Prairie Boat (Chicago, Illinois)

Perri_Prairie Boat_Beaubien Woods_view from portal.jpg
Perri_Prairie Boat_Beaubien Woods_prow view.jpg
Underground Railroad plaque.jpg
Perri_Prairie Boat_Beaubien Woods.jpg
Thompson paintings.jpg
Priest paintings.jpg
Badu paintings.jpg
Stallings paintings.jpg

Dublin Core


Prairie Boat (Chicago, Illinois)


Subject (Topic)
African Americans--Chicago (Ill.)
Chicago (Ill.)--History
American Midwest
Public art
Public sculpture
Underground Railroad


The design of this 40 foot-long gathering space connects the African American Water Trail, the natural spaces of Beaubien Woods on the Far South Side of Chicago, and the Little Calumet River. The space marks the beginning of the Trail, which contains Underground Railroad sites. The boat design is a reference to the journeys undertaken by those travelers on Chicago’s Underground Railroad along the river. The blue log path inside the gathering space and the columned portal that it leads to also represent journeys—their entries and exits. Furthermore, the portal itself is an entryway to another path, a natural one in the Forest Preserves, again symbolizing a way out of bondage and toward freedom.


Perri, Christine (designer and sculptor), 1953-


Photographs by Christine Perri


Dedicated: June 10, 2023


Roman Villarreal (sculptor, animal seats and log/concrete benches); Patrick Thompson (painter, Heroes); Jittaun Priest (painter, Past, Present, Future); Osei Agyeman-Badu (painter, Underground Railroad Quilts); Kadija Stallings (painter, Slavery and Ancestry); Ajiah Gilbert (log path painter); Leslie Leon-Aguilar (log path painter); Maybelline Mariscal (log path painter); Craig Klucina of Plane-Spoken Furniture (prow, portal roof); Greencorps Chicago (landscaper); Juliette Tyson, Mission Coordinator, Imani Village, (community partner); Imani Village (project partner); Field Museum of Natural History (project partner); Openlands (project partner); Forest Preserves of Cook County (project partner); Far South Chicago Coalition (project partner); Walder Foundation (funder); Illinois Department of Natural Resources (funder); Coastal Management Program (funder); and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce) (funder).


Forest Preserves of Cook County, 536 North Harlem Avenue, River Forest, Illinois, 60305, United States






Visual Arts-Sculpture


Beaubien Woods Forest Preserve, W Doty Ave S, southeast of E 130th St & S Ellis Ave, Chicago, Illinois, 60633, United States

Has Part

Historical Marker:

"From the 1830s until the Civil War, many enslaved African descendants in the South escaped to Chicago on their way to freedom in Canada. Black and white abolitionists in the region were part of the networks of assistance known as the Underground Railroad. The old Detroit-Chicago Road was an important route for freedom seekers, and some followed this, crossing the Little Calumet River at the site of the current bridge at Indiana Avenue several blocks west of here. Their movement became far more dangerous after 1850 with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act that strengthened the laws requiring the capture and return of enslaved persons to their 'owners.'"

"After the removal of indigenous people living along the Little Calumet, by 1835 families from eastern states were settling here. Dutch settlers arrived in 1847-49, acquiring land in areas that became Roseland and South Holland. These included Cornelius and Maartje Kuyper, and Jan and Aagje Ton. Here, on the north side of the Little Calumet, the Ton farm was established in 1853. Their home and farm buildings were on this site. The Tons, often with the Kuypers, were directly involved in aiding freedom seekers. From here, they went by wagon or on foot across the bridge at Indiana Avenue to Hammond, Indiana, and eventually crossing into Canada from Detroit."

"Sponsored by The Little Calumet River Underground Railroad Project, The National Park Service Network To Freedom, Ronald Gaines and Family, The William G. Pomeroy Foundation, and the Illinois State Historical Society."


Prairie Boat Gathering Space Galleries—Artist Statements:

Gallery 1. Patrick Thompson, Heroes

“The art that I created for the Imani Village project began with the understanding of two factors. The first factor indicates that the project would be located on the site of a stop on the Underground Railroad, in Beaubien Woods. I