Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood has been known for its thriving arts community for years. It is a popular haven for artists and musicians who use its many gallery spaces to create and share art with the public through events like 2nd Fridays, an event series that invites the public to explore Pilsen’s art galleries and artist’s studios on the second Friday of each month.
However, Pilsen’s art scene is hardly limited to its organized art shows and events. One of the best ways to experience the neighborhood’s art community is to take a walk through the neighborhood to witness, firsthand, an impressive collection of street art: from elaborate murals, to graffiti messages on buildings and sidewalks, to trees wrapped in yarn.
A few of Pilsen’s yarn-decorated trees are located on 16th Street and Halsted, outside the Urban Prairie Waldorf School. Wrapping colorful knitted square around trees, poles, and other objects in public spaces is called “yarn bombing”, a form of graffiti that is generally viewed in a positive light. The very first International Yarnbombing Day was celebrated this past June.
The yarn bombed trees on 16th and Halsted are part of an ongoing project spearheaded by Jennifer Noe, a board member and the chair of the Development Committee at the Urban Prairie School. For every square that was knitted by a student or a parent, $100 was donated to the school.
“The project came out of the knitting that is done as part of the curriculum,” explained Noe. “Pilsen is filled with vibrant artwork, and it was natural for us to extend our work into the rich and artistic life of the surrounding community.”
Noe said that the reactions to the project have been almost uniformly positive. When she goes outside to sew the latest squares to one of the trees, passersby often stop and ask her questions. Sometimes drivers will even pull over to ask her about the project.
“It really adds a human quality to the urban landscape,” Noe said. “It’s whimsical. It’s delightful. It’s really a terrific way to bring our community together.”
Sam Palermo, a neighbor who lives next door to the trees, agrees.
“It really gives the street more character. I love it,” said Palermo. ”It’s great to live in a neighborhood where artists freely express themselves.”
The graffiti left behind by Frederick Kobrick, the bicyclist who was killed by a drunk driver in Pilsen this past August, is another striking example of street art in the neighborhood. The summer before he died, Kobrick painted the phrase “H8″, for the word hate, enclosed in a heart, on many of Pilsen’s walls and sidewalks.
Kobrick first painted the H8 heart when he was in San Francisco at Haight-Ashbury. When he returned to Chicago and moved to Pilsen, he started painting the same heart there. Kobrick was biking around Pilsen, painting the H8 hearts, on the night that he died.
Kobrick’s best friend Garret Peterson said Fred liked that the message of the heart wasn’t too straightforward.
“He liked the confusion of, ‘Should I love hate, what is this?’” Peterson said. “But the deeper message was ‘if you surround your hate with love, it’s all good.’ The way to conquer hate is to love everything.”
“It’s beautiful, because to this day I still see tags that he did, and I’m like ‘He didn’t even tell me he did those!’ Little ones just pop up that I didn’t know about, and I know it’s him,” Peterson said. “Geographically, he probably thought he was healing the neighborhood.”
Check out other examples of street art found around Pilsen, including the yarn-bombed trees and the H8 hearts, in the photo gallery above.