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Months after a hail storm shattered the glass roof of the Garfield Park Conservatory to pieces, an Oak Park artist is building it back up — only this time, in bowl form.
The conservatory hooked up with Bryan Northup in September, as it was searching for ways to reuse piles and piles of glass following the June storm. They were searching for ways to preserve the remnants in time, rather than simply tossing them.
"A lot of people have gotten married there or worked there for years. I thought it would be cool for them to have a piece of the conservatory, a little piece of history, and it's a great way to help this landmark," he said.
The conservatory tracked down Northup, 37, using a business called Special E, which helps recycle items left over from special events. Northup has an Etsy store, and had previously created artwork from repurposed wine and liquor bottles.
In October, Northup made his way over to the conservatory, 300 N. Central Park Ave., on the city's West Side, where he collected an estimated 1,000 pounds of glass shards and transported them back to his Oak Park home by way of his SUV. That was just a small fraction of leftover glass, which has since been cleaned up and disposed of.
Northup then assembled the shards into a mold, carefully choosing pieces that had unique markings from the hail damage. He then cooked them in his kiln for about four or five hours. That was a process he repeated 100 times. When demand for the pieces started to ramp up before the holidays, he had to borrow a couple of kilns from friends.
The pieces have been made available at the conservatory gift shop, at $100 a pop. Proceeds are being split evenly between Northup and the conservatory, which is putting those dollars toward restoring their damaged buildings.
JaVonda Landry, the gift shop manager, said the bowls were a hot item this holiday season, with 39 already purchased, and 18 remaining in inventory.
"We've sold a ton of them," she said. "They're an intricate part of the conservatory, so it's kind of like owning a little piece of history."
Northup has only used about a tenth of the glass he collected, and he is unsure what he wants to create next. Different sizes of bowls or little stained glass boxes are possibilities, but he first wants to gather input from the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance.
Eunita Rushing — the president of the alliance, a nonprofit arm of the conservatory that's raising money for the restoration — was out of the office on Tuesday and could not be reached for comment. They're now temporarily patching up pieces of the conservatory, with plans to replace the glass sometime in 2012, according to Mary Eysenbach, director of conservatories for the Chicago Park District.
Anyone interested in donating toward the "One Pane at a Time" restoration effort can go to garfieldconservatory.org. Northup plans to announce future projects using the recycled glass at his website, biolumglass.com.
Eysenbach, who bought one of the bowls herself, thinks the effort fits perfectly with the conservatory's efforts.
"The idea absolutely speaks to our mission, which is an environmentally progressive one," she said. "We're delighted that that glass is being recycled, and we're delighted that it's being recycled in such a creative way."