Cannas & Corn: a Garden Community
by Olivia Gude with community residents
a commission by the Chicago Transit Authority
for the Central Park Pink Line Station
This mosaic at the Central Park Station on the CTA Pink Line is a permanent commemoration of an ephemeral public art form—the community garden. North Lawndale has many dedicated people who work together to transform abandoned urban spaces. I met with neighborhood gardeners and listened to their memories about learning to garden as youths and their current struggles to create beauty in neglected places. The images in the mosaic are based on the snapshot documentation they shared with me when explaining their ambitious living projects.
This mosaic was fabricated in an intergenerational community workshop to “plant the seeds” of mosaic making skills in the community so that locally made public art can become part of the garden making process. In the process of learning to make mosaics, each participant made a sample project to take home. These individual projects, created in tile identical to that of the main mosaic are miniature public art outreach projects—bringing the energy of the public mosaic into homes throughout the area and serving as a reminder of the collective origins of the public artwork.
The image on the left of the mosaic, showing stately corn and canna lily plants growing side by side under the old CTA tracks, is a tribute to the vanished industrial grandeur of the original tracks and to the tenacity of the gardeners who claimed bits of idle land for multiple positive purposes. Food plants, grown along with ornamental plants in many of the community gardens, introduce urban children to the origins of the food they eat.
Three seed packets are “scattered” onto the mosaic. MIND (with a healing Echinacea flower) refers to knowing, to obeying elders, and to cultivating people and places. To HOPE (with a carrot) is to continue cultivating and to sense possibility even when the results are not yet visible. To REALIZE (with a sunflower) symbolizes being in the sunlight of knowledge, becoming aware, and making things happen through attentive care. Traditional and progressive community values: faith, hope, and charity.
Changing places changes lives. Changing perceptions also changes lives. In the still-to-be-reclaimed land in the foreground of the mosaic is a quote from a community resident, “thought they were weeds…saw they were wildflowers.” Even when things in the environment aren’t perfect one can be filled with joy, hope, and positive energy. Look at the gardeners of North Lawndale to know that this is true.
Created on the Blue Line, this is now the Pink Line.