31 August 2015

Chicago: six horses and a cow

Imagine my surprise when, strolling down one of Chicago’s busiest inner-city avenues, I encountered a horse. And then another. And then not one but two horses standing close together. Not real horses, of course. These were life-size statues of horses, painted in bright and beautiful colours and designs.

These are the Horses of Honor, a commemoration of the more than 500 Chicago police officers who have lost their lives or been seriously injured in the line of duty since 1853. Local financial corporation Wintrust formed a partnership with the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation and together they commissioned a local manufacturer to make at least 75 of these horses, which were then designed and painted by local artists.

I only saw six of these charming horses but they have been installed in public places throughout the city. Various companies, organisations and individuals have sponsored the horses and that sponsorship money has gone to the Foundation to assist the families of Chicago’s fallen or catastrophically injured policemen and women.

Horses seem an appropriate animal to choose for such a scheme as they also pay tribute to the police officers of the Chicago Police Department Mounted Patrol Unit and their equine companions.

Horse at rear: Sponsor: AT&T. Artist: Jaime Foster. Honouring Patrolman Anthony N. Rizzato.
Horse closest to camera: Sponsors: Rock Band ‘Chicago’ and their manager Peter Schivarelli. Artist: Peter Bucks. Honouring P.O. Thomas E. Wortham IV.

Sponsor: Assurance Agency Ltd. Artist: Brittney Leeanne Williams. Honouring: Patrolman Edward L. Barron.

Sponsor: Zeller Realty Group. Artist: After School Matters. Honouring Sergeant Charles E. Eichhorst.

Sponsors: Roenigk Family Foundation, Guesthouse Hotel, and Inside Publications. Artist: Sheila Swann. Honouring P.O. Michael R. Bailey.

Sponsor: United Service Companies. Artist: Lori Murphy. Honouring Patrolman Terrence E. Loftus.

As well as my close encounters with these delightful horses, I also discovered a cow in downtown Chicago. That wasn’t what I’d call a close encounter as the cow was perhaps forty feet above me, fastened above the entrance to the rather chic Talbott Hotel.  
This was one of the cows from that now-famous herd, ‘Cows on Parade’, which went on to become an international phenomenon after first inhabiting the streets of Chicago back in the summer of 1999. Brainchild of Swiss artist Walter Knapp, who was influenced by a pride of lions on display in Zurich in 1986, ‘Cows on Parade’ debuted in Switzerland in 1998 and went on to be displayed in over fifty countries worldwide.

The concept has since taken off around the world and various countries have now had local artists, designers, celebrities paint, decorate, design cows, horses, sheep (and even eggs – remember the two blogs I wrote about New Zealand’s 2014 Whittaker’s Big Egg Hunt here and here). 

Either the objects are sponsored or, at the end of their exhibitions, are auctioned off to raise money for a nominated local charity. Apparently, during its 12-year run ‘Cows on Parade’ raised more than US$20 million for charities around the world, so not only are these painted creatures a fabulous way for cities to attract tourists and for artists to showcase their talents but they are also creating positive change around the world through their enormous fundraising achievements. A perfect combination!

29 August 2015

Exploring the parks of downtown Chicago

Though I absolutely loved my Chicago river cruise, for me, the best way to explore a new city is on foot. Well, I am the Solitary Strider after all!

So, after getting the train down from Milwaukee, then a taxi to my hotel, I donned my walking shoes and headed north, to nearby Lincoln Park. What a lovely oasis of green and tranquillity on the edge of always bustling downtown Chicago!

Named, as you might guess after the sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, the park stretches for many miles on the shores of Lake Michigan. As well as a statue to the great man and another of General Ulysses S Grant, the park is home to the wild creatures of Lincoln Park Zoo and extensive wildflower meadows, the Lincoln Park Conservatory and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, several large ponds and a rowing canal, the Chicago History Museum and the Lincoln Park Cultural Center, to name just a few of its attractions.

You could happily spend several days just in this one park. I spent that first delightful afternoon wandering its paths and trails, and then the next morning met a photographer friend there for a longer photo-meander and lunch.

That first day I returned to my hotel via the Lakefront Trail that runs along the edge of the city beaches, and is hugely popular with bikers and walkers alike. I hadn’t done any research on Chicago before my visit – sometimes I just like a city to surprise me – so I hadn’t realised there would be such wide sandy beaches on the lake edge so close to the downtown area and, as the weather during my visit was wonderfully sunny and very warm, and it was summer vacation for the local schools and universities, the beaches were thronged with folk swimming, sunbathing, kayaking, playing volleyball, and just generally chilling.

