Appropriate is a sculpture leased by the City of Evanston through the Arts Council. Its location in Burnham Shores Park (between Hamilton Street and Burnham Place) was the choice of Jennifer Lasik, then the City of Evanston’s Cultural Arts Coordinator.
It is an impressive work full of meaning, as a glance at the inscription reveals. This large steel and copper mosaic sculpture was installed in September 2017, with her and the lease program celebrated publicly with music, dancing and refreshments.
A large, sparkling wasp/hornet/yellowjacket rests on an eight foot open shape that could represent a wasp’s nest and which the artist calls a “story vase”. The inspiration for the vase came from the Swedish collective Front, who worked with South African women to create vessels with glass bead lettering around them. Austin’s steel letters here tell the same “story” as the plaque below. The Insect, an amalgamation, was made primarily from glass mosaic tiles, with a baroque design on the reverse that is not specific to any particular species.
This artwork was the first piece in a leasing program established between the Evanston Arts Council and Chicago Sculpture International (CSI), a non-profit organization. Her program is titled Sculpture in the Parks and delivers artist-made contemporary sculpture not only to Evanston, but also to the Chicago Park District and a park in Gary, Indiana. The creator of Appropriate is Evanstonian Janet Austin, then – and still – President of CSI.
At the time the lease was reviewed, the Public Art Subcommittee, part of the Evanston Arts Council, went on a tour Appropriate at Austin’s studio, then at 831 Chicago Ave., a former coach house with memorable arched double doors. Austin now has a small studio at home, but works on her large sculptures at Hammerwell Metals in Chicago, where they are made.
It is unusual for an artist to make her own base for her sculpture, but Austin had created, at her own expense, a 2ft hexagonal base and an attached plaque to accompany the artwork. The plaque features a variation on a quote from John Muir, the world-renowned naturalist and environmental philosopher. The City of Evanston provided the large concrete slab on which Austin’s pedestal and sculpture rest, as have since been made available for the other leased works.
Austin holds a BFA from Metropolitan State University in Denver and an MFA from Villa Schifanoia Graduate School of Fine Art in Florence, Italy. She creates in sculptural media including glass, mosaic, concrete, bronze and steel. Her work graces public spaces across the country, including parks, zoos, botanical gardens, plazas, and transportation hubs.
Here’s what Austin says about her work: “I’m an Illinois artist dedicated to the coexistence of people and nature. I always find inspiration in nature, from diverse virgin ecosystems to the conflicted urban environment. Pursuing a career as a public artist through large scale sculpture, I am looking for an opportunity to continue creating art that supports my core belief from which much of my work grows – if you pull on a single thing in nature you will find it appropriate to the rest of the universe.” https://www.janetaustinart.com/
Austin and his collaborator Emily Moorehead-Wallace also created the titled pollinating habitat Meg Chilidae: Prairie Sanctuary at the Ladd Arboretum, northeast of the Ecology Center (2024 McCormick Blvd.). The area is planted with prairie windflowers, which provide food for insects.
Meg Chilidae is made of steel and wood with a grant from the Arts Council and in-kind contributions from CSI, the Evanston Ecology Center and Horrigan Urban Forest Products. The grant also included several outreach programs through the Ecology Center, where the artists oversaw the collection of nesting materials and engaged in conversations about pollinators.
Austin says the artwork has become “feminine”; her name, Meg Chilidae, comes from the Megachilidae family of native pollinators. The curved canopy represents a hood that a prairie woman might wear. The sculpture is a dwelling for native pollinators, solitary bees and other insects.
The artwork is now home to pollinators, but the concrete foundation has shifted since it was installed just two years ago, and the whole thing is tipping. The sculpture has to be moved and a new foundation poured. Since his presentation, this author has seen many smaller variations on the insect habitat idea in Evanston gardens and for sale in gardening stores and on the internet.
Through CSI, Austin and Moorehead-Wallace also completed a tree sculpture together, Nestful in Lincoln Park as part of the Chicago Tree Project, which transforms old and dying trees in Chicago’s parks into interesting and beautiful works of art. https://emoorheadwallace.com/nestful-2021/
Evanston’s leased sculpture program was successful, resulting in initially three rotating sculptures, now five (including Austin’s) at various locations around the city. The rental agreements currently run for three years instead of the previous two years Appropriate.
It seems clear that Evanston residents have grown fond of Austin’s sculptures. A neighbor of the park, Judith Cohen, a member of the Public Art Subcommittee that approved the sculpture, says: “I’ve gone quiet appropriate to!”
It was and still is not intended for the lake shore to become a sculpture “park” with more than this one sculpture. Appropriate can be purchased from the city for $25,000, with the artist agreeing to credit the full rental amount. It would be hoped that instead of only renewing Austin’s lease every two years, the City of Evanston and the Evanston Arts Council would step up and buy it.