Take a Photo Walk of Elgin Public Art

Put on your walking shoes and get ready for a beautiful day of art.

If you spend any time at all in downtown Elgin, Illinois, you’ll soon notice the public art.

A mural here. Sculptures there. Some are weathered and have been around for quite some time. Others are obviously new.

In recent years, there’s been an overall revitalization of downtown, with a thriving farmers market, new restaurants and other businesses, and luxury apartments in the historic Elgin Tower Building.

Elgin Tower, an historic building in Elgin, Illinois, that originally contained offices. Now, there are luxury apartments available for lease.
Elgin Tower

There’s also been a concerted, focused effort to increase the quantity and quality of Elgin’s art scene.

In addition to Elgin Artspace Lofts, which provides affordable live/work spaces for artists and their families, in 2016, the Elgin Public Arts Commission submitted a plan to add two new pieces of art each year.

The city council approved that plan in 2017, and now the City in the Suburbs, with its growing collection of public art, is also a City of the Arts.

“People are really taking notice of the public art in Elgin and we are truly gaining a reputation as a community that not only accepts art, but craves it,” said Amanda Harris, Elgin’s Cultural Arts Manager.

“{You} can now walk around Downtown Elgin,” she said, “and see art all over the place from the new murals and sculptures to our newly wrapped utility boxes.”

Krisilee Murphy, Executive Director of Explore Elgin Area, is a big supporter of this initiative.

“The Elgin self-guided arts tour is a great way to get visitors and residents to #ExploreElgin all year round,” she said.

They’ve both seen firsthand the benefits a vibrant arts scene can have on a community.

“It helps to connect our downtown. You aren’t just going from point A to point B anymore. You are going from point A, seeing something amazing and strolling a bit to see more amazing art and then happening upon a store or restaurant you didn’t even know was there, and then finally getting around to point B.”

Amanda Harris, Cultural Arts Manager

To make it easy to explore this art, the Elgin Cultural Arts Commission has created a DIY arts tour. You can download a map, or pick one up at the Explore Elgin Area offices on Grove Avenue.

“People are out, walking around and exploring Elgin in a new way,” said Amanda. “It’s lovely and inspiring to see.”

The tour is in a fairly compact area and easy to complete in a morning or an afternoon. My husband and I saw every piece but one (and that was through our own oversight) in a couple of hours, and even included some extra exploration north of the Gail Borden Library.

Come along – let’s take an art walk!

Elgin Public Art Walking Tour

When you’re taking this tour, come hungry. You’ll want to allow time to grab a pastry from Cafe Revive, wood-fired pizza from Billy Bricks, and a Tartare Pyramid at Kubo Sushi & Sake. Check out my epicurean exploration of Elgin to see why these are must-stops.

You can barely see the mural inside the parking garage.
If you peek through the window, you can see the mural.

Our tour began inside, of all places, a parking garage. Pamela Seatter’s mural Stronger Together is located on the first level of the Centre of Elgin’s parking deck on Symphony Way. The artist was inspired by the Women’s Marches and Me Too movement to create a piece that would represent diversity and unity.

Pamela Seatter's mural Stronger Together
Pamela Seatter’s mural Stronger Together

We left the garage and walked towards the river and Hemmens Cultural Center. On the way is Bobby Jo Scribner’s Mother Skye, a blue sculpture of a woman on her fingertips and toes.

Mother Skye, by Bobby Jo Scribner
Mother Skye, by Bobby Jo Scribner
Mother Skye, by Bobby Jo Scribner
Mother Skye with Elgin Tower in the background

Next was Which Way, by Joanna White. This striking mural pointed with one hand towards Hemmens, and the other towards downtown. Either way, you’d find the arts.

Which Way, by Joanna White
Which Way, by Joanna White

We then headed towards the river and crossed the south bridge to Walton Island. The patch had originally been a bit of mud, but in the 1930s the Izaak Walton league thought it would be a good idea to dredge the river and turn that parcel into a park.

The league, founded in 1922 to defend “soil, air, waters, and wildlife” has branches all over the country. Elgin’s began in 1931. The WPA built the island, and the Izaak Walton League dedicated its 4.5 acres to the city.

Walton Island was refurbished in 2002 and is a popular spot for fishing, weddings, and strolling.

