Chicago artist Hebru Brantley's first statue inspires 'wonder' outside Navy Pier Children's Museum

Chicago artist Hebru Brantley’s first statue inspires ‘wonder’ outside Navy Pier Children’s Museum

When kids approach Navy Pier’s new 16-foot Flyboy statue — the iconic goggle-wearing character created by famed Chicago artist Hebru Brantley — they imitate him.

They cross their arms over their chests, like him. They stand straight and look towards the south side, like him. And they smile, just like him.

“They look up, they look at it, and they’re instantly inspired,” said Jennifer Farrington, president of the Chicago Children’s Museum, where the statue stands outside on the pier’s south pier.

It’s the kind of thing Brantley hopes his work will do.

Artist Hebru Brantley poses inside Kirby’s Clubhouse, which he helped design, at the Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier on Saturday.

The other characters of Flyboy and Brantley are already the focus of murals around the city, but the statue, titled “The Great Debate”, is Brantley’s first.

“Watching how the kids on the south side, on the west side, on the north side, wherever they are, how they all react…it was a sense of wonder,” Brantley said.

Brantley, joined by city leaders and donors Thad Wong and Emily Sachs Wong, dedicated the statue and an accompanying interactive art studio to the museum on Saturday.

The artist said he hopes the spaces will inspire children to play, create and imagine.

Originally from Bronzeville, Brantley said that growing up he saw children who “didn’t have a childhood” and that he wanted to use his success as an artist to give children a creative outlet.

“I always go back to what I had, and it wasn’t much,” he said. “In a place like this, being able to walk into something that feels a little slick, a little cool, contemporary, that can communicate directly with them.”

The Sky Studio, which artist Hebru Brantley helped design and where art programs will take place, at the Chicago Children's Museum.

The Sky Studio, which artist Hebru Brantley helped design and where art programs will take place, at the Chicago Children’s Museum.

The newly renovated studio – covered in drawings and paintings by its young clients, decorated with classic children’s toys selected by Brantley, and dotted with images of Flyboy in his trademark glasses and toothy smile – will provide a backdrop for classes and other programs for children whenever the museum is open.

“Art galleries, museums can be intimidating to some,” Brantley said. “I wanted to create a space that didn’t look like that. I wanted to create a space that looked like fun first… Fun was sort of the title of the diary.

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