The walkway out to the lighthouse at North Avenue Beach was a great vantage point for taking photos
Oak Street Beach
Much of my last day in Chicago was spent wandering around Millennium Park, south of the downtown area and another huge area of gardens, sculptures and the incredible Art Institute of Chicago.   

Walking down North Michigan Avenue from the city, the first area of the park you encounter is the tree-lined Wrigley Square and the classical-inspired semi-circle of Doric columns that is the Millennium Monument. The monument looks old but is, in fact, a replica of an earlier peristyle that stood in this location from 1917 to 1953.

Almost everyone will recognise this next sculpture, I think. It is, of course, the Cloud Gate, or Bean, as it is affectionately known. I had certainly seen many photos of it but images really can’t convey the intrigue or fascination of this structure, the way reflections are so massively distorted and bounced back at the viewer. British artist Anish Kapoor drew his inspiration from liquid mercury but it reminded me of the Hall of Mirrors that used to be a popular fairground attraction, though with even more bizarre reflections. 

This next architectural marvel is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. I heard music coming from this direction so went and joined the other folks sitting on the seats near the front. Turns out I was listening to a free rehearsal of Saint Saen's Piano Concerto no. 2 in G minor, with Andrew van Oeyen performing superbly on piano. I sat absolutely entranced for the next 30 minutes.

When the rehearsal was over, I found these amazing sculptures by Spanish artist, Jaume Plensa, who had, ten years earlier, created the ‘Crown Fountain’ for Millennium Park (more on than below). The four new pieces, modelled on young girls, are monumental in size and in weight. The set of three, Paula’, ‘Laura’ and ‘Inez’, are made of cast iron, while ‘Awilda’ gleams in marble and resin.

'Look Into My Dreams, Awilda' by Jaume Plensa
'Paula', 'Laura' and 'Inez', head sculptures also by Jaume Plensa

As it was extremely hot the day I visited, the ‘Crown Fountain’ was proving a great hit with the local kids. The two 50-foot-high glass blocks not only spurt water into a shallow reflecting pool, but they also have images projected on them, images of a cross-section of 1000 Chicago residents who appear to spout water from their mouths.

The Buckingham Fountain is an entirely different, totally traditional type of fountain. This elaborate rococo construction dates from 1927 and sits slap bang in the middle of Grant Park which, to me, seemed just to be an extension of Millennium Park. I only saw this beautiful fountain during the daytime but, if you google the name, you’ll see it looks stunning when lit up at night.

Chicago delighted, amazed, intrigued, charmed and exhausted me! I walked miles and loved every minute of my time there. I will be back!

23 August 2015

Chicago: Architecture River Cruise

What an amazing city Chicago is! From its cloud-piercing skyscrapers to the Art Deco lanterns adorning its older buildings, from its lakeside sandy beaches to its multi-bridged river, from its kerbside horse statues honouring the city’s fallen heroes to its image-altering Cloud Gate, from fun-filled Navy Pier to wildlife-friendly Lincoln Park, Chicago really does have something for everyone.

So, if you only have two and a half days to experience the city, what to do? One of my choices was the Official Architecture Foundation River Cruise with Chicago’s First Lady Cruises and, if you’re ever visiting the Windy City, I highly recommend you go on one of these cruises. The service was efficient, the volunteer guide was incredibly knowledgeable and shared interesting facts and stories, being on a boat provided a different perspective to the ubiquitous double-decker-bus-ride city tours, and, on an extremely hot Illinois day, the breeze and the refreshment service on the boat were most welcome!

Here are some of my photos. I’m not even going to attempt to provide a commentary on what I saw. Instead, I'll just add a few captions here and there. So, grab a cool drink, make yourself comfy, and enjoy the ride!

Though I find the man objectionable, I rather liked Trump Tower

In the downtown area there are 18 movable bridges across the Chicago River 

The Carroll Ave / Kinzie St railroad bridge has been permanently open since 2001 - a great opportunity to see underneath

The bridge tender houses caught my eye for their variety of shapes and sizes

The old water towers stand out like a sore thumb amongst all the modern constructions

Dating from 1929, pure Art Deco, with the second-largest opera auditorium in the USA

On the right, the Rivercity Condominiums, &, in the centre, the tall dark building is the 1451 ft Willis Tower

Loved all the towers, especially the dark green & golf leaf champagne bottle on the Carbide & Carbon building, far left

21 August 2015

Wisconsin: Downtown Green Bay

My knowledge of American geography is hazy at best – after all, the USA is a huge country – but, when my friend Trudey invited me to visit her, even I had heard of Green Bay, Wisconsin, if only because it’s home to the Green Bay Packers football team.

Turns out Green Bay is also the county seat of Brown County, and sits right at the mouth of the Fox River, situated appropriately enough on Green Bay, an offshoot of the mighty Lake Michigan. It’s an industrial city, known for its meat-packing plants and paper mills and … that football team.

I didn’t spend a lot of time in downtown Green Bay during my visit but I did find a few architectural gems during a photo-wander one hot July afternoon.

Brown County Courthouse
Undoubtedly the most impressive building was the three-storey county courthouse, with its shining copper-clad dome. Designed by Charles E Bell and constructed between 1908 and 1911, this beautiful building was created in the classical-inspired Beaux Arts style that was popular prior to the First World War. I didn’t get to see the interior but, apparently, the artworks contained within the building are just as impressive as its architecture, with various murals depicting scenes from Wisconsin’s past and the interior of the dome painted with the themes of Justice, Agriculture, Industry and Commerce.

Jefferson Court
This Greek Revival-style building started its life back in 1903 as one of Andrew Carnegie’s libraries, though it was officially named the Kellogg Public Library because, although Carnegie donated the $45,000 required for its construction, Rufus B. Kellogg, president of the Kellogg National Bank, magnanimously agreed to fund the annual operating costs. An additional wing was added to the building in 1926 to house the Neville Public Museum, and the whole lot was restored during 1983-84 to become the Jefferson Court building, which now houses the United Stated District Court – Eastern District of Wisconsin.

Columbus Community Club
The Columbus Community Club was built in 1924, as a recreation and social centre, by the Knights of Columbus, now the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organisation. The building is Neo-classical in design and cost at least half a million dollars to construct. The building has seen many uses during its long life: in 1941 the Knights of Columbus sold it to the Norbertine Order and it became the Green Bay Central Catholic High School. A decade later, the building changed hands again, with WBAY radio moving in, and it was from here, on 17 March 1953, that WBAY made the first Green Bay television broadcast.

Northern Building
This may look like a fairly bland exterior but look more closely at the architectural details. This 1930 office building is Art Deco at its finest, from its restrained clean straight lines to the superb highly stylised floriated frieze running along the top of its six-storey façade just below the parapet. And just look at those wall lights (below) – simply stunning.

St Willebrord Catholic Church
Designed in the High Victorian Gothic style and constructed in 1891, the St Willebrord Catholic Church was built to accommodate the large number of Dutch immigrants who had settled in Green Bay and wanted to form their own separate Dutch church. The main façade originally contained a single large stained-glass rose window but that was later filled with the large cut stone design you can see in the centre photo. The central cross is surrounded by eight large petals, which are in turn surrounded by eight large leaves to form one enormous flower. It’s a remarkable piece of masonry.

St Francis Xavier Cathedral
Not far from St Willebrord’s is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, St Francis Xavier. Built in 1876, with additions in 1903, 1917 and 1959, the style is Romanesque Revival. The twin steeples are particularly splendid, as is the decorative brickwork. Like the church of St Willebrord, this building also has a large circular window in the front façade, this one with a central rounded cruciform shape surrounded by eight large round windows.

Captains Walk Winery
Something entirely different now, just because it caught my eye as we were driving from one street to another. Though this is now a venue for educating the palate on the finer aspects of wine-tasting, it was originally built in 1857 as the private house of local businessman Elisha Morrow. This is apparently an ‘excellent late example of the transition that took place between the Greek Revivial style and the succeeding Italianate style’. Personally, I just liked that cute little cupola perched on top.

Green Bay Packers Memorial
No blog about Green Bay would be complete without some tribute to the Packers and here it is. This is the Packers Heritage Trail Plaza, the centrepiece of the heritage trail, a self-guided walking tour that leads you around the streets of Green Bay to discover where the history of the city intersects with the team and its players.    

If you’re a Green Bay local or a visitor with an interest in historic buildings and architecture, the Neville Public Museum is running an exhibition, from 16 April 2015 to 13 March 2016, to celebrate 100 years of architecture and design in Brown County

Most of the detail about the buildings shown above was extracted from the records of the Wisconsin Historical Society which has an exemplary website containing a wealth of information about the families and properties, culture and history of the state.