Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of four feature profiles by Meghan Owen about the winning authors of the Chicago Writers Association's first Book of the Year Awards, to be presented at 7 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 14, at The Book Cellar, 4736-38 Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
By Meghan Owen
Krista August, a math major graduated from Northwestern University, has a head for numbers. She also has a love for art history and the complexity of architecture. She never expected to become a writer, let alone a winner of the Chicago Writers Association’s Book of the Year Award, in the non-traditional, non-fiction category. Yet, throughout her journey of exploring Chicago’s numerous outdoor sculptures, she found herself a new skill and title as an “author”.
“The best kind of work?” says August. “The best kind of work is the kind that takes up your entire day in a good way.”
When you look on August’s award-winning project, Giants in the Park, you see how her work is her passion.
Giants in the Park, a self-published book about the numerous portrait statues that decorate Chicago’s Lincoln Park, took August approximately three years to compile. “I had a system,” she explained. “For the first month, I worked on gathering information about the person celebrated in bronze. For the second month, I investigated the statue itself, along with both the producer and the sculptor.”
I lived here for twenty years and I would walk by the same statue every day and consistently wonder, ‘Who is that?’
With the product of her diligent work, August eloquently explains how erecting a statue was once a huge public event in Chicagoan society. August, who also holds a graduate degree in education from DePaul University, saw the statues as an opportunity to learn and educate not only herself but others. “I lived here for twenty years and I would walk by the same statue every day and consistently wonder, ‘Who is that?’ I saw people like (Alexander) Hamilton and didn’t know enough about him. I realized that it was time to highlight these historical figures and educate the public on them because they just don’t have the time to learn about them anymore.”
One of the most intriguing discoveries August made was the fanfare that once came with these now often-overlooked bronze likenesses. The raising of the statue of Ulysses S. Grant drew a crowd of 200,000 in 1891and began with an hour-long parade that traveled from the Auditorium Building to Lincoln Park. The erection of the statue of Italian war hero Giuseppe Garibaldi drew a similar large gathering, which, August said, shows that in Chicago’s history, raising and crafting these statues was a big deal for the time.
For August, the stories behind the sculptors are oftentimes as fascinating as the stories behind the famous people they create in statue form. Cyrus Edwin Dallin, the sculptor of the beautiful, bronze, equestrian statue “Signal of Peace” (a statue originally gifted at the World’s Fair) grew up in rural Utah. “He probably never saw a statue in his life until he went to college,” August said. “He would just play with the mud on the riverbank and see what kind of shapes it made.” With this information August illustrates how there is an entirely unique and separate life poured into the portrait statues speckling Lincoln Park.
August has been taking her book to other, more interactive heights other than ink and parchment. Most notably, she does bike tours of the city and takes enthusiasts on an expedition through Lincoln Park’s immortalized figures of history. She also conducts seminars and slide shows on the statues in order to educate the public on the giants in bronze in an immediate and engaging fashion.
Although she doesn’t see herself writing any other books, August does hope to do more in the art world. One of her favorite parts in constructing Giants in the Park was rendering her own illustrations of the sculptures. While she continues with her career in math and tutoring at Mathnasium, she also plans to continue her exploration of art and architecture.
Many of us have walked or driven by the statues in Lincoln Park without knowing anything about them. As August so lovingly and vividly depicts in the words and watercolor-rendered illustrations in Giants in the Park, these 16 vintage portrait statues are remarkable testaments to the past and have a story of their own to tell.