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History Plaza update: history panels installed

Four themes of Lansing history artistically displayed

by Melanie Jongsma

LANSING, Ill. (November 14, 2017) – Within about six hours, not stopping for lunch, Miklos P. Simon, Eliot Irwin, and Cory Wheelock installed the four themed panels that define Lansing’s History Plaza. The 10×5′ aluminum panels surround the centerpiece, showcasing four significant eras and characteristics of Lansing history.

Entering the plaza from the main portal at the northeast corner, visitors can view the original sandy ridge, the early farms of the first settlers, the brickyards of the 1800s, and the aviation hub that Henry Ford brought to Lansing.

Artist Miklos Simon finishes installing the first panel of the series. This panel depicts the Native American heritage of the area, and the sandy ridge that eventually became Ridge Road, with buildings representing home, church, school, business, and industry that developed along the main thoroughfare.
The first settlers in the area were farmers, and the second panel depicts the onions, tomatoes, radishes, beets, and spinach that were transported from here throughout the midwest.
After the Chicago Fire, bricks were in demand, and the blue clay soil of this area was ideal for brick production. The third panel, being bolted in by artist Cory Wheelock, displays elements of the brickyards that were once common here.
Henry Ford brought aviation to Lansing, and this panel depicts Lansing’s Historic Ford Hangar and its cantilevered architecture, along with the helicopter that makes the Lansing Veterans Memorial a distinctive landmark.

Interesting facts about the panels

  • panels
    Gail Barene’s drawing of the brickyard panel
    Gail Barene is the architect who worked with a committee of people in Lansing—including members of the Lansing Historical Society—to come up with the four themes and the artistic way to represent them.
  • Simon, Irwin, and Wheelock are an artistic team of fabrication engineers who were able to translate Barene’s drawings into three-dimensional aluminum renderings.
  • panels
    Layering the aluminum pieces helps give the panels a 3D look.
    This translation process involves not only cutting the aluminum with a water jet, but also layering the pieces in a way that gives the concept depth and contour. Certain sections are two or three layers thick, and the layers are riveted together.
  • panels
    Artist Eliot Irwin personally drove the four history panels here from North Carolina.
    Simon is based in Chicago, but the artists also have a studio in North Carolina. When they were ready to cut the aluminum for the panels, they could not find a Chicago water jet cutter willing to take on the project—because of the risk. The weight and size of the frames (10×5′) and the delicate design of the interior pieces require great skill to cut them in a way that minimizes the possibility of warping or bending. So the panels were created in North Carolina, and Irwin personally drove them here.
  • Aluminum was chosen as the medium because it requires little maintenance. The light silver color of the panels contrasts well with the darker foliage surrounding the History Plaza.

Next steps for the History Plaza

These three pedestals are reserved for three aluminum statues that will depict the three neighborhoods that merged to become Lansing—Bernice, Oak Glen, and Lansing.
The artist/installers will return on Wednesday to buff out some scuffs sustained by the panels during the installation process, and that will finish this phase of the History Plaza. Simon will continue to work on the three sculptures that will form the centerpiece of the plaza—these will also be aluminum, but fully three-dimensional rather than cutouts. The sculptures will probably be finished in the next several weeks, but they will not be installed until spring of 2018.

Spring will also see any final installations of plantings and grasses that may be necessary after the winter.

At the end of the day, Eliot Irwin (left) and Miklos Simon take a few snapshots of their work.


Melanie Jongsma
Melanie Jongsma
Melanie Jongsma grew up in Lansing, Illinois, and believes The Lansing Journal has an important role to play in building community through trustworthy information.


  1. What a great addition to the community. Thank you to all the people in our village who helped the architect and artists produce an excellent representation of the history of Lansing in a beautiful way.

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