Wilmette resident Patricia Stratton is nothing if not determined. Twenty-five years after she presented her master’s thesis at Northwestern University, Stratton has delivered on a promise to herself to share with the world a fascination and deep knowledge of what is fondly known as “Chicago’s Picasso.”
In time for the 50th anniversary of the unveiling of the iconic steel sculpture that soars 50 feet in Daley Plaza, Stratton, 74, has released her book “The Chicago Picasso: A Point of Departure.” John W. McCarter, Jr., president emeritus of The Field Museum and chair of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, wrote the forward to the book.
“People at the time said I should write a book and make it less academic and more accessible. But the thought of rewriting it at that time … well, I had to get back to business running my home,” says Stratton, who went back to school in 1982 to receive her Master of Arts degree in Art History, while also tending to her preschooler at home. “I knew that Chicago Picasso was going to have its birthday and I thought if I’m ever going to write a book about it, this is the time.”
The book’s release and the Chicago Picasso anniversary are both taking place during what is being heralded by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel as “The Year of Public Art” in Chicago. On Aug. 8, the city will hold a special event at Daley Plaza, the outdoor courtyard at the corner of Washington and Dearborn streets, commemorating the anniversary of the unveiling of the Picasso sculpture, which was dedicated on August 15, 1967 at what was then called the Chicago Civic Center Plaza.
The Chicago Picasso, the city’s first large modern public sculpture, paved the way for the other large-scale modern sculptures on display in the Chicago Loop, including monumental art created by Alexander Calder, Marc Chagall, Joan Miro and Henry Moore. In her book, Stratton chronicles the decade-long process from conception to manufacturing, culminating in Chicago setting an example for the world as a city dedicated to public art.
“Picasso was always interested in doing something monumental,” Stratton says, noting that Picasso gave the sculpture to the city as a gift, accepting no payment.
Unlike traditional art history books, Stratton relied on personal correspondence and conversation, exclusive research, and a command of the historic and cultural contexts of the sculpture to tell the story of the Chicago Picasso. For example, Stratton explores the identity of the woman who served as the model for the sculpture’s mysterious, oddly canine face. She also chronicles the politics behind the effort to bring the sculpture to the city and the unusual public-private collaboration that made it happen.
“You can’t find a name of the foundations that paid for the sculpture because they didn’t want the recognition; they did it for their city,” Stratton says.
The city has planned a number of additional events as part of the celebration. On Aug. 15, the Chicago Public Library will feature a moderator and a panel of Picasso experts at the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium at 6 p.m.
The hardcover book, priced at $24.95, includes 50 photographs. It’s available on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble and at local independent bookstores and museum gift shops including The Book Stall in Winnetka, Lake Forest Book Store, The Book Bin in Northbrook, Peachtree in Northfield, and Yellow Bird in Wilmette, among others.
“I’ve put in so many years — from researching and writing the thesis, and reading everything I could find about Picasso,” Stratton says. “While traveling, I’d go to every Picasso exhibit. I feel like Chicago Picasso is part of me.”
Additional Chicago Picasso events includes:
- The City of Chicago’s Chicago Picasso anniversary celebrations, and the Year of Public Art programs
- Northwestern University’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum will host Stratton and a tour of the sculpture garden on July 12. To register, click here.
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Susan Pasternak has worked as a journalist for more than two decades, reporting and writing on myriad subjects ranging from national health care policy to personal finance to head lice. Her work has been published in numerous consumer and business publications. Susan lives with her husband, three children, and dog Roxy in Highland Park.