Water Marks, the Silurian Seat

Title:  Water Marks

Site:  Gateway Park at Navy Pier, Chicago

Artists: Olivia Gude, Kiela Smith, Cynthia Weiss, Mirtes Zwierzynski, and Jon Pounds

Community Participants: Volunteers from Chicago neighborhoods, suburbs and smaller towns along the Illinois and Michigan Canal

Sponsors:  Chicago Public Art Group and the Canal Corridor Association

Year:  1998

Scale:  Variable – Four mosaic covered concrete benches connected by a terrazzo path

Materials: Concrete, hand made ceramic tile, and glass tile

Information:  The Silurian Seat
Fittingly, this bench begins with the land--it celebrates the land that is Chicago as a passageway for birds, glaciers, rivers, animals, and people. The seat of the bench shows the animal fossils that were left behind by the sea that covered the Chicago region 425 million years ago. Fossils date from the Silurian to the Mississippean Periods; mosaic designs include trilobites, cephalopods, and coral-reef shells.

The bench’s back form is modeled after the land that was shaped by the glaciers that covered Chicago one to one hundred thousand years ago. The mosaic lines on the back of the smaller seat show the strata of boulders, gravel, sand, and silt deposited as the glaciers retreated. The back also shows the wild onion plants that gave Chicago its name: “Chigagou, the place of the onion.”

The right seat back depicts the rich prairie earth created when the glaciers melted. The prairie ecosystem sustained Native American and European traders, hunters, and farmers in the area. The mosaics show tallgrass prairie plants, including the compass plant. It’s said that lost settlers found their way in the night by feeling the plant’s broad leaves, which always faced the rising sun.

The left seat shows oversized images of arrowheads used by the Native American peoples--the Illinois, Ottawa, Sauk, Fox, and Potowatomi--who traversed and lived in the region until they were forced to cede their lands and move farther west.

The bench skirt section honors immigrant canal workers, some of whom died while constructing the canal. The clay figures were made in Morris, Illinois by volunteers who modeled for the poses and who also researched the workers’ tools and clothing. The figure of a woman washing the workers’ clothes shows how domestic work supported this (and every) monumental human endeavor. The final figure, surveying the land, is the canal’s engineer, William Gooding.

For more information about Water Marks visit these portfolios:
Water Marks Lock Bench, 1998
Water Marks Turning Basin Bench, 1998
Water Marks Water Bench, 1998