Sunday, May 5, 2013

Chapman Kelley's Memoirs - Chapter 14

     In 1983 my extensive land and aerial survey of Chicago revealed a large area at the south end of Chicago’s lakefront Grant Park that appeared to show some promise for a noncommissioned Chicago Wildflower Works site.  I was disheartened to learn that area was heavily used during the warm months by the general public and police for softball games. The next site was the final choice, Daley Bicentennial Plaza, at the north end of the park.

The noncommissioned Chicago Wildflower Works 1984 - 2004, looking north, Randolph Street in the distance.
      I drew up several possible plans for the site.  The Chicago Park District and I settled on a diptych of ellipses, like many of my paintings.  However, instead of being side by side, they were end to end, each ellipse being 150’ x 310’. The CPD issued a permanent permit for CWW on December 23, 1983.  In 1983 and 1984, range scientist Dr. Thomas Jefferson Allen and I spent much time studying nearby Illinois prairies which helped us to select the dicotyledons or flowering plants for CWW.  Eventually we learned that Ron Iverson was in the Illinois native plant business.  I was convinced that he was the go-to guy for what I needed.  He furnished us with soil plugs each containing six to twelve seedlings.  According to my blueprint instructions, a professional crew planted 350,000 plugs (it took five full greenhouses to grow them) of Iverson perennials during the fall 1984 – spring 1985 season.  The blueprint also specified soil treatment.  However, when the seedlings became recognizable, some proved not to be native species. Fortunately, the “bad” plants quickly diminished from CWW.  The alternative of using soil plugs instead of wildflower seeds cost me a few hundred thousand dollars more.  Actually, cost was never an issue because artist Christo had inspired me after I learned that he self-funded his massive artwork.  I had known him and Jeanne-Claude since the early 1970s.  And right after Christo installed his Colorado “Valley Curtain” I was invited to spend an evening with both artists.  During the 1980s the iconic duo traveled to cities in the U.S. By coincidence I crossed paths with them in several cities.  In 1984 I worked at adjoining tables and created CWW lithographs at the Jack Lemmon Print Shop in Chicago.  My admiration for Christo’s originality and talent only grew.  He personally invited me to Paris, France to see his work, The Pont-Neuf Wrapped.  Because I was committed to stay and work on CWW, I declined the invitation.

The Chicago Wildflower Works 1984 - 2004, looking south, Buckingham Fountain is in the distance.
      So by using seeds to create the Dallas Museum of Natural History Wildflower Works, I consider it to have been a great success that yielded a potpourri of colors.  I could see future applications using seeds or seedling soil plugs or a combination.  (In my complaint against the CPD to protect my artist’s rights, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals basically said that I was not the creator or author of CWW; that the wildflower seeds themselves created CWW instead of me!  Those seeds were certainly secretive little buggers, weren’t they?)

    The many tenants of the surrounding commercial and residential buildings had great views of the Plaza.  The nearby 400 E. Randolph Street building was home to some of our most ardent volunteers and supporters.  The CWW was in effect their “front yard.”   Working alongside the much appreciated help of over 100 volunteers, we maintained the CWW across more than 20 years.  During that time the CWW cost the Chicago Park District virtually nothing.  As a matter of fact, using the conservative amount of $5.00 per square foot, the CWW saved the CPD somewhere in the neighborhood of $6,600,000.00 across two decades!  The amount does not include 15 years of tap water savings due to the CWW requiring only rainwater.  In 2000 I requested the CPD to permanently disconnect the water supply to stop water leakage.  The request was immediately honored.

The noncommissioned Chicago Wildflower Works 1984 - 2004, white blooms

    As part of a public relations thrust the CPD organized a luncheon at the Daley Bicentennial Plaza field house.  My watercolor painting of the park--a panoramic capturing many of the surrounding downtown Chicago buildings—and a professionally prepared scale model with CWW in place, were central to the event.  Dignitaries attending the luncheon included Bonnie Swearingen.  Her husband, bank executive and oil tycoon, John could glance out of his office window to take in a superb view of CWW.   Bonnie and John were instrumental in convincing me to move from Dallas, TX to Chicago to install CWW.  Fatefully, also in attendance were members of the Friends of the Park, who were archenemies of the CPD and its then-superintendent Ed Kelly (no relation to me).  I was impressed with the CPD’s openness in inviting them.

