Wondering what’s up with those little boats in Greektown Chicago? Learn about the new street art that has transformed the iconic strip of Halsted Street.
Greektown Chicago street art
If you’ve been to Greektown Chicago lately, no doubt you’ve seen two exhibits that have transformed Halsted Street into an outdoor museum of art, culture and philosophy. The experience visitors get year-round from the neighborhood’s National Hellenic Museum, Athenian Candle Company, Elea Mediterranean Food Market, and the many fabulous restaurants has been extended outside for as long as the city’s weather allows.
A street art and word exhibit, “Brushing up on Aristotle” debuted in May, while “The Amazing Greektown Dinghies” boat sculpture show launched in July. With these works, both Greek and non-Greek artists pay tribute to that nation’s rich contributions to Western Civilization, through their wide range of two- and three-dimensional works.
Eve Moran, chair of the Greektown Art Committee, and Connie Hinkle, co-curator of art for the Cliff Dwellers arts club in Chicago’s Loop, organized both exhibits. She also serves as a commissioner on the Greektown Special Service Area #16 commission, which sponsored the exhibits. Eve explained how the exhibits came about.
“In late 2016, a number of new initiatives were being discussed, such as plans to restore and update street light poles with LED fixtures; to hang flower baskets in the coming summer and to develop new street banners that would add bright color marking the community. Being aware that the city of Chicago declared 2017 as ‘The Year of Public Art,’ I set my sights on developing an interesting and viable outdoor art project for Greektown.”
“Brushing Up On Aristotle”
The street art and word exhibit was Eve’s first idea.
“Taking a slow walk along Halsted Street, I began to imagine artworks filling the windows. Paintings, sculptures, and photography by a variety of Chicago artists, I thought, could be fashioned into posters to enliven and add beauty to the street. So too, I wanted to add words — meaningful words. The timeless sayings of ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle came quickly to mind. Thus was born the concept for the ‘Brushing Up On Aristotle’ outdoor gallery project.”
Eve and Connie solicited businesses, artists, historians, and community organizations for this project. Many restaurants and stores along Halsted hung the posters in their windows. In the case of the new Arkadia development between Adams and Jackson, the storefronts are empty, so displaying posters in them adds beauty and the promise of permanent businesses to come.
Eve described the artist selection process.
“At the outset, we sought out Greek-American artists. We also wanted artworks that reflected a Greek theme.”
Their idea was to create high-quality posters from existing art from the participating artists. Photographers Chris Hurd and Keith McDonald captured the artworks on film, using Michael Thompson’s studio. The resulting exhibit shows a range of traditional Greek images, contemporary scenes and figures, and abstract images.
At Athenian Candle Company, visitors can see Patty Konstantelos’ poster, “Byzantine Orthodox Icons”, a montage of historic religious figures. Terry Poulos, a contributor to WindyCity Greek, is also featured. His entry features a montage of his assorted iron and brass sculptures based on Greek artifacts.
Some of the posters depict water, to go along with the dinghy sculptures. Jennifer Cronin’s poster, made from her original oil painting, “Drifting no. 2”, captures still water with a piece of driftwood in view. Chuck Walker’s work, from his original oil painting, “Fetch,” shows a dog at a beach with a bright red object clenched between its teeth. Nelson Armour’s depicts rocks along a peaceful shoreline. Nancy Strahinic’sfeatures dinghies tethered to wooden posts.
Related to the water and the Greek goddesses theme in other pieces, Diane Thodos’ poster, from her original print “Diver”, shows a woman diving into the unknown surrounded by waves or flames of multiple colors.
Another active figure appears in Tracy Ostmann Haschke’s poster, from her original oil painting “Girl in Motion”. It shows a ballerina wearing a bright red leotard and tutu against a dark/light background that suggests a stage.
Artwork in Walgreens’ windows includes a circular depiction of the spectrum, as it might radiate from the sun, in Walter Fydryck’s “Transfusion”. It is next to the very American drugstore image of a “Purple Popsicle” by Brian Bonebrake.
At Dugan’s Pub, two Irish women supply the art. Eve’s poster, “Blue Shamrock”, includes the colors of the Greek flag, blending the two cultures. Rita O’Hara’s poster of two people embracing in a circle looks like a Baroque or Renaissance piece with its brown color palette and ornate details.
