This pair of vibrant mosaics decorates the Bryn Mawr Street underpass at Lake Shore Drive. The Chicago Park District partnered with the Chicago Public Art Group and former alderman Mary Ann Smith on the project, which was made possible through city funds and donations from the community. Lead artists Tracy Van Duinen, Todd Osborne, and Cynthia Weiss produced the mosaics with the assistance of teenagers from Alternatives, Inc., a multicultural youth development agency, as well as community volunteers. In total, over four hundred people participated in making the expansive 15-by-185-foot compositions over the course of two summers.
The project began on the north wall of the underpass. Entitled Living, the mosaic encompasses the history of the Edgewater community and the Bryn Mawr Historic District. Van Duinen, Osborne, and Weiss spent eighteen months working with residents to develop a composition that captures the diverse urban and natural environments of Edgewater. Transportation scenes—an elevated train and a person riding a bike—indicate the area’s proximity and easy access to downtown. Other details speak of the neighborhood’s reputation for iconic architecture, such as a depiction of the historic Edgewater Beach Hotel. Speckled images of a rising sun, birds in flight, cool blue waves, and jumping fish capture the natural beauty of Chicago’s lakefront.
Public response to the mosaic was so positive that the following summer the artists were asked to create a sister artwork for the south wall of the underpass. This composition, known as Growing, reflects the future hope of the neighborhood. Community members participated in workshops and made nearly 250 ceramic elements, primarily depicting butterflies and flowers as signs of regeneration and new life. Other images of growth include a farmer tending to a plant. The public was also invited to contribute family and historic photographs, some of which were digitally transferred to tiles. Several dozen of these images are incorporated into the body of a female figure, which serves as a symbol of the united community.
The remarkable depth of color and dimension in Living and Growing is the result of the bricolage technique, in which a melange of mirror, concrete, clay, and colored tiles are connected by colored grout. Bricolage is especially stunning in an underpass setting, as it sparkles and shimmers under the headlights of passing cars, bringing beauty and light to a dark, transitional space.