Excitement in store for summer visitors

Ancient creatures, original art creations on exhibit at Cantigny, zoo and arboretum

Finding something new and exciting to do this summer doesn't have to involve a lot of searching, planning, travel or even money. From long-extinct animals to larger-than-life art sculptures, it all can be found just miles from home.

Outdoor art installation

Cantigny Park and the Mexican Cultural Center of DuPage have teamed up to create a 48-piece art exhibit that pairs the talents of six artists from Mexico City with the beauty of Cantigny.

Matt LaFond, Cantigny's executive director, said the exhibit, Alebrijes: Creatures of a Dream World, is the first of its kind at the Wheaton venue.

"It aligned perfectly with our goal of making a greater impact on the local community," LaFond said of the Mexican Cultural Center's idea for the exhibit.

Scattered throughout Cantigny's 30 acres, the 48 sculptures of imaginary creatures are brightly colored and large in scale.

"Even the smaller ones are 5 or 6 feet," LaFond said.

Visitors can grab a map to guide them on their tour or they are free to explore on their own. LaFond said either way, he hopes the sculptures will entice visitors to discover new areas of the property, including its gardens, restaurant and concert venue. With 75 picnic tables on the property, visitors are welcome to bring their own food.

Sara Phalen, board chair of Mexican Cultural Center in West Chicago, said the exhibit is a great way to celebrate the center's 10th anniversary, as well as an opportunity to take the center outside of its doors and to the public.

When the center approached Cantigny with the ideas of an outdoor art installation, the folks at Cantigny said, "Let's do it big," Phalen said. The exhibit grew from its original 15 pieces to 48.

Admission to Cantigny Park, 1S151 Winfield Road, is $5 per car on weekdays, $10 on weekends. Hours are 7 a.m. to sunset daily.

Phalen said visitors also are welcome at the center itself. Located in downtown West Chicago, the Mexican Cultural Center offers a free behind-the-scenes look at the artists and of maquetas, the method used to create the fantastical creatures of the Alebrijes exhibit.

Located at 132 Main St., it is open from Thursday to Saturday.

Ancient giants return

From antelopes to zebras, the Brookfield Zoo is a place where visitors can spot creatures from all over the world. This summer, they also can spot creatures from another time.

Ice Age Giants is an outdoor exhibit of more than 30 life-sized, animatronic re-creations of long-extinct animals that once roamed North America and Eurasia. As visitors make their way through the zoo, they can admire the Ice Age creatures, imagine what it was like for humans to share their habitat and follow the story of how they might have met their demise.

"There are four main theories of extinction," said Andre Copeland, interpretive programs manager. All are presented in the exhibit, allowing visitors to draw their own conclusions about the animals' fate. Along with more than 30 years of research by exhibit creator Don Lessem, CEO of Dino Don Inc., zoo staff spent months designing the signage and programs associated with the exhibit. Signs offer information about the animals and raise questions for visitors to ponder.

"This exhibit tells a story," Copeland said, and even though that story ends in the demise of creatures like the woolly mammoth and the procoptodon, it's told with a dose of humor. "Dad jokes" are used to engage the youngest readers with the exhibit and the animals' story, Copeland said.

Those who want to dive even deeper into the Ice Age Giants' stories can access information using the QR codes placed throughout the exhibit. Along with learning about the animals, the exhibit also encourages people to consider what can be done to prevent a similar fate for today's creatures.

The placement of the animals throughout the zoo is designed to encourage exploration.

"It gives people a chance to see both ends of the park," or to make a return visit, Copeland said.

Ice Age Giants is included with any Brookfield Zoo admission.

The zoo, at 8400 31st St., is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $24.95 for adults, $19.95 for seniors and $17.75 for kids 3 to 11 plus $15 parking.

Art amongst the trees

Morton Arboretum will debut three additions to its Human+Nature exhibit Friday, June 17, giving visitors eight gigantic outdoor sculptures to discover, explore and admire. Scattered throughout the arboretum's 1,700 acres, the sculptures by internationally renowned artist Daniel Popper measure 15 to 26 feet tall.

Human+Nature is included with timed-entry admission to the Arboretum.

The arboretum is located at 4100 Illinois Route 53 in Lisle.

Visit https://www.mortonarb.org to schedule a visit between 7 a.m. and sunset. Admission is $16 for adults, $14 for seniors and $11 for kids 2-17.

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean