A new display in Davis Park transforms pieces of Rockford’s industrial heritage into vibrant new works of public art.
Screw City Steel is a Rockford Area Arts Council initiative that brought together professional artists to paint murals on two sides of four industrial steel doors that were harvested from the former Rockford Products site at Harrison Avenue and Kishwaukee Street.
“They’re a piece of the engine that drove Rockford to be the fastener capital of the world,” said Mark Robinson, chief operating officer for First Midwest Group, which donated the doors. “Here’s our past, (and we’re) getting an opportunity to look through it to the future. … The weight of these doors can carry into the future, and the visions that they’re creating on them is fabulous.”
Artists Shaniqwa Porter, Asia Peters, Laura Gomel, Joshua Valdovinos and Brett Whitacre are in Davis Park this weekend bringing the doors to life with designs themed around the idea that “you belong here.”
For Gomel, that meant showcasing the city’s diversity and the power of the women who call Rockford home.
Her graphic-novel style mural on the 8-by-10-foot steel door depicts a Latino doctor, a roller-derby competitor based on Rockford Rage coach Sabrina Ferguson, a Muslim student modeled after Gomel’s sister-in-law and an artist meant to resemble Porter, who Gomel didn’t realize was also part of the project when she created the concept.
“It’s a whole vibe,” Gomel, who is also director of 317 Art Collective, said of the project. “It gives the city a personality.”
The murals will remain in Davis Park after they’re complete, although the location inside the park may change in the future.
“I feel like it brings us up a notch intellectually and maybe emotionally,” Gomel said. “That’s kind of heavy, maybe, but I just know when I go to places that I’ve never been and I’m greeted by stuff like this, then it’s way more of a place that I want to come back to.”
Asia Peters’ mural is a fanciful depiction of boldly colored facial features.
The 26-year-old artist previously worked with Jenny Matthews on murals as part of the CRE8IV: transformational Art initiative, including one above The Norwegian in Rockford’s North End that was painted this year.
“These faces, while they don’t necessarily look like anyone you might know because they’re kind of abstract and colorful, they all have something that is unique and beautiful about them,” she said. “If they belong here, then you belong here, too.”
Rockford Products, which was founded in 1929 and once produced more than 6,000 different fasteners, was recently remodeled to make way for a third-generation family-owned company to move into part of the space. While developers were ripping out 300,000 square feet from the middle of the building, Robinson said countless former employees stopped to see their old workplace.
“We can’t tell you how many people who used to work there stopped by, told their story. They picked up a bolt off the floor and they took it with them to remember,” Robinson said. “So this is our bolt to the future, it’s our door, it’s our window to the future.”
Sheet Metal Workers Local 219 then created stands for the doors to be turned into canvases for the artists.
Mary McNamara Bernsten, executive director of the Rockford Area Arts Council, said Screw City Steel is “an homage to the industrial heritage of our region.”
The project is part of the council’s Art for Impact initiative, which is meant to bolster neighborhood pride by bringing public art to neighborhoods across the city.
“We want to install public art in every neighborhood, and when you do that it creates landmarks for people, it creates a sense of place, it creates space-making,” McNamara said. Public art becomes “landmarks on your way to work, on your way to school, areas that you can go and reflect on what’s happening in your life as your life changes and transitions from one time to another.”