Adding color to dreary season

By SpencerRoush

Winter often brings a dismal gray color scheme to Chicago’s skyline, which makes residents miss warm days on the beach and leaves on the trees, especially when the brisk wind flares up and takes people’s breath away. However, the Chicago Park District has created an area to break up the monotony of winter in the city.

The park district constructed its newest addition to the parks titled “Painted Forest” in the Lincoln Park neighborhood to add a little color to the landscape once all of the trees are bare and the winter cold sets in.  The art installation was constructed from defoliated, dead trees that were painted orange.  The project was part of a $1.9 billion contract with Moore Landscapes.  The forest will be displayed for the rest of the winter and will then be deconstructed in spring for other installations to be reinstalled.

Despite challenging financial times, the park district is still making an effort to add to Chicago’s landscape and beautify the city through plants and art installations.

“The mayor of Chicago has been very clear about the fact that landscape, even in difficult times, is a very important part of making people feel welcomed and taken care of,” said Adam Schwerner, director of natural resources for the Chicago Park District. “Public art is an important part in telling people, ‘Hey, things are OK.’”

Padraic Swanton, director of marketing and communications for the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce, said public art in Chicago has been vital to the landscape and adds to the city’s reputation.

“The availability of public art just adds to the urban landscape and kind of breaks up the buildings and the houses,” Swanton said. “With access to a park like Lincoln Park, it’s certainly a benefit for everyone.”

Swanton said public art throughout Lincoln Park is appreciated by local business owners. He said he hopes this project will draw people to the neighborhood.

“We’ve been hearing stories from businesses that say they appreciate anything that will draw more customers to their locations and certainly sculptures and other art installations in our parks will draw people from throughout Chicago and hopefully the suburbs,” Swanton said. “Of course, the goal is to have them stop at one of our many shops or restaurants.”

Schwerner, who had the idea to create the installation, said Lincoln Park was chosen because it can be seen by many different people each day and is located in an open, grassy area east of the Lincoln Park Zoo parking lot.

“It’s a big open space that’s seen by Lincoln Parkers, zoo people and also by traffic on the Outer Drive,” Schwerner said. “It seemed like sort of a pivotal place from the standpoint of visual impact.”

Schwerner said the project was impromptu and only about two weeks went into planning and installation of the painted trees because the park district wanted it to be put in as soon as possible.  He said the park district heardpositive feedback from some community members and park district employees about the project.

Jim Pearson,  spokesman for Moore Landscapes, said the company constructed the “Painted Forest” because they have had a long-term contract, dating back to 1994, with the park district.  The contract enables them to plant trees and flowers in many parks throughout the city and also construct art installations.

According to Pearson, the forest was the second art installation they have created for the park district.  The first project was a retired boat that they painted and planted flowers in to float in the Rowing Lagoon, which is near the new installation. Pearson said they started collecting the dead trees in September and it took four people to complete the painting.  He said the holes were dug during the day and the entire project was installed at night so community members would see a finished project in the morning.

“This is another effort to stop people and make them have a moment to rethink how they think about nature, the park, trees, about art and their daily commute and how they experience the day,” Schwerner said.