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Andersonville Artist Pays Tribute to City's Disappearing Old Water Tanks

By Mina Bloom | July 9, 2015 5:51am
 Artist Kevin Swallow at work on paintings depicting water tanks in his studio.
Artist Kevin Swallow at work on paintings depicting water tanks in his studio.
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ANDERSONVILLE — For years, artist Kevin Swallow admired the 90-year-old Andersonville water tank from his living room window. 

But when the iconic water tank — which was considered the symbol of Andersonville for many residents — had to be removed from the roof of the Swedish American Museum in a 13-hour operation in March 2014, it left a blank spot in the skyline.

It was removed after a brutal winter caused irreparable damage. The tank's base cracked under a thick piece of ice, allowing water to leak directly into the museum.

Swallow, 44, was there that fateful day, watching crews remove the tank "for hours" and taking photographs of the process. 

One of the photos inspired him to create a 4-foot-by-4-foot oil painting of the water tank, which is just one of many pieces that will be on display at Swallow's first solo gallery show he dubbed "This Must Be The Place," held at Firecat Projects, 2124 N. Damen Ave., in Bucktown, from July 24 - Aug. 16.

Swallow's Andersonville oil painting was modeled after a photo he took the day the water tank was removed — minus the cranes and workers. [Courtesy/Kevin Swallow]

All of the paintings in the show depict cityscapes in Chicago and beyond, and many of them include water tanks — a structure Swallow has become attached to over the years.

"It's my way of paying tribute to them," he said.

One of the main reasons he's drawn to water tanks, he said, is because many of them are disappearing. There used to be thousands of them in the city, but now there are fewer than 200, according to the Tribune.

"With all of the rapid development that is happening in the city, a lot of them get taken down. They're very difficult to maintain and expensive to maintain. Andersonville is a perfect example. They took it down because of all the winter damage," Swallow said.

According to an ABC7 report, many old tanks have failed inspections — and some have leaked, which can be dangerous.

But Swallow believes the aging tanks, which were built to help with fire prevention after the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, provide a link to Chicago's industrial past.

Plus, they're fun to paint, draw and photograph since they come in all different shapes and sizes, he said.

One famous fan of Swallow's work is Hot Doug himself. Doug Sohn, former owner of Chicago's favorite hot dog joint, is the sole sponsor of the show.

"He really loved my work," said Swallow, who explained that Sohn is making his show possible by paying for advertising and marketing.

Swallow said he would most likely donate a portion of the Andersonville painting sale to the Swedish American Museum, which is raising money to build a replica water tank.

For those interested, the Andersonville painting will set you back $1,500. That piece, along with all of the other pieces at the show, will be available for purchase throughout the duration of the exhibit.

The opening reception will be held July 24 from 7-10 p.m complete with beer from Indiana brewery Three Floyds and wine from Chicago-based Red and White Wines.

On the last day of the exhibit there will be a closing reception at 3 p.m. featuring a gallery talk titled, "Accidental Beauties: the Aesthetics and Symbolism of Water Tanks (and Other Antiquated Infrastructure," led by local author and historian Bill Savage, who teaches Chicago literature at Northwestern University and the Newberry Library.

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