Visitation School Garden

Title:  Visitation School Garden

Site:  Visitation School
920 Garfield Boulevard, Chicago

Artist:  Phil Schuster

Assistants: Cara Kuball, Caswell James, Christopher Santiago, and Beth Wilson

Community Participants:Visitation School students

Sponsors:  Chicago Public Art Group and GATX Corporation

Year: 2000 and 2001

Scale:  25 x 100 feet - Garden with sculptures and benches

Materials:  Concrete

Information:  To declare that the Visitation School Playlot is Phil Schuster’s most ambitious work yet might be unfair. Over the years, this concrete relief sculptor has helped create several community art gardens and playspaces in Chicago’s neighborhoods--from the ABC Youth Center in North Lawndale to the Pulaski Community Academy in Bucktown--and each one can claim its special charms as well as technical and collaborative successes. Yet in the unfolding picture book of Schuster’s distinctive oeuvre, Visitation would merit a standout chapter all its own.

“It was like an outdoor laboratory,” says Schuster, a 10-year CPAG artist. “I imagine it must have the most diverse collection of the methods and materials I have discovered. It incorporates many of the things I have learned over the years.”

In 2000, Schuster along with Beth Wilson and Caswell James used mostly direct concrete sculpting techniques to transform a small lot in the back of the school into a playful space consisting of relief and mosaic benches, a freestanding figure of St. Martin de Porres, leaf-shaped stepping stones, embellished planters, and a wood relief archway. The project involved the work of students, teachers, and GATX volunteers.

The following year, the artist team led by Schuster created the small group amphitheater, arranged around a low stage platform. The seating area is composed of five 6-foot “learning logs” featuring small cast-concrete “twig” letters spelling out African proverbs such as “A snake that you can see does not bite” and deep-relief images relating to the texts.