On a warm summer night, sitting in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, with it’s imposing metal mania of a sound system sluicing the air, I caught sight of what was once the tallest building in Chicago. The Prudential Building poked out just north of the park and I couldn’t help but remember the day my mother introduced my sister and me to this skyscraper.
Ma never finished grade school. I can’t remember her ever reading a novel, though she read the financial section of the Chicago Tribune every day until she passed away. She wasn’t well-versed, but she routinely watched WTTW television, a fan from its infancy, and she enjoyed the richness of public broadcasting. Ma was a faithful monetary contributor, giving what small amounts she could, though I did not know she donated to the station until just before she died.
It was on a warm summer day when I was about 12 years old that my mother, my sister, and I took two busses to get to the Lake Street El in Oak Park. Once in the Loop, we walked the short distance to the Art Institute of Chicago, my first time there. I was hooked just passing the lions at the entrance. Ma had done some research, asked some questions, made some phone calls that we were not privy to.
What we were privy to was an introduction to fine art. I remember that trip downtown to this day, more than 50 years later.
From the Art Institute, we walked to the Prudential Building. Did we eat lunch there? I don’t remember, but, I do remember the bird’s-eye view of the Lake from the “top of the rock”.
Thursday night I sat in an open-air auditorium in a park that spanned the distance between the Art Institute of Chicago and the Prudential Building.
Chicago is a well-storied city, ranging from its early days as a settlement named for the wild onions that grew there, to the great Chicago Fire and then the Columbian Exposition. A second city was born out of that fire, you see. One new from the first. Bigger, better, stronger. Chicago is known for its gangsters, like Al Capone, the Haymarket Riot, the 1968 Democratic Convention – and its politicians. It is also known for its hospitality and fortitude, its architecture, world-renowned institutions of higher learning. hospitals, art, music, public spaces and resolve – and I must mention one of the most beautiful and open lake fronts in the world.
So it was, on Thursday, sitting with good friends, after an hour of innovative music, that WTTW’s Geoffrey Baer introduced those instrumental to the evening’s events, including Piet Oudolf, one of the designers of the Lurie Garden, which opened ten years ago in Millennium Park – and then, the wonderful documentary of Jens Jensen’s life and works, The Living Green, began.
The Living Green is a stellar documentary of Jens Jensen’s life, career, innovation of landscape architecture, and his gift of green space to all. As the film ended, flashes of lightening and rumbles of thunder announced the rainfall that ushered us out of the park. As we left, I thought of the film and I marveled at the fact that such an event, a mere speck in the sand of how many were held along the open shoreline of Lake Michigan, and how a city, whether small or large, should be organic in nature, providing spaces for all of its citizens to breath in air, soak up sunshine and be refreshed and restored in the still green earth we live in.
Have you been in a Jens Jensen designed park, a Piet Oudolf garden, a green space nestled into a city of concrete and steel?