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Hyde Park Public Art (4 of 5)

Hyde Park’s most coveted public art piece sits innocently among tall bushes at the north end of Nichols Park, near the intersection of Kimbark and 54th Street. With its smooth, bronze surface, it belies the notion that it has suffered over ten thousand dollars worth of damages due to theft. After all, who would want to steal a five foot tall bronze egg? Who even could?

The Bird of Peace (also referred to as the Egg) sits atop a four foot high stone pedestal. A beak protrudes from one end of the egg, complimenting two bird feet which support the piece, each clutching a smaller egg. Altogether, the piece is of a mother bird, imbued with her own fragility, but dedicated to protecting her smaller offspring.

It was created by sculptor Cosmo Campoli and dedicated to Nichols Park in June 23, 1970. Born in 1923 in western Indiana, Campoli attended the Art Institute after World War II. Soon after he became part of “The Monster Roster”, a group of Chicago artists in the 1950s associated with the Chicago Imagists. During the fifties and sixties, he taught in the design department of ITT, co-founded the Contemporary Art Workshop in Lincoln Park (which closed in 2008), and showed work at the Museum of Modern Art and the Alan Frumkin Galleries in New York.

Cosmo Campoli, Bird of Peace, 1970. Bronze, Hyde Park, Chicago, IL. (photo credit: Zachary Johnson)

Campoli had always been interested in organic, nurturing, and egg forms in his art. He called the egg “the most exquisite shape there is” and thought there was nothing more peaceful than a bird huddled together with her eggs. It’s ironic, then, that the sculpture, created to be the picture of peace, fell victim to theft in 1981. There’s little information available on how it was found, but after its return, Hyde Park residents raised money for its repair. It was reinstated in 1983. There it sat safe, through the 1997 death of Cosmo Campoli, only to be stolen again in 2000 — the same year Campoli’s work appeared in an Imagist retrospective at the Whitney Museum. Despite that, it didn’t seem as if value were the motive, as the sculpture was found nearby the park, abandoned behind in apartment building. A local’s dog discovered it.

The Bird of Peace was restored at the cost of ten thousand dollars and placed back in the park in 2004 at a ceremony attended by the local alderman, conservator, and Campoli’s daughter and friends. This time the piece was reattached to the pedestal with titanium steel rods, rather than screws.

I first came upon the piece this winter, enticed by stories of its theft I heard from Hyde Park residents. Bushes surround it on two sides like a nest. Sitting there it seems perfectly peaceful. I wondered, who would be possessed to sever it from the pedestal and lug or roll it away? Why just abandon it after all the effort? It seems that will remain the mystery behind Campoli’s work. With seven years since its last installation, hopefully it will finally it live up to its name as “Bird of Peace”.

This is the third article in a five part series concerning public art in Hyde Park. The other articles can be found here.