Bridge to Walton Island over the Fox River
Gazebo on Walton Island
Gazebo on Walton Island
Hemmens Cultural Center from Walton Island in Elgin, Illinois
Hemmens Cultural Center from Walton Island
Pond within Walton Island
Pond within Walton Island

At the north end of the island is the giant United States Flag Sculpture. It’s meant to replicate a stone and cement sculpture that local artist Trygve Roverstad had created in 1937. His original piece may be gone, but another sculpture he molded still stands. We’ll see that one shortly.

United States Flag Sculpture by Outside Exhibition Group
United States Flag Sculpture by Outside Exhibition Group

Crossing the north bridge from the island to the Fox River Trail, we turned north. Across from the dam at Kimball Street is Trygve Rovelstad’s Pioneer Family Memorial Sculpture. One of the men is modeled after Elgin’s founder, James T. Gifford.

Rovelstad, who had studied at Fabyan Villa art studio and later with Lorado Taft, had been a lifelong Elginite. He died in 1990 and the sculpture was dedicated in 2001.

Bridge to the Fox River Trail from Walton Island
Pioneer Family Memorial Sculpture
Pioneer Family Memorial Sculpture by Trygve Rovelstad
Pioneer Family Memorial Sculpture by Trygve Rovelstad

The next two sculptures took us across the river to Foundry Park. The first, Seven at the Gates of Dawn by Dave Powers, is a string of blue figures. You can practically hear the children laughing.

A little further down is The Shape of Happiness, by Ben Pierce. Inspired by blowing bubbles as a child, the artist wanted to create that feeling of giddiness.

Seven at the Gates of Dawn by Dave Powers
Seven at the Gates of Dawn by Dave Powers
Seven at the Gates of Dawn by Dave Powers
Seven at the Gates of Dawn by Dave Powers
The Shape of Happiness, by Ben Pierce
The Shape of Happiness, by Ben Pierce
The Shape of Happiness, by Ben Pierce

Instead of continuing to head south, we decided to take a detour to the Gail Borden Public Library. This wonderful institution looks over the Fox River, and just north is Veterans Memorial Park.

Gail Borden Public Library
Gail Borden Public Library
Veterans Memorial Park
Veterans Memorial Park

Following the Fox River Trail back south, we came across two more sculptures.

The first is a prismatic ode to light and color. 1835 Expedition, by Davis McCarty, is meant as an homage to Elgin’s diverse population.

1835 Expedition by Davis McCarty
1835 Expedition by Davis McCarty

The design of Continuum, by Nathan Pierce, struck both of us as musical. Although the artist’s intention was to evoke the growth of Elgin, it reminded us, one of whom is a professional musician, of clefs and notes.

It’s an uplifting piece, and both interpretations seem to fit.

Continuum by Nathan Pierce, a piece on the Elgin Public Art tour
Continuum by Nathan Pierce
Continuum by Nathan Pierce, a piece on the Elgin Public Art tour
Continuum by Nathan Pierce

Somehow, we missed the Parade Mural on the way to Droid 1309 and Droid 8508. I’m not sure how, since we would have walked right by it.

We did, however, find the droids we were looking for. These two sculptures are located in front of Side Street Studio Arts, a non-profit that’s one of the movers and shakers in the Elgin arts scene. They host performances, exhibitions, and educational programs, as well as live art events like Elgin Fringe Fest and Elgin Literary Festival.

Basically, if you want the pulse of art in Elgin, you’ll want to visit this studio.

Droid 1309 and Droid 8508 by Steven Lockwood
Droid 1309 and Droid 8508 by Steven Lockwood
Mural near Side Street Studio Arts
Mural near Side Street Studio Arts

After you’ve finished your tour, “pop” into Mama Lee’s Gourmet Popcorn for some Elgin Mix. They’ll guarantee you have a “poptastic” day.


Public art has been shown to increase a sense of community and aid in encouraging tourism. It’s wonderful to see Elgin embrace artists, and to see the impact their support of beautification and small businesses is having. If you haven’t been to Elgin in awhile, it’s time to return.

I think you’ll like what you see.

City of Elgin
City of Elgin

Getting to Elgin, Illinois

Elgin is located 35 miles northwest of Chicago. If you’re driving the interstate, you can get off at US 31 and head south.

Parking is free, and there are many spots on the street as well as numerous lots and garages. If you’re coming from Chicago, the Metra stops right downtown. There are three stations, and you’ll want to disembark at Elgin (the other two are National and Big Timber).

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