Artist returns after nearly three decades to make repairs to Irwin Park’s sculpture

The loving hands of artist Margot McMahon helped restore the Irwin Park sculpture on Wednesday, Oct. 25.
  Margot McMahon works
  concrete into a crevice
  on the back side of the
  Irwin Park sculpture. 

  (Photos by Marilyn 
  Thomas/H-F Chronicle)
Passers-by wouldn’t have noticed the chips and bruises to the piece at the park’s far west end fronting Gottschalk Avenue. But McMahon quickly recognized what work needed to be done and spent the morning and afternoon repairing the one ton sculpture she’d named “Formation.”
When Stephanie Simpson of the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District called to ask if she could come take a look at the piece and advise staff on repairs, McMahon agreed. 
“I’m happy to do it rather than turn it over because this is really the form of the sculpture and the work needs to be done properly.  I’m happy to work on it and get it back into shape.”
  Margot McMahon touches
  one of the scars on the
  Irwin Park sculpture that
  she spent time repairing.

For having stood 28 years against the elements, McMahon said she was pleasantly surprised by the condition of the piece. 
“I don’t want to cover up what we have here because it’s like well-earned wrinkles. It’ll be patch repair,” she explained as she set out her tools. “The trend in conservation is to repair what needs repair, don’t go over what doesn’t.  I love this patina that’s come over the years, the beautiful color and texture.” 
Rain over the previous 10 days had the statue retaining some moisture so she knew the concrete repairs would stick to the surface. McMahon cut a piece of lathe to repair a spot between the man and child figures that had worn away and slathered concrete over it. That was the only serious rebuilding effort she needed to do. The rest of her time was patching empty spaces along the back and sides of the piece that stands 10 feet tall, 5 feet wide and 6 feet deep.
  Sculptor Margot McMahon
  returned to Irwin Park to
  make repairs to the sculpture
  she created 28 years ago. 

McMahon won a competition in 1989 to create a sculpture for Irwin Park. It was her first commissioned work for a public park.  
By serendipity, she was at a concert with friends in Chicago’s Grant Park and met the landscape architect for Irwin Park. She told him she would be creating the sculpture but hadn’t found a location. He suggested a mound already there that was meant to be surrounded by an ice skating rink. 
That part of the park plan didn’t come to fruition, but the greenery that surrounds the grassy knoll “is the perfect place (for the piece) because of all this expanse around it,” McMahon said, “and it gives it its own place in this huge park. By having this kind of already landscaped space it worked out fine.  That’s how we decided on the location.”
She then determined the size.  Too small, and it would have appeared lost in the park, but too big and she wouldn’t be able to relocate it. The solution was to build it on site. 
Over the summer, she and two interns built a foundation and designed the sculpture. A homeowner in one of the adjoining homes offered her his hose line for access to water to mix the bags of concrete they would bring each day. Inside the sculpture they included a time capsule.
McMahon chose a theme for the sculpture that related to the park.
“I wanted to make a statement with my proposal of a father taking a child to the park and the importance of that. It’s kind of amazing now that fathers take kids to the park all the time, but at that time it wasn’t that usual,” she said. “Fathers do take their kids to the park in this generation and there are more stay-at-home fathers.”
She named the piece “Formation” because “I hoped that it would be kind of a rock formation and that this relationship is like a rock. The actual gesture is the father raising the child to the knee so they’re in equal conversation. The father’s learning from the child and the child is learning from the father but the child still needs the support. That’s what the circular motion of the arms is. One isn’t necessarily less than the other, although one is dependent on the other,” McMahon explained.
Over her career, McMahon has been commissioned to create other works and won numerous awards, including the Peace and Culture Award from Soka Gakkai International in Japan, the Rose Philippine Duchesne Society Annual Award from Barat College and the Alex B. Hexter Award from the National Sculpture Society in New York.

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