Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Midway Sprites

This year I was able to be part of a fantastic project in conjunction with my own place of work. MOSI in Tampa obtained a grant to improve the Richard T Bowers Historic Tree Grove, a project that I have been planning for over 10 years. This year, I am finally able to work on making it a reality.

The space is a small park of 16 trees which are seedlings of parent trees, each connected with a famous person, place or event. My dream has been to combine history, art and gardens to create a beautiful and moving space.

With the help of a Hillsborough County Historic Preservation grant, we have been able to start with a number of improvements. Each tree will have a sign that explains its past and is adorned with beautiful artwork by Holly Bird. Each tree will have an ethnobotanical garden to help interpret its past with concepts created by myself and the brilliant Jill Staake. An artists created wind instrument for each tree will give voice to every tree when the wind shakes their leaves. Lastly, each tree will have a bench for guests and each bench will be decorated with a piece of art created especially for the tree.

A number of incredibly talented artists created gorgeous pieces for the project, but this time I got to bring my art to work with me. I created the bench art mural for the Frank Lloyd Wright Ginkgo tree. I took my inspiration from the design of Midway Gardens in Chicago and the Garden Sprite statues that adorned the structure in its brief existence.

Last week the printed versions of the art arrived and on Thursday we will install the benches in place. In the next few weeks we will also install the printed murals on the garden benches and a piece of my art will finally have a home in the garden where I have worked for nearly 14 years. Anyway, here is the piece and the information that I put together for the MOSI website.

Kristen Gilpin: Artist Statement
I'm fascinated by history and how it reaches into the present. Modern ruins, ghost towns, lost graveyards and demolished places have a special draw for me. I enjoy researching and exploring these areas and using them as inspiration for my art.

This piece was inspired by the sprite sculptures and a sketch of a mural that appeared at Midway Gardens in Chicago. Midway Gardens was an indoor and outdoor entertainment complex that was designed by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Decorating the inside and outside of the complex were sculptures entitled Garden Sprites. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and sculpted by Alphonso Iannelli, these statues were angular and beautiful men and women. Some playful, others thoughtful, some victorious, the Sprites of Midway Gardens were paired with wall murals to create an otherworldly and beautiful space.

Midway Gardens changed hands and names several times in the brief years of its existence. In 1929 Midway Gardens was demolished and the rubble was bulldozed into Lake Michigan. The demolition included not only the building, but the hundreds of pieces of statuary that had been used at the site. In the mid 1940's several of the sprites were found damaged but intact in a field in Wisconsin, apparently having been saved from demolition. These few were restored and put on display.

Midway Gardens now exists only in black and white photographs, design sketches, memory and these few remaining intact and broken pieces of the sprites. I am glad I could help find a new garden home for the memory of Midway Gardens and the Sprites.

About Kristen: Kristen Gilpin is a historical reenactor, maker of butterflies, artist, calligrapher, gardener, adventurer and history enthusiast who resides in Tampa, Florida. More of her art can be seen at her art blog: melessee.blogspot.com

Prints of the Sprites can be found at my Etsy store: Currant Thoughts.

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