By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — Five artists from the region have turned steel doors tied to the city’s industrial past into rich and vivid new works of public art.
Shaniqwa Porter, Asia Peters, Laura Gomel, Joshua Valdovinos and Brett Whitacre tackled the Screw City Steel project over Labor Day weekend at Davis Park in Rockford. On Tuesday, some of the artists gathered with sponsors and other supporters to celebrate the new displays.
The eight new murals were painted on two sides of four industrial steel doors that were harvested from the former Rockford Products site at Harrison Avenue and Kishwaukee Street. They’re setup on stands near the south end of Davis Park, adjacent to the Embassy Suites by Hilton Rockford Riverfront Hotel.
They’ll stay there until the city begins its efforts — starting with the demolition of the seven-story, 106-year-old Lorden building — to revamp Davis Park.
“They will be here until they’re moved because of construction,” said Mary McNamara-Bernsten, executive director of the Rockford Area Arts Council, which put together the project. “We hope that they will end up at the skatepark area, which there will be quite an alignment then with that kind of urban feel.”
The theme for the project was You Belong Here. In the pictorial below, we asked each of the five artists to tell us about how they tried to illustrate a sense of belonging.
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About: “I took the You Belong Here message as a message of welcoming. … I thought, ‘what’s the most welcoming thing I could put here to draw people into the space,'” Peters said of her mural. “I thought, ‘what’s more welcoming than a face?'”
“All of these faces have different characteristics, and not necessarily faces that you would recognize, but they all have something unique and beautiful about them.
“So if they belong here, then you belong here, too.”
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Her mural depicts four panels in the style of a graphic novel: A Muslim woman studying at Rock Valley College, a Latina doctor, a roller derby competitor wearing LGBTIQA+ Pride-colored socks and an artist who was modeled after Porter, a fellow artist in the Screw City Steel project. The roller derby player was made in resemblance of Sabrena Ferguson, who serves as vice president, coach and plays jammer for the Rockford Rage.
“I was trying to give as much different representation as possible in the one piece,” Gomel said.
About: “I wanted to create something that not only represents but makes you feel at peace along with giving some hope,” Porter said in an email to the Rock River Current.
“I chose for her skintone to be hues of blues and green, which represents Earth and diversity. The three humming birds are holding watering pots labeled love, hope and peace as a reminder to viewers to continue to pour into others love, hope and peace in our world today.”
McNamara-Bernsten also appreciated the imagery of the figure rising out of the cityscape.
“You can see the hummingbirds and their speed and agility, and then their interest in watering and nurturing this person who is coming out of our Rockford cityscape,” McNamara-Bernsten said.
About: “The tree is a representation of finding the ground you’re at home at and planting yourself so you can grow and build something meaningful, starting your own family tree if you will,” Valdovinos said in a message to the Rock River Current.
“Also, the residents of Rockford represented in the trunk hands are growing together, flourishing in creating/building a stronger vibrant city. I would hope that when residents see it they know they are part of the growth.”
McNamara-Bernsten said she loves the “Forest City roots” of this piece.
“With the roots of the trees, and showing the roots are intertwined and that we are all connected, and with that connection creates a sense of belonging,” she said.
About: Whitacre has four pieces in the Screw City Steel series that are all displayed on the opposite side of other artists’ work on the old industrial steel doors.
In a way, Whitacre’s work serves as an anchor to the project’s theme. Each incorporates the words “You Belong Here” and the logo to showcase the theme of the series.
The four pieces are emblematic of Whitacre’s work as a muralist: They feature vibrant colors and tight geometric lines.
“The color shows diversity and belonging,” Whitacre said.
When the steel doors eventually move, Whitacre said there’s a possibility they’ll be grouped together to form an almost wall-like look. Although the future layout hasn’t been set in stone.
“All of mine (could) be faced one way and theirs would be faced the other way,” he said. “I’d love to see that together.”
About | Screw City Steel
Screw City Steel is a Rockford Area Arts Council Art for Impact initiative.
Art for Impact is the council’s effort to bring public art to every neighborhood through partnerships and a regional talent pool.
Screw City Steel was made by local professional artists whose designs were all themed around the message “You Belong Here.”
Sponsors: Collins Aerospace, Amazon, city of Rockford, Sheet Metal Workers Local 219, Helm Mechanical, Nicholson Hardware, Subsource, Inc, Painter’s District Council No. 30, Kjellstrom Family Foundation, First Midwest Group.