When Navy veteran Steve Kost began having nightmares a few years ago, he would get up in the middle of the night and head to his garage where he would start dismantling typewriters, adding machines and other devices.
Soon, he began welding some of pieces together and creating works of art. Typewriter keys became legs, butter knives transformed into wings and tea straining spoons turned into eyes.
And that's how he created a metal mosquito sculpture that won first place in the Forest Preserve District's 2020 juried art show. Kost said his Texas Sized Mosquito sculpture depicts a female mosquito about to feed. Kost's first place win, second and third place finishers and the People's Choice Award were all announced Thursday, April 30.
This year’s art competition theme was “Nature Takes Flight” and contestants were encouraged to highlight flights of fancy. Kost’s first place win netted him a $500 Visa gift card.
In submitting his artwork, Kost explained how the creative process has helped him overcome troubled times in his life.
“I am a combat veteran using metal sculpture as a therapeutic outlet,” he wrote in his submission entry. “I won a national award for my work with the Veterans Administration. I like to upcycle discarded objects in my art and show other veterans and the public that art can be a positive force in this world.”
Many of the items for his artwork were purchased in thrift stores, Kost said. "I believe in keeping materials out of landfills, and reusing and recycling is important," he said.
Kost, formerly of Shorewood, enlisted in the Navy as a teen and served as a Seabee in a construction battalion where he learned welding. Years later as he struggled with memories of turbulent combat times while stationed in Mogadishu and Somalia, Africa, Kost said he couldn't sleep at night. That's when he headed to his garage, where he now has a grinder and welding machine.
"It was just a good way for me to focus and heal a little bit," he said. "I really found a purpose and a meaning through my art."
Engaging the public
Kost said he was very happy to win first place in the contest because many art shows and other events have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's really good to see the community involved and the Forest Preserve District letting people comment and view the art online," he said. "That's what art is supposed to do is to engage people. That's really what the payoff is for me."
The jury was drawn to Kost's sculpture because of its creativity, said Suzy Lyttle, an interpretive naturalist for the Forest Preserve District who helped organize the art contest.
"In one way, it is creative to take old items and repurpose them into something beautiful," she said. "And in another way, it is creative to take something I think we all would eagerly swat away and turn it into something that makes people stop, look and admire."
Art show runners-up
Coming in second place was Suzanne Serna of Monee for "L’automne Rouge," an oil painting depicting a redheaded girl in front of a wall with her hair whirling into the fall leaves. "I love to paint landscapes but do challenge myself with people," wrote Serna, who is a member of the Artist Guild of Lockport. "I work in oil, pastel, watercolor and recently added acrylic to that list. I love color, so my paintings usually exude brightness."
The third place winner was Heidi Jachna of Oak Lawn for “2171.” The title refers to the number of native lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) in Will County. Her artwork featured 435 moth- and butterfly-shaped cutouts that were strung throughout Plum Creek Nature Center.
In submitting her artwork, Serna wrote, “Through creating art, I get to explore the world with the excitement of childhood, slowing down to notice details I might have otherwise missed. I hope my artwork encourages others to see with new eyes and find their own unique connections to nature.”
Serna and Jachna win $250 and $200 gift cards, respectively.
The top three juried finishers were judged before the art show display at Plum Creek Nature Center in Crete Township was closed due to the new coronavirus pandemic and the state’s stay-at-home order.
People's Choice Award
Because the nature center was closed, the Forest Preserve shifted voting online to its Facebook page for the People’s Choice Award. More than 5,000 votes were cast during voting.
"I am so happy we could still celebrate all the artists online and share their work with all those people," Lyttle said of the Facebook voting option.
The winner was Michael Yowell of Plainfield.
"I was thrilled to be a part of 'Nature Takes Flight' and was delighted when the show went 'virtual," he wrote in an email after being notified of his win. "So many more people were able to see all the beautiful work when posted on Facebook. The People’s Choice component certainly was fun and I was honored to represent the painters: all of whom deserved the award."
He said his painting is a tribute to all the creatures that are blessed with the ability of flight. "I survived the cold winter researching winged creatures and enjoyed every minute making that painting," he said.
According to his artwork entry, Yowell's charcoal and acrylic painting titled "Myriad" was inspired by a quote from Leonardo da Vinci: "Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward."
Yowell said he has always been inspired by nature and frequently incorporates elements from the natural world into his paintings. He will receive a $100 gift card.
A total of 143 artworks were submitted to the contest and 55 finalists were chosen. Contest submissions can be viewed on the District's Flickr account. Prizes were donated by The Nature Foundation of Will County.
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