Inside the former Hammond Organ factory, a marble sculptor has carved out an ideal studio | Space | Chicago Reader

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Inside the former Hammond Organ factory, a marble sculptor has carved out an ideal studio

A tour of Jyl Bonaguro's art studio at Workshop 4200, an enormous industrial facility in Hermosa


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For marble sculptor Jyl Bonaguro, moving from her old art studio in East Garfield Park to a new one in Hermosa was a heavy decision. Literally.

"I'd come back [last summer] from a trip to Italy where I'd bought over 3,500 pounds of marble to take back to Chicago and start carving," she recalls. The fine marble, called statuario, weighed nearly two tons, and her then-studio was located on the second floor. "It turned out I was going to have a very difficult time moving my marble up there, because I was lacking really good ground-loading and truck-loading docks."

The time had come to carve out a new space elsewhere.

  • Kerri Pang

In October 2016, Bonaguro was among the first tenants to move into Workshop 4200, an enormous industrial facility at Diversey and Pulaski that housed the Hammond Organ factory from 1949 to 1986 and is currently being renovated into studios and workshops for artists and entrepreneurs. "And I have the piles of plaster dust mixed with marble dust to prove it!" she says.

  • Kerri Pang

With tall windows and soaring ceilings, the studio provides her with plenty of sunlight and room to work, as well as access to equipment (forklifts, floor cranes) to load in her marble haul. Wide barn doors were made to her specifications and, along one wall, Bonaguro built custom cabinetry to store materials out of sight, "so things that don't need dust, don't get dust." A collection of variously sized tools, including carbide chisels and diamond rasps acquired from Italy, sit atop the cabinets, and large prints of bird illustrations by John Audubon, inspiration for her ongoing "wings" series, adorn the opposite wall.

  • Kerri Pang

Bonaguro purposefully leaves her studio fairly empty and uncluttered, "because when you're [chiseling] marble"—a process she likens to doing push-ups or lifting weights—"it flies everywhere."

She came to the incredibly labor-intensive art form in 1998. "I carved a little hunk of limestone," she says with a wry smile, "and even though it was difficult, and even though I had all the wrong tools and a teacher who didn't know anything, I was smitten with stone."

  • Kerri Pang

She's largely self-taught, consulting with fellow sculptors occasionally, as well as old Italian carvers willing to share their knowledge, as on her recent trip to Pietrasanta and Carrara. In addition to sculptures of wings, Bonaguro is currently in the early stage of work on a 15-foot Athena sculpture. "It will be of the modern woman: strong yet at peace, especially with herself." Spoken like someone who's truly at home in her art practice.   v

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