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NIU graduate combines art, nature on the I&M Canal

LOCKPORT – Sea serpent? ... Little bridges? ... Obstacle course for remote control boats?

What are those arches in the I&M Canal?

“They’re Wiccan-looking,” resident Brad DeYoung said earlier this month as John Siblik was setting up the environmental sculpture.

Siblik, a Lemont native who graduated from Northern Illinois University and teaches art at Upper Iowa University, calls it “River Weaving,” and says he first envisioned the project for the Kishwaukee River. He worked with the nearby Illinois State Museum-Lockport to install the piece.

Siblik banded branches together and spent four days setting 101 arches for a half-mile along the canal near the museum. Half the branches are new while others come from previous installations of the sculpture.

“After the first day we had snails on the rocks and blue herons interacting with the branches,” museum Director John Lustig said.

Rock from the Bromberek quarry was used to keep the frames upright in the water. Siblik chose stones similar to those used to build the canal in 1848.

“Making the rings takes the longest. Bending a 10-foot piece of willow into an 8-inch circle means one out of three just won’t work,” Siblik said. “But I tell students if one out of every three pieces works as they want it to, they’d feel incredibly fortunate.”

Siblik first sketched the sculpture in 1986 while he was a student at NIU.

“It was conceived for the Kishwaukee River. You need an intimately scaled body of water to do this on. I don’t think it would work on the Mississippi,” he said.

Siblik confessed having some fears for 20 years about translating his drawings to an actual sculpture, but finally installed the piece in Elgin, Iowa, in 2006. He’s since done two other installations in Iowa with mixed results.

“The floods of 2008 washed the whole piece away,”

Siblik said. “If you’re going to collaborate with nature, the water always wins.”

Siblik won’t be surprised if some of the Lockport pieces wash away as well, but he’ll remove whatever is left starting late this month. He’s scheduled to speak about “River Weaving” on July 27 at the museum.

“It’s an ephemeral piece,” Siblik said. “It’s not like a painting where there’s one point of view that will be all you see. This will change in the light and the weather.”

Siblik joked about trying to be a landscape painter. But instead of a flat image, he’s “drawing with water” to show “line.”

Although the artwork is temporary, the process of installing the pieces has made at least one lasting improvement near the Ninth Street Bridge.

“I pulled out some mufflers that had been dumped into the canal,” Siblik said. “Those won’t go back in the water.”


What: John Siblik talks about “River Weaving”
When: 2 to 3 p.m. July 27
Where: Illinois State Museum Lockport Gallery, 201 W. 10th Street, Lockport

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