Nov 10, 2021 - Things to Do

Your ticket to a secret lakefront art gallery

Stone carvings on blocks.

If you look closely you can see "The Hair Washers'' carving on lakefront stones near Fullerton Avenue. Photo: William Swislow/

With all the natural beauty on the lakefront, it can be easy to miss the man-made art carved into its limestone blocks.

  • But writer William Swislow and photographer Aron Packer have meticulously catalogued these works to bring you, "Lakefront Anonymous: Chicago’s Unknown Art Gallery."
  • The book and photography show launches Friday at the 1100 Florence gallery in Evanston.

Why it matters: The carvings represent "a spontaneous social history of Chicago at play and a collective monument to the city’s people and their lives at the lake," Swislow tells Axios.

  • Hundreds of the carvings were lost during recent shore rebuilding, so Swislow fears more will be destroyed in the future.

Details: The art ranges from tiny initials to depictions of full blown mythological scenes.

  • Most of the artists have been lost to time but Swislow, an outsider/intuitive art collector, tracked down a few including, "two guys who carved their girlfriend’s names in the 60s and are still married to them. Perhaps the carvings set [their love] in stone."

Swislow's favorites: When pressed, he offers, “The Hairwashers in the seating area next to the Theater on The Lake at Fullerton Avenue."

  • He has a "soft spot for the bathing beauty at Foster Beach."
Stone carving.
Bathing beauty at Foster Beach. Photo: William Swislow/

What's next: Swislow led lakefront carving tours this summer for the Edgewater Historical Society and expects to do more through The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art next spring or summer.

  • "At the very least the lakefront carvings should be part of the city’s cultural heritage that people actually know about."

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