Located in the Near South Side community, locally known as the South Loop, Chicago Women’s Park & Gardens totals 2.51 acres and formerly housed the Vietnam Veterans Museum. Opened to the public in 2000, Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens honors the contributions women have made to the city throughout its history and provides a quiet respite for the community.
The park's fieldhouse features an indoor children’s playground, a cafe and meeting room facilities. The recently renovated second and third floor space includes three new fitness studios, a kids' club room and the Kids Science Labs (KSL), which offer hands-on science classes, summer camps and field trips for kids ages 2-12.
Outside, the park offers a community garden and landscaped grounds. The grounds are complete with an ornamental fountain, the "Helping Hands" sculpture honoring Jane Addams, and passive green space that is available for rental for children’s birthday parties, meetings and other special events.
Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens is located within the Prairie Avenue Historic District and nestled between two house museums— the Widow Clarke House and the Glessner House.
Park-goers visit Chicago Women's Park and Gardens to enjoy programs and fitness opportunities, including Mom, Pop and Tot classes, bridge tournaments and yoga. In the summer, youth attend the Park District’s popular six-week day camp. Specialty camps are also offered, including preschool activities. In addition to programs, Chicago Women’s Park hosts fun special events throughout the year for the whole family, including movies, concerts and other Night Out in the Parks events.
The Clarke House Museum, which sits adjacent to the gardens, was built in 1836 for Henry B. Clarke. The structure is Chicago’s oldest house. Over the years, the house survived fires, belonged to a church and was moved twice. During the second move, the house was stuck in the air for two weeks!
Landscape architect Mimi McKay and architect Tannys Langdon designed Chicago Women’s Park and Garden, which opened to the public in 2000. The small scale of the park and its lushly planted borders enhance the space’s contemplative feeling.
The centerpiece of the park's design is the Botanical Gardens Fountain with a copper-coated cast iron basin created by Robinson Iron of Alexander City, Alabama. A winding path along the perimeter of the site serves as a metaphor of a woman as she moves in and out of traditional boundaries and roles through the course of her life.
In 2011, the Chicago Park District installed a monument in the park in homage to Jane Addams (1860 – 1935), Chicago’s famous social reformer and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Internationally renowned artist Louise Bourgeios (1911 – 2010) created the artwork, which was first dedicated on the city’s lakefront in 1996. The sculpture was commissioned by the B.F. Ferguson Fund of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Representatives of the Art Institute selected Bourgeios because they knew that the surrealist artist would portray Jane Addams through a symbolically powerful artwork rather than a depictive figurative sculpture. Bourgeios produced a series of carved granite hands that sit on rough-hewn granite bases. The monument, which is also known as “Helping Hands,” recognizes the humanity of Addams’ efforts, as well as the large number of people she helped.
Speaking about her work in a 2007 PBS Documentary film, “From Art in the 21st Century,” Louise Bourgeois said, “A work of art does not have to be explained… If you do not have any feeling about this, I cannot explain it to you. If this doesn't touch you, I have failed.”
"Helping Hands" entails six rough hewn stone bases which each support a hand or series of carved black granite hands representing a broad range of people of different ages and backgrounds. The current installation reflects the artist’s original arrangement of the sculptures and their positions.
Describing the significance of the artist and her approach to this project, Michael Darling, a Chief Curator at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art explains, “Louise Bourgeois is one of the most important and influential artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, primarily because she has addressed central aspects of the human condition in her work. Channeling the issues raised during her tumultuous childhood, she has focused her work on ideas about inter-personal communication, nurturing, alienation, belonging, motherhood, sensuality, birth and death, among many other themes. This sculpture is an excellent example of how she suggests these concepts in a truly universal form—through the motif of the human hand.”
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