A friend’s email signature contained this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, which I loved: “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” Good advice, and there are certainly things I’ve watched others do that made me vow to never do the same; I call them negative role models. Mostly, though, I make and learn from my own mistakes. This painting, Bridge Lift, Chicago, is a perfect example.
I’ve loved Chicago since graduate school in Indiana, when I’d escape to Chicago as often as possible. Those years involved dance clubs on Rush Street and Second City comedy shows. I hadn’t visited in decades, so returning as a grownup was an entirely different experience. Besides fabulous architecture tours, museums and theater, I was delighted to learn about something called the bridge lift.
On specific spring and fall dates, the many bridges across the Chicago River are raised in succession, stopping all car traffic downtown. This enables sailboats to reach Lake Michigan for the summer season, and then to return for safe winter harbors. Better yet, a bridge lift was scheduled on the fall weekend I was there. Boats circled as bridge operators (there used to be more of them) raced from one bridge to the next, tall masts passed by skyscrapers and beneath roads… As sailors, we found this fascinating to watch, despite the cold and wind.
As an artist, I found it challenging to make it understandable to someone who hadn’t been there. Long ago I learned techniques for correcting mistakes on pastel paintings. Scumbling new colors over the existing ones, blending the edges, using an old toothbrush to remove parts of a painting… All were used to finish Bridge Lift. I erased the other side of the bridge, added a boat or two, moved a second bridge, got rid of detail on the river bank, and finally decided it was done.