Art Works Design . . . . . Brain & Eye Guzzles

A review of what's visually/mentally stimulating

Archive for September, 2009

Empirical Opera Unveiled!


Want to know what this is about? Learn more about E.O.’s Fall activities! Sign up and be a biker, zombie, pirate paddler or fairy explorer as you investigate Chicago as a learning labatory. Send inquiries to


Have you experienced the Chicago River?…

Sign-Up and join us in canoeing/kayaking the Chicago Flatwater Classic:
Sunday October 4th

Facing South at Addison on the Chicago River

Facing South at Addison on the Chicago River

Steady at the stern

Steady at the stern

And to add in a little history of the river taken from this well written blog, Silent Sports (follow this link for their more complete details and maps of the Chicagoland section of the Chicago River):

“People who have lived and paddled in the area for many years suggest that while the water in the Chicago River is still not swimmable and there are still unattractive places along the river, the water quality is now better than it was for the previous 150 years. A great deal of the credit for this and other improvements must go to the various environmental and recreational interest groups – such as the Friends of the Chicago River and the Openlands Project – that have tirelessly advocated for cleaning up Chicago-area rivers and streams and for providing public access.

A Little History

It would be difficult to exaggerate the historical importance of the Chicago River. Like the Fox-Wisconsin River portage route in Wisconsin, the Chicago River once provided a major highway from the eastern United States to the Mississippi River. Until the early 1800s, fur traders, missionaries and other travelers approached the mouth of the river from Lake Michigan in their canoes, then paddled westward up the south branch of the river and portaged across wetlands to the Des Plaines. From there they continued to the Illinois River and eventually to the Mississippi. In 1848 the Illinois and Michigan Canal provided a big boost for Chicago’s development by linking the Chicago and Illinois rivers. (Although the canal was soon made obsolete by railroads, much of it is still well-preserved and parts of it are paddleable.)

Before the arrival of white settlers, the Chicago River system consisted of two branches. One, the north branch, was the convergence of three streams – the west, middle and east forks – originating in what are now the suburbs of Deerfield, Glencoe and Winnetka. Moving southward, the Chicago met the east-flowing south fork – in present-day downtown Chicago – and the mingled waters or main stem then headed east into Lake Michigan.

With the opening of the I & M Canal and the development of railroads, Chicago grew exponentially and became a major trading and shipping center for the lumber and meatpacking industries. Unfortunately, businesses regarded the river as a convenient place to dump waste, and pollution became a major problem. Especially notorious were the meat-processing plants and stockyards that used the river as a sewer. One stretch was so contaminated with rotting animal carcasses and other waste, for instance, that it came to be known as Bubbly Creek. Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel The Jungle drew international attention with its stomach-churning descriptions of the industry and its abuses.

Spewing its accumulated filth into Lake Michigan, which was the source of the city’s drinking water, the polluted river created huge public health problems for Chicago. Outbreaks of typhus and other diseases killed thousands of people. In order to safeguard the water supply, the city undertook a couple of huge engineering projects around the turn of the 20th century, one of which changed the course of the river, thus diverting wastes away from the lake.

One project was the construction of locks that redirected the river westward, drawing water from Lake Michigan, into a newly dug, 28-mile Sanitary and Ship Canal that led the Mississippi River via the Des Plaines and Illinois rivers. Much to the enduring consternation of many downstate Illinoisans, the eight-mile North Shore Channel sent northern suburban waste away into the redirected river. Other projects followed, including the 16-mile Cal-Sag Channel that connected the Little Calumet River to the Sanitary and Ship Canal.

Fortunately, the growing demand for environmental standards, the decline of the stockyards and meatpacking industries, political pressure, public health concerns and increased attention to aesthetic and recreational need have made a huge difference. One example is the complex and expensive Deep Tunnel Project undertaken by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to keep storm water and untreated wastewater out of the river. Beginning in the 1990s, various groups have marshaled their resources to assess various aspects of the Chicago River system and make recommendations for improvements. Much remains to be done, of course, but many of the efforts have already borne fruit.

Getting On the River

So how can you see for yourself the best that the “new and improved” Chicago River has to offer? Given the fact that it sits in a teeming, heavily trafficked area of millions of people and thus doesn’t lend itself to the usual research-scout-and-paddle methodology, I’ll make two recommendations.

First, take advantage of the organizations that provide well-organized trips on safe, attractive sections of the river. In my opinion, the best of these are the trips offered by the Friends of the Chicago River, a marvelous association that has worked tirelessly since 1979 to restore the Chicago River for the benefit of people and wildlife. According to its website,, the organization’s mission “spans the entire 156-mile Chicago River system and its surrounding watershed. … The friends group works in partnership with municipalities, businesses, community groups, schools, peer organizations, government agencies, and individuals on projects that benefit the river….

A second recommendation is that you consider renting a canoe or kayak from Chicago River Canoe and Kayak, a 7-year-old business with two riverside locations where you can rent and launch boats. One is located in Chicago at Clark Park, 3400 N. Rockwell St., just south of Addison and west of Western, while the other is farther north in Skokie on the North Shore Channel.

The latter is a lock-to-lock stretch that starts at the Oakton Channelside Park boat landing at 3220 Oakton, heads north through a mostly wooded area to the Wilmette Harbor Lock at Lake Michigan, then returns downstream for an out-and-back total of eight miles. The current flows south in the North Shore Channel but it is easy to paddle against the current. In fact, the current is generally minimal on most of the Chicago River. One reason is that, after a series of challenges to Chicago’s withdrawal of water from the Great Lakes to feed the southeastward flow of the river, the courts radically reduced the allowable outflow from Lake Michigan.

In addition to boat and equipment rentals in Chicago and Skokie, Chicago River Canoe and Kayak schedules a number of paddling events, including trips to such streams as the Des Plaines, Little Calumet and Kankakee rivers and Salt Creek. For more information, go to”

A Flexible Adaptable Chair

Remember your slinky?


Athletic/Active Furniture

Logan Square Woodworking Camp


Fairy House Blueprint

Fairy House Blueprint

Not a finger was lost, nor a drop of blood spilled as our intrepid woodworkers completed a week-long workshop. A variety of specialized projects bloomed from the minds of these 6-10 year olds including: a Medieval Castle, all forms of knight’s shields and armaments, tiny ladders, wood-burned & painted wood art, and even a Fairy House with tiny composting bin out back.

More photos here.

Building and measuring

Building and measuring