A Lake Michigan Rock Garden.

On a secluded beach at the end of Ravine Drive in Highland Park now sits a rock garden that has (I hope) a little bit of mystery and magic in it.

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Ravine Drive is a winding road, secluded, lush with old trees and elegant houses. A small parking lot laid at the end marks the entrance to Millard Park and Ravine Drive Beach.

The beach has undergone a significant transformation over the past year. An old building was torn down, its foundation ripped out of the sand. Native foliage was replanted. And a lifelong resident of Highland Park’s curiosity and fascination with the stones that wash up on shore was brought to life.

I had the great pleasure to meet with Marjie Ettinger, her husband Dick, and Rebecca Grill, Natural Areas Manager for The Park District of Highland Park over a year ago about this project. Marjie was interested in producing some kind of lasting installation about the multitude of rocks there. I was there to give it some shape: this is the early plan.

The initial Concept

“The initial concept: a bench, a pebble harp, and a garden of giant beach stones, boulder-sized, with their names inscribed in them.”

It’s not every day one gets the opportunity to create art for a public venue, or get the help and support one needs to actually make it happen. I am extremely grateful to say that Marjie and Rebecca both fell in love with the idea and ran with it. The indefatigable Ms. Grill turned her considerable energies to making sure this idea came to fruition, recruiting geologist Charles Shabica to assist in picking out the five types of stones that would be set in the beach, and Eagle Scout candidate Duncan Holzhall (who brought a whole cadre of Boy Scouts along with him) to build the bench and the pebble harp.

An Early Pebble Harp Sketch

Put the pebbles in the holes at the top and listen to them travel to the bin below.  It's good music.

Put the pebbles in the holes at the top and listen to them travel to the bin below. It’s good music.

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The rocks were bought, and had their names carved into them, by the good folks at Schwake Stone, Brick, and Fireplace Company.

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Already here in these photos you can see that the installation is working its magic; people engage with the garden, embellishing it with their own particular touches.

One of the significant motivating ideas throughout this project was to leave an opening for curiosity and wonder. In this day and age, when most of us carry the internet around in our pocket, it felt significant to not over-explain what is going on here at the beach. The rocks are simply identified, without any further explanation; the bench and pebble harp merely add anchors and further opportunity to engage with the area, also without explanation. Anyone can look up the names of these rocks on their phone and be connected to a wealth of information about them–far more than we could ever print on museum-esque panels mounted on poles on the beach. But is the beach really the place one wants to be standing and reading about rocks, geology, glaciers and currents and tides that move these rocks around? Or is it a place for play, for wonder, for exploration?

My contention is that one should leave the reading and academic information for where it can be absorbed best: at home, looking at a computer screen or the pages of a book. While at the beach – let’s play.

I hope you get to take a visit up to the end of Ravine Drive and explore the newfound serenity and natural peace found there. It’s a beautiful area, and I’m proud to have helped bring its new vibe into the world.

Revealing Chicago: Millennium Park 2005

Millennium Park was just a gleam in Mayor Daley’s eye when Terry Evans asked me if I wanted to work on a photo exhibition with her – the first one in the new park.  I worked closely with Ms. Evans while she was photographing inside The Field Museum for the exhibition From Prairie to Field. ((As you might have seen from the link to the Field Museum’s page, the exhibition was remounted in 2008.  The original was designed in 2001; I have some fine photographs from that original installation that will make it to this site eventually.))  I couldn’t have been more excited; I believe I accepted the job on the spot, without hesitation.

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The exhibition was spearheaded by the indefatigable Jerry Adelman of Openlands, with cooperation and participation by Metropolis Strategies (then operating as Metropolis 2020).  The goal: to show the residents of Chicago their land–what it looks like from overhead, what it’s being used for, and how the growth of the city changes the landscape around us.

The exhibition opened in June of 2005 with the concrete still drying on the Gehry Bandshell.  I’m very proud to have worked on it.  It was a pleasure and a privilege to help bring Terry’s stunning photographs to an audience who could appreciate them as art and also be able to say, “hey, there’s my house!” or, “I drive past that every morning and had no idea it looked like that.”  To talk about the growth and progress of Chicago with its denizens and visitors in such a highly visible public space felt then – and still feels now – like one of the most valuable things I can do with the opportunities I’ve been given.

Revealing Chicago taught me more than I can relate here about the past, present, and future of the city.  Being on the periphery of Hizzoner’s great public work taught me a lot about the inner workings of Chicago government – which, as you may know, has always been a lively battleground.  At the opening of the exhibition I got to have a brief conversation with the Mayor:

 Hizzoner: Hey, nice show you got here.

JD: Thanks, Mayor!  Nice park you got here!

Hizzoner: Hey, thanks!

The rest of the conversation is one for the record books.  In order to appreciate it fully, some setup (and knowledge of certain maneuvers involving a former airport) is required – but if you wanna hear it and you run into me sometime I’ll be glad to tell it.

Do yourself a favor: take a look at Terry’s gallery of images from the show.  And (if you’re really interested) pick up the exhibition catalog.  I’m sure whether you are a Chicago native or just interested in some amazing photos, you’ll find something intriguing and beautiful.

Cleopatra: Field Museum, 2001

I first learned of the exhibition that was to become Cleopatra: from History to Myth in a meeting at the Field Museum with a representative from the diver Franck Goddio.  He showed our team some photos taken in the harbor of Alexandria.

Historians had long known that there was much of ancient Alexandria that was under the waters of the modern day harbor, but until 1992 all access to the ruins was blocked by the Egyptian military.  Goddio and his team were the first modern-day surveyors of the submerged royal quarters of the Ptolemies–the last dynasty of pharaohs to rule Egypt.  What they found there shed a tremendous amount of light on the Ptolemaic Dynasty’s most famous daughter: Cleopatra VII.

Here are some of the photos from the exhibition at the Field Museum.  The artifacts were first shown in the Palazzo Ruspoli and hosted by the Fondazione Memmo; from there, they traveled to the British Museum and the workplace of the head curator for the exhibition, Susan Walker.  Ours was the final stop; we devoted almost 10,000 square feet to the display of over 130 artifacts.

The exhibition was a huge success.  The team working on it (graphic designer Dirk Urban, content developer Barbara Ceiga, projection and multimedia specialist Steve Villano, production supervisor Nel Featherling, project manager David Foster) was one of the finest I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with.