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Art and nature combined on the I&M Canal

Artist returns to create unique work on a waterway

Published: Monday, June 23, 2014 10:30 p.m. CDT
(Rob Winner –
An art installation created by local artist John Siblik that he calls “Weaving” is seen in the I&M Canal near Ninth Street in Lockport on June 10.
(Rob Winner –
Local artist John Siblik is seen near the I&M Canal near Ninth Street while constructing arches made from tree branches for an installation.
(Rob Winner –
Local artist John Siblik constructs one of his arches made from tree branches on June 10 that will be placed into the I&M Canal near Ninth Street in Lockport.

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What are those arches in the I&M Canal near Ninth Street?

“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 Joliet Catholic High School and teaches art at Upper Iowa University, calls it “River Weaving.” 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 Northern Illinois University.

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

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

“It’s an ephemeral piece. 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 said.

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

While 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 27Where: Illinois State Museum Lockport Gallery, 201 W. 10th Street, Lockport

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