'No politics and no COVID': How artists' 'Mushroom Magic' is creating a communal space
A little park on a busy Prospect Heights road has colorful new life thanks to a group of artists, their "magic" mushrooms and an open invitation to join in the transformation.
Isaak Walton Park, a four-acre wooded strip of land that wraps around an unnamed slough, had a gravel driveway, a simple pavilion, a short boardwalk and not much else to offer unless you were a bird watcher.
But when artists Kate Tully and Mara Lovisetto parked in one of the five parking spaces there, they knew they had found a place to share and display projects with their group of artist friends called The Sunflower Project. Their latest summer show is called "Mushroom Magic."
"We both looked at each other and said, 'This is perfect.' It has the right vibe," said Tully, a professional artist known to design elaborate chalk murals on her garage door.
"They've been wonderful, the park district. They've let us have freedom with our art," she said.
So far, at least 20 pieces have been installed around the horseshoe-shaped drive at the park, at 201 N. Elmhurst Road. On display is a collection of mushrooms made from recycled tequila bottles, wine corks and espresso pods.
There are several large mushrooms made with painted-log stems and upside-down cement bowls. Another has a sink pedestal stem, and one has several felt bees made with real prosthetic eyeballs buzzing around it.
There's also a shimmering gold mushroom made with mosaic tiles and sea shells from the Marshall Islands.
Most are works from the professional artists in The Sunflower Project, but some come from outside the group.
"There was a handful of young friends who saw what we were doing and asked if they could install their own art," Tully said. The group returned with a 10-foot-tall plywood cutout that features tiny, happy fairies flying around giant, bright mushrooms.
Andrea Chatroop, who lives next door to the park, regularly walks with her children there.
"There wasn't much going on here before. There's so much life here now," she said. Her 7-year-old son Zeke has made "fairy doors" from natural objects he finds in the park and has attached them to several trees.
"Anybody that wants to do a piece of mushroom art and exhibit it, we welcome them," Tully said.
Lovisetto, a retired elementary school art teacher, even created a Tiny Little Art Gallery from a recycled kitchen cabinet and installed it in the pavilion. Anyone can leave a piece of art and take a piece of art.
"The park district values what we are doing and they value art, and they see that this is a way to bring people together," Lovisetto said. "There is no politics and no COVID here."
This project follows two other summer efforts that started in the midst of the pandemic when the friends created and installed sunflower-themed sculptures and paintings around Hillcrest Lake at the end of Lovisetto's driveway, just north of the Isaak Walton Park, in an effort to cheer up the neighborhood.
"Before we knew it, it became a destination," Lovisetto said. They had found a simple way to scratch their artistic itch to create and shared it with a cooped-up neighborhood.
The City of Prospect Heights noticed, too, and offered the group any park to display their work.
"Mushroom Magic" will culminate in a market festival on Saturday, Sept. 24. Live music and 10 to 15 booths of artists selling their work will line the driveway.
"Mushrooms have a root system that connects underground, and I feel like that's what we are doing above ground," Lovisetto said. "We are connecting people, children, artists and nature lovers."