We were here, the steelworker. In other words, there was a group of people that came here and believed in the steel dream…That was their whole world. This mill was their bread and butter. This was their retirement. This is what they were proud of.— Roman Villarreal, artist
Geoffrey Baer chats with Chicago artist Roman Villarreal.
From the 1880s to the 1990s, this site was part of the sprawling South Works steel mill. Today, Steelworkers Park has taken its place, opening up the landscape and the lakefront for the South Chicago neighborhood. On a small portion of the massive ore walls, where ships used to unload raw materials, the park district created a climbing wall. The park is also home to a bronze sculpture by artist Roman Villarreal called Tribute to the Past, depicting a steelworker surrounded by his family. It speaks to his own past, too – Villarreal used to work at the steel mill. He told Geoffrey Baer that the steelworker always represented family to him. “I could have gone over here and [done] a steelworker with a sledgehammer and somebody working and all that,” Villarreal said. “But that’s really not what the mill was about. The mill was a family, because every man that worked in the steel mill was a family man.”