     I began a tour of slide presentations and lectures to better inform the public and generate support for the CWW, including the following:
1984 – American Society of Landscape Architects, Illinois Chapter (they sent a commendation to the Chicago Park District)
March 7-8, 1985 - School of Landscape Architecture, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana

The Chicago Wildflower Works 1984 - 2004, lake view

April 2, 1985 - Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
April 3, 1985 – School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
April 24, 1985 – Buckingham Plaza, Chicago
May 14, 1985 – Harbor Point, Condo Association Board and members, Chicago
June 4, 1985 – 400 E. Randolph Street Building, Chicago
August 8, 1985 – Midwest Institute of Park Executives
September 24, 1985 – School of Landscape Architecture, University of Illinois, visiting from Champaign-Urbana
October 24, 1985 - Seventh International Conference on Urban Design, co-sponsored by The Institute for Urban Design in cooperation with the City of Chicago Department of Planning
1986 - Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, “Blooming Celebrations.” major fundraiser
1985 - New England Wildflower Society
1988 - School of Art and Architecture, Yale University

     There were many other slide shows presented to various civic and garden clubs.  The word began to spread about CWW.  For example, on June 20, 1985, the New York Times published its “Flowers as Art in a Chicago Park.”  Coincidentally, the same day the Christian Science Monitor published a front page article about CWW.

     I was invited to make a special trip to show my slide presentation at a Friends of the Park board meeting at the Sears Tower (since renamed Willis Tower).  FOP director Erma Tranter allowed me only five minutes for my presentation; the rest of the meeting was devoted to discussing how to bring the CPD and Ed Kelly to court to have him deposed. 

The noncommissioned Chicago Wildflower Works 1984 - 2004, overview

     After the meeting, attorney Alexander Polikoff (lead attorney in the landmark U.S. civil rights case Gautreaux et al. v. Chicago Housing Authority) asked me to allow his wife Barbara to interview me for a Chicago Magazine article.  Barbara’s write up appeared in the July 1985 issue titled, Chapman Kelley’s Wild Idea. It was a very complementary piece, with full color illustration of CWW across two pages.   However, the remaining article was a blatant attack on CPD superintendent Ed Kelly and the CPD; it was a most unfortunate political beginning.  FOP and the “lakefront liberals” had successfully kept Richard M. Daley from becoming mayor of Chicago.  Instead they supported mayors Jane Byrne and later, Harold Washington.  The Polikoff family was very nice to me.  During my extended hospital stay over the December holidays, they visited me and brought homemade cake.  I met the entire family.   They had me meet a group that was eager to see Chicago host another World’s Fair.
     Co-founders of the FOP were Jim and Joanne Alter, (Joanne, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Sanitary District and formerly with the Water Reclamation District), and Lois Weisberg (served six years as head of Mayor Harold Washington’s Office of Special Events), and Walter Netsch, who possessed an egomaniacal personality and was on the staff of a major architectural firm in Chicago.  Netsch, being somewhat of an art collector, had made himself look ridiculous by organizing an exhibition of his own paintings, something that is virtually unheard of in the profession.  Lois Weisberg wished to create and distribute posters and banners throughout Chicago promoting CWW.  She let it be known that Ed Kelly and the CPD approved her effort.  However, we later learned that Weisberg had not received approval from either one.  This signaled the beginning of the struggle for the FOP to gain control of CWW.  It was not unlike the power grab of what had happened to me in Austin, TX and Dallas, TX.  People in all three cities sought to exploit my concept by calling it their own idea.

     The CPD refused to cooperate with Weisberg.  Instead, they demonstrated a streak of bold independence by using two banners designed by me that were flown high and mighty in tandem with American flags at Daley Bicentennial Plaza.