Drawing attention to the philosopher’s words
Gilad Sommer and his group, The New Acropolis, provided many of Aristotle’s quotes to be used. Yanni Dimoulis, a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, developed the poster design for the quotes that would accompany the artwork in the windows.
Here are a few of the many Aristotle quotes on display:
“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.”
“The soul never thinks without a picture.”
“The pleasures arising from thinking and learning will make us think and learn all the more.”
“Art not only imitates nature, but also completes its deficiencies.”
“The Amazing Greektown Dinghies”
The boat exhibit came second for Eve.
“Later on, I thought that Greektown needed something more that would ‘pop’ on the street. On a recent trip to Quebec City, I had seen colorful boat-shaped kites strung high across a small walkway. Given the intimate and long-standing relationship between the Greeks and the sea, I imagined a small series of small sculpted boats, i.e., dinghies, that would be given to artists and creatively transformed.”
The boat sculptures all have the same design and are mounted vertically on waves and then on top of platforms on the sidewalks.
Brothers Dino and Mark Crisanti show their sense of humor with “Row Row Rows”, a dinghy fashioned into a shark with rows of teeth and a classic license plate that viewers can spin, at their own risk. Dino is a sculptor, while Mark is a mixed-media artist represented by Chicago-based art dealer Aron Packer.
Vicky Tesmer, known for her murals on the south wall of the Parthenon Restaurant, and her crew created the “Minoan Goddesses” dinghy. It depicts goddesses in black and white with a backdrop of doves, seals, and sharks.
The boat at the Crowne Plaza Hotel is “Sarah Goes A Traveling” by Rebecca Zaragoza. The inside of it features a map of Lake Michigan and the surrounding states. Multicolored fish cover the back. Some mosaic work covers the top bridge of the boat.
Artists in both exhibits
Vasiliki Valkanas, James McNeill Mesplé and Connie Hinkle are the artists with work in both exhibits.
Vasiliki is a printer and graphic designer whose poster shows an abstract human figure with outstretched arms and head down, like an Olympic swimmer about to start a race. Her blue, green, and yellow dinghy uses geometric shapes, maps, and topographies to depict both separation and closeness.
James’ paintings and original prints take inspiration from classic mythology. His boat, “Poseidon’s Pearl”, represents the Greek god of the seas and his wife, Amphitrite. Images of the couple as well as multi-colored pearls cover the boat. His three posters include one of Polyhymnia, the Greek muse of sacred poetry, dance, eloquence and pantomime as well as agriculture, geometry and meditation. Another, titled “Feather Sisters” shows a Native-American woman and white woman standing side by side dressed in traditional Native-American attire holding doves of peace while a more menacing bird sits in the foreground.
Connie’s boat, “On My Island”, shows a meadow inside framed by rows of books that include both Greek classics and well-known modern titles. On the backside is a Greek village. Her poster, “Summer Festival”, shows boats in a harbor at night against a sky lit by a fireworks display.
Community organizations represented
Eve and Connie invited the National Hellenic Museum, the Chicago Children’s Theatre, the YMCA, and the Mercy Home for Boys & Girls to create art for the exhibits as well. Each of these organizations’ sites are located in the greater Greektown area.
The Greek Language Program from the museum contributed “The Hands of the Phoenix”, the poster that hangs on one of the museum’s windows. It is made from an original mixed media piece that shows a urn with four Phoenixes in different poses with hands and waves reaching up toward them.
The YMCA’s Youth Safety and Violence Prevention program youth and mentors created the dinghy, “The Boat – Attitude”, which represents “urban warriors”. It features faceless men and women of all races. It also includes a woman in a helmet and dog tags to celebrate veterans.
The “Waves of Hope” boat from Barrett Keithley and the young people of Mercy Home has a similar message of inclusion. Barrett translated drawings submitted by the program’s young people “into a variety of colors and side profiles” which, he said, represent “the spirit of diversity and hope we have in our youth”.
The “Mapping the Unknown” dinghy from the children of the Chicago Children’s Theatre was inspired by medieval ocean maps where cartographers would draw sea monsters to mark places on their maps that had yet to be explored.
Enjoy the art in Greektown Chicago
Be sure to get down to Greektown Chicago while the weather stays nice. You won’t want to miss this new and different Greektown experience.
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