FEATURE: Artist Lynn Basa to Create Art Installation to Honor the Chicago Workers Cottage

The frequent target of “wreck and replace” developers looking to cash in on Chicago’s strong housing market, the humble Chicago workers cottage will be celebrated in a permanent art installation by Chicago artist, Lynn Basa. Basa has designed over 50 site-specific art commissions, taught in the sculpture department at the Art Institute of Chicago and authored an artist’s guidebook to public art.

But it got personal when the Wicker Park Bucktown Special Service Area #33, issued a Request for Proposals for a large installation to be located at the corner of Wood Street and Milwaukee Avenue, in the artist’s neighborhood. The installation will be the largest public art commission in the history of the Wicker Park and Bucktown neighborhoods.

“I was just determined when they had this competition that I was going to win it, because I [did] not want to have to go through this neighborhood and see some piece of crap on that corner that doesn’t honor this neighborhood,” said Basa to Jane Recker of the Chicago Sun-Times. (Recker, Chicago Sun-Times, 6/20/18)

“The sculpture will incorporate the form of a Chicago “worker cottage” — a historical staple of the Bucktown and Wicker Park neighborhoods. Beginning in the late 19th century, these bungalow-style houses (generally around 1,100 square feet) became the first standardized affordable housing in the city. For the first time, working-class people could have luxuries like a parlor and separate rooms for the adults and children, which previously were only accessible to the rich folk, Basa said.” (Recker, Chicago Sun-Times, 6/20/18)

“Basa said it was imperative that the sculpture be as true to the worker cottage as possible. The sculpture itself will be simple: the frame of a house constructed of glass bricks held together by a steel casing. The frame will be the exact dimensions of a worker cottage, and the glass bricks the same dimensions as the clay bricks used to construct the houses. Underneath the frame of the house, granite cobblestones excavated from Milwaukee Avenue will create a pathway for pedestrians, with two limestone benches carved with designs commonly found on cottage lintels flanking either side” (Recker, Chicago Sun-Times, 6/20/18)

“Sometimes my partner, Doug, [and I], we just go on dates with Chicago, and we’ll just walk and let Chicago provide.” These dates are often along Milwaukee Avenue, an avenue where immigrant workers would come after their shifts to eat at the restaurants and drink at the bars, Basa said.

“Sound familiar?” she said. “Milwaukee Avenue is still sustaining the worker. Maybe the worker is working at Google, or in a law firm downtown, but there’s a continuity there of history that I’m hoping this sculpture, this memorial to the worker cottage can remind people of.” (Recker, Chicago Sun-Times, 6/20/18)

“[This sculpture isn’t] just a ghost,” she said. “It’s a hopeful symbol of how the worker cottage and Wicker Park can go into the future, hopefully by embracing the future and honoring the past.” (Recker, Chicago Sun-Times, 6/20/18)

Link to read the outstanding full article by Jane Recker of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Additional Reading

‘Worker Cottage Parklet’ art installation honors Chicago’s working class history, Jane Recker, Chicago Sun-Times, June 20, 2018

The Chicago style workers cottage gets spotlight in new art installation, Sara Freund, Curbed Chicago, 6/26/18

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