

“Uplifted,” by the internationally-renowned artist Richard Hunt, is filled with sharp, silver-colored curves that soar toward the sky.

“Survivor,” by Howard Kalish, shows a shock of welded steel poles, with those towards the top a bright red. What’s going on? A fire or some other catastrophe? Or maybe it’s inside us, and meant to show overheated synapses in our nervous system.

“Inamorata,” a bronze sculpture on lease from artist Gino Miles, has elements of a Mobius strip as circles entwine with each other. It is both playful and profound and is a welcome recent addition to the public art collection.

Flossmoor is the only south suburban community with a collection of public sculptures on display. Bumstead said north suburban Skokie, which is several times larger than Flossmoor, has a well-known sculpture park. He does not know of any other communities in the Chicago suburban area that have made a similar commitment to public art.

The Public Art Commission was first formed in 1998. Bumstead gives former Mayor Roger Molski credit for initiating the idea of significant public art in Flossmoor.

“He wanted the art in Flossmoor to be a unique part of the community,” Bumstead said. “He knew that it would differentiate our town from other communities.”

Flossmoor’s collection of classic custom homes serves as the perfect backdrop for the public art display, he added.

The initial monetary resources for the public art project came from an anonymous gift, as well as fundraising efforts by the commission.

Moving forward, Bumstead wants the commission to focus on leasing works of art rather than buying them outright. Ownership can bring maintenance problems — “Survivor” has been plagued by rust in recent years — and commission members have found there are advantages to leasing sculptures from the artist.

Commission members are hoping to raise enough money at the Oct. 8 fundraiser so they can make competitive offers to lease the artwork, he said. 

But the commission’s most important goal is to raise public awareness about the public art in their midst, and its importance in their lives, Bumstead said.

“When I get off the train, I want to walk past some of these sculptures,” he said. “I know that other people feel the same way. We get something out of seeing this art.” 

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