Artists breathe new life into old fire hydrants

FOX LAKE, Ill. (AP) — When the art exhibit “Cows on Parade” debuted in Chicago in the summer of 1999 to boost tourism, Michael Lescher, president of the nonprofit organization Promote Fox Lake, was so intrigued he made a special bus trip just to see it.

When the Village of Fox Lake began planning its own art installation earlier this year, he was eager to see how such an exhibit would play out on a smaller scale and be received by the community.

It wasn’t cows, but retired fire hydrants repurposed into colorful sculptures that took over downtown Grand Avenue this summer, and they’ve made quite an impression.

“We’ve gotten a lot of positive comments, not just from residents but people from other towns,” Lescher said. “They’d see one hydrant on the sidewalk, then another, and walk the whole street to see them all. That’s the idea, and it’s working well.”

Donovan Day, Fox Lake’s community development director, said he and trustee Brian Marr were looking for an eye-catching public art display that would strengthen the village’s creative economy by showcasing local talent and came up with the “Inspire Hydrant” campaign, the first of an annual series.

“We know other municipalities have done art projects in their downtown and thought this would be a great use for fire hydrants taken out of service,” Day said. “Public works had about 30 and we took the best 12.”

The village then put a call out for artists to submit a sketch depicting their idea. A panel of judges, including members of Promote Fox Lake, selected the top 12 designs from more than 20 submissions. The judges did not know the identity of the artists.

“It was difficult to do because they were all great,” Lescher said of the elimination process.

The artists, along with their hydrant theme, include: Kristina Bell, of Fox Lake, for “Anchor;” the Foster family including Tim, Diane, Axton and Tianna, of Fox Lake, for “Dream Big;” Fox Lake Trustee Brian Marr, for “It’s Always 5 O’clock in Fox Lake;” Stacey Marszal, of Cary, for “Captain America;” Jessica Metropulos, of Fox Lake, for “Goldfish;” Carolyn Noga, of Fox Lake, for “Wish;” Laura Rudkin, of Spring Grove, for “Sparky;” Courtney Schneider, of Antioch, for “Sunflower;” Averie Schultz, of Fox Lake, for “Magic Man-Fox Lake is Pure Magic;” Danielle Torres, of Fox Lake, for “Probie;” Elizabeth Waddington, of McHenry, for “Hydrant Hydrangea;” and Jean Waschow, of Fox Lake, for “Blackhawks.”

The youngest artist is 9-year-old Averie Schultz, who enjoys painting and spending time with her grandma, “because she’s an artist, too.”

“She gave me tips on how I should put the layers on to not make it fall apart,” said Schultz, who creatively combed the Goodwill store for materials.

The “Magic Man” hydrant was inspired by Schultz’s enchantment with her hometown.

“I was just thinking about all the magic that goes on in Fox Lake. Basically, I think Fox Lake is kind of like a fairy tale,” she said.

Her mother, Carrie, couldn’t be prouder of her daughter’s ambition. “When I saw what she wanted to do, I was very impressed. She did this all herself,” she said.

Seeing her artwork on the street gives Schultz a warm feeling. “It makes me really happy that I can share my art with everyone,” she said.

Grant High School junior Kristina Bell, 16, said she loves art, specifically painting, and thought the Inspire Hydrant project would be an interesting new challenge.

Creating the anchor design took Bell about four hours, while painting took another 14.

“I chose an anchor because it symbolizes the Fox Lake area pretty well, besides being on the village sticker,” she said. “Something a lot of people in the area enjoy is boating and an anchor goes great with that, so I thought it would appeal to a majority of the people living here.”

The most challenging part, Bell said, was making the design symmetrical because she couldn’t see it all at once.

“The most fun by far was seeing the final result. I’m very proud of it. I’ve loved art for so long, and to finally see my work going somewhere besides my living room or to friends or family is crazy. I hope that one day my other pieces are seen by the community. as well.”

Danielle Torres, co-owner of Dino’s Den restaurant in Fox Lake, is up for any creative project, from painting and home decorating to refinishing furniture and sewing curtains, but she had never tackled sculpture.

She found design inspiration while picking out her hydrant, which would become “Probie,” the Lego fireman.

“I saw one of the hydrants and it kind of looked like the body of a Lego and that sparked the idea,” she said.

When she wasn’t working at the restaurant, Torres was working on her hydrant. “It took many, many hours. It turned out really well,” she said.

Not only are the hydrants enlivening Fox Lake’s downtown, they’re all up for sale via an online auction. Residents can bid on their favorite hydrant on the Promote Fox Lake website, through noon on Nov. 1. Standings are posted daily.

“These would be great for a garden bed or even a ‘man cave,'” Day said.

The proceeds will be split between the artist, Promote Fox Lake and the Fox Lake Volunteer Fire Department.

“I think it’s great. It’s one more thing the community can do together,” said Tom Muehlfelder, president of the Fox Lake Volunteer Fire Department, a nonprofit fundraising group and social club.

Muehlfelder said their share of the proceeds will help maintain the firefighter memorial and museum. The building, which dates back to 1952, is in need of some repairs.