What it takes to keep Naperville's outdoor art in shining shape
It might look great when it's new, but there's a lot of work involved in keeping outdoor public art looking fresh as the years pile up.
Century Walk Corp., a 22-year-old public art nonprofit group in Naperville, has learned that lesson over the past few years as its pieces begin to fade in the sun, chip under skateboard decks, make way for new construction, or rust in the rain.
Some sculptures, such as "Best Friends" installed along the Riverwalk in 2014, depicting a dog and a cat in honor of the founders of the Naperville Area Humane Society, are designed with material meant to look better with age.
"The more the weather hits it and the older it gets, the more beautiful the finish should become," says humane society member Gail Diedrichsen about the piece, which artist Dale Rogers built of a material called corten steel. "It was made to blend into the environment."
But not every piece of art stays blemish-free through the years.
Here's a look at some of the maintenance required on some of the 48 works in the Century Walk collection and a look ahead at five sites that are in store for work this year. Century Walk Chairman Brand Bobosky and Curator Dodie Mondero explain.
Inspired by lounges made by the former Kroehler Manufacturing factory in Naperville, these mosaic-covered benches from 1996 needed work in 2015. Skateboarders enjoy the structures, Bobosky says, but the boards frequently break the tiles. One of the corners has shown "major damage" and Mondero says he plans to return to fix it this year.
Man's Search for Knowledge Through the Ages
An 81-year-old driver accidentally crashed into the 50-foot-long, curved brick wall in July 2016, causing it to break and teeter. A year later, Mondero had worked with a concrete repair firm, reassembled the pieces like a puzzle, secured them using a special clay, topped it with exterior paint, then power washed and sealed his repairs, giving the now 31-year-old piece new life.
A City in Transit
This highly visible mural of planes, a train and automobiles on the eastern facade of The Lantern tavern is set to be restored this year by Mondero, working with Naperville artist Lisson Kuhn.
River of Life
Completed in 1999 by student-artists at several schools under a lead artist's guidance, this collection of four mosaic panels began cracking as water frosted and froze on top of it. When some pieces fell off, Mondero painted the background with the appropriate color so the pattern would continue, even without the tile texture. He started repairing the piece on the western facade of Anderson's Bookshop in 2016 and intends to continue this year.
A Whale of a School
Completed in 2011 to replace a wooden whale that long had served as the mascot of Highlands Elementary in Naperville Unit District 203, this blue concrete whale began to deteriorate after five or six years. A group of school parents raised money for its rehabilitation and for landscape fixes, then Mondero, instead of the original artist, primed and patched the whale to repair cracks in the cement. "My job is to restore and enhance it," he says.
Pillars of the Community
Mondero himself painted this mural of significant figures in the community in 2001, but with a southern exposure on Chicago Avenue, it quickly faded in the sun. The city removed three trees that had been planted in sidewalk grates in front of it, giving it even more access to light. Mondero repainted it in 2017. "You'll see the vibrancy," Bobosky says. "Hopefully it won't lose its color."
A lifetime together
A sculpture of two children holding hands along the Riverwalk, installed in 2002, had rusted and been damaged by falling tree sap. So had the plaque explaining the piece's origin, name and place in the Century Walk collection. So in 2015, Mondero cleaned both the art and the plaque, using light sandpaper to make it look new again.
The Great Concerto
A 2005 mural on the wall of the Community Concert Center where the Naperville Municipal Band plays gets touch-ups to fix minor scoffs every spring. Mondero says he's evaluated the piece yearly since 2015 and spends about an hour with a brush keeping it in top condition.
With an arm pointing out along the Riverwalk since 2006 on a popular stretch where many visitors amble past, it's no wonder the sculpture of Jim Moser needed work. The outstretched arm was threatening to come loose, with two or three inches of give as people pulled on it. So Mondero drilled a bolt through Moser's arm and affixed it to the nearby arm of the other Riverwalk Visionary honored in the piece, former Naperville Mayor Chet Rybicki. "People who were walking by thought I was vandalizing it because it's really odd -- I'm drilling through this bronze," he says.
Along Washington Street, this 2006 piece honoring five veterans of World War II looked fine, but its concrete base didn't. The concrete was rusting and cracking, so in 2015, Mondero used marbleizing paint to get the cement to mimic real marble. It fools people every day, the artist says. "I was very confident it was going to look beautiful."
For about a year, the 9-foot-tall comic strip detective stood, not on watch along the Riverwalk, but in storage, while the Water Street District built a plaza to be his new home. The sculpture by late Dick Tracy artist Dick Locher and sculptor Donald L. Reed stood from 2010 to 2015 on a low area of the Riverwalk's southern bank, where it often would flood. But when Water Street construction was complete, it got a higher perch between the Naperville Township building and the river and now is anchored down. Marquette Companies, the builders of the Water Street District, took care of storing and replacing Dick Tracy and also added four separate mosaics called "Streaming History" to bring more art to the site.
Naperville Loves a Parade
Mondero collaborated with artists Adela Vystejnova and Marianne Lisson Kuhn on this mural, of which community members could pay to be a part. Depicting dozens of real Naperville residents as they watch a parade, with real businesses as the backdrop behind them, the mural was dedicated in 2014. "Right after we finished it, someone wrote with a Sharpie on it," Mondero said, indicating a permanent pen. Luckily, the supplier that provided the clear topcoat the artists used to protect the mural also provided a spray bottle of cleaning solution. "It sprayed right off," he says.
Growth and Change
This sculpture of bent steel panels from 1997 is showing its age with rust, which Mondero plans to remove this year.
Golden Rule Days
In a plaza behind a strip of stores on Washington Street, the bottom inches of this 2000 sculpture honoring a longtime rural teacher have been damaged by road salt and snow, causing a change in color and a plan for restoration this year.
Parting the Prairie
An interactive sculpture highlighting Naperville's railroad history sits in front of the DuPage Children's Museum, but one of its moving pieces isn't working, museum President and CEO Sarah Orleans says. The piece is kept clean and looks fine. But now she says the museum and Mondero are working together to find someone who can fix it, likely someone on the museum's staff.
Faith, Hope and Charity
Installed in October 2011 on the west side of the former Russell's Dry Cleaners, this mural depicting the values of Freemasonry had to come down last year because the building on which it was mounted was demolished for new development. Tim Ory, secretary/historian for the Euclid Lodge No. 65 Ancient Free and Accepted Masons in Naperville, said the organization took down the lightweight, steel-backed panels of the mural and placed them in storage in a member's garage. The plan is to reinstall the panels as soon as September on the south side of the Gap building at 223 S. Main St. with the permission of building ownership, the Rubin family of Naperville. Other than relocation, the piece has remained in good shape, Ory says, "except if kids throw soda pop on it."