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Sculpture in the Park exhibition thrives as city art destination

If someone really wants to impress an out-of-town guest – and if they really want to show new visitors the best St. Charles has to offer – then a visit to the Sculpture in the Park exhibition at Mt. St. Mary Park is the thing to do. That’s what one North Shore woman did for her mother on Mother’s Day, specifically to see “Rescue Kitty,” the second Sculpture in the Park entry by Sawyer, Michigan, artist Martha Cares.

“She loves your park and plans to bring her mother back for some exercise on a regular basis,” said Cares.

Whether they come for the art or for the atmosphere, patrons who visit the park between now and the end of September will find themselves immersed in the best of both worlds.  Serenely nestled on the west bank of the scenic Fox River, there is no more picturesque spot in the city, nor one with a more impressive array of world-class public art. From Tucson-based Pokey Park, whose whimsical bronze animals joyfully express a love of nature, to Kenosha, Wisconsin, sculptor Bruce Niemi’s soaring stainless-steel towers that float above the park like silver wings, the variety of the 13 pieces provided by 12 talented sculptors from around the country and region exhibits a wide range of media and infinite interpretations of nature and the human condition.

“It’s a very contemplative show,” said Jane Davidson, one of two St. Charles sculptors participating this year. “I love the setting.  You can walk from one piece to another with enough time to think about them or sit on a bench and ponder the artist’s intentions.” Davidson, whose 300-pound stainless steel sculpture is entitled “Truth,” is a first-time participant in this year’s show. 

Indeed, interacting with each sculpture is as individual an experience as the pieces themselves. For fellow St. Charles sculptor Douglas Eageny, who works with elements from nature and recycled materials, the medium is a message in and of itself. This year’s entry represents Eageny’s fourth Sculpture in the Park exhibit, and while his metal-and-stone sculpture “Whirlwind” has a specific meaning to him, “people see it and it might represent something entirely different to them.”

The response to Cares’ “Rescue Kitty” sculpture is not so ambiguous. A fierce advocate for shelter animals, Cares followed up her 2013 “My Rescue Dog” sculpture with a beguiling, smiling gray cat – both pieces part of her mission to create awareness of the millions of animals helped by rescue organizations and shelters each year.

“I want people to see my work and feel the heartwarming emotion that anyone who has ever cherished a pet has experienced,” said Cares, “but I also want them to honor the people who generously devote themselves to animal rescue and, ideally, become inspired to become part of that effort.”

Now in its ninth year, this free annual celebration is a joint venture between the St. Charles Park District and the St. Charles Park Foundation. This year’s entrants can be found situated along a half-mile walking path and join eight sculptures from prior shows permanently on display. From the massive, 2,500-pound, fire-engine red, steel sculpture “Here” by Chicago artist Ruth Aizuss Migdal to the diminutive 28-pound bronze “Ballerina” by Lake in the Hills artist Patricia Brutchin, all sculptures are for sale. Prices can range from $1,200 to $70,000. 

But for visitors who have neither the budget nor the setting for a one-of-a-kind piece of public art, yet still want a tangible memory of their visit, smaller, tabletop replicas of Martha Cares’ two sculptures, “My Rescue Kitty,” and 2013’s “My Rescue Dog” are for sale at $75 and $150, respectively, at both the Baker and Pottawatomie community centers.

For the artists, just being in the Sculpture in the Park show is memory enough. “I was fascinated by the installation of my sculpture and took dozens of pictures,” said Davidson, who couldn’t envision the machinations involved in wrangling a massive yet fragile work of art into place. “These gentlemen from the park district’s maintenance department are real pros at what they do.”

Eageny eagerly agrees. "The park district and the commission were supportive and encouraging of me and my art, and they are doing important work by bringing people downtown and letting visitors know that the city supports artists and is committed to the beautification of the city,” he said.

Indeed, the Sculpture in the Park exhibition attracts thousands of visitors annually. So whether one is playing tour guide for a house guest or simply wants to spend a tranquil afternoon surrounded by the beauty provided by Mother Nature and the talented artists she inspires, Mt. St. Mary Park is the place to be this summer.

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