Helping Hands (Jane Addams Memorial), 1993 (relocated 2011)
Chicago Women’s Park
1827 South Indiana Avenue
East of South Indiana Avenue and north of Widow Clarke House Museum
The first major work of art in the Chicago Parks District to honor a woman, Helping Hands commemorates Jane Addams (1860-1935), the co-founder of the Hull House Settlement, prominent social reformer, pacifist and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. Commissioned by the B. F. Ferguson Fund of the Art Institute, Helping Hands was created by French-born artist Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), known for her sculptures of unusual materials fashioned into organic and sometimes sexually explicit forms. Working in a variety of media, including installations, Bourgeois continually returned to themes derived from her own tumultuous childhood, such as the vulnerability of human beings, in both physical and psychic terms.
For this installation, Bourgeois created a series of carved black hands and forearms that are placed upon six rough-hewn stone pedestals. Some of the hands are by themselves, while some are shown clasping the wrists of others. Jane Addams was a sociologist and reformer who envisioned society as a network of individuals coming together to realize their material and ethical interests in the name of social democracy. Her settlement house project, providing educational, social and artistic programs, combined with her labor activism, meant that Addams’ efforts touched the lives of countless individuals.
Originally located at the lakefront Navy Pier Park (renamed Jane Addams Memorial Park), the installation proved to be low, difficult to view and it suffered from vandalism. In 2006 the work was removed and the damaged hands were re-carved by Bourgeois, but then it was placed in storage. With the help of Mimi McKay, the landscape architect for Chicago Women’s Park, a new site was designated and the work was installed in 2011.