Months after a hailstorm shattered the glass roof of the Garfield Park Conservatory to pieces, a local artist is building it back up – one bowl at a time.
The conservatory hooked up with glass artist Bryan Northup in September, as it was searching for ways to reuse piles of broken glass following the June storm. They wanted to preserve the remnants somehow, rather than simply tossing them.
“A lot of people have gotten married there or worked there for years. I thought it would be cool for them to have a piece of the conservatory, a little piece of history, and it’s a great way to help this landmark,” Northup said.
The conservatory located Northup, 37, using a business called Special E, which recycles items left over from special events. Northup has an Etsy store, and had previously created artwork from repurposed wine and liquor bottles.
In October, he made his way over to the conservatory, 300 N. Central Park, where he collected an estimated 1,000 pounds of glass shards and transported them back to his Oak Park home in his SUV. That was only a small fraction of leftover glass. The rest has been cleaned up and disposed of.
Northup assembled the shards into a mold, carefully choosing pieces that had unique markings from the hail damage. He then heated them in his kiln for about four or five hours – a process he repeated 100 times. As demand grew for the pieces just before the holidays, he had to borrow a couple of kilns from friends.
The bowls have been made available at the conservatory gift shop for $100. Proceeds are being split evenly between Northup and the conservatory, which is putting those dollars toward restoring their damaged buildings.
JaVonda Landry, the gift shop manager, said the bowls were a hot item this holiday season, with 39 already purchased, and 18 remaining in inventory.
“We’ve sold a ton of them,” she said. “They’re an intricate part of the conservatory, so it’s kind of like owning a little piece of history.”
Northup has only used about a tenth of the glass he collected and he unsure what he wants to create next. Different sizes of bowls or little stained glass boxes are possibilities, but first he wants to gather input from the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance, the botanic garden’s nonprofit arm. The Alliance is raising money through various fundraisers to repair the damage from the storm. Their campaign is called “One Pane at a Time. A winter plant sell recently netted nearly $20,000.
According to Mary Eysenbach, director of conservatories for the Chicago Park District, they’re now temporarily patching up pieces of the conservatory, with plans to replace the glass sometime next year. Eysenbach, who bought one of the bowls herself, thinks they fit perfectly with the conservatory’s efforts.
“The idea absolutely speaks to our mission, which is an environmentally progressive one,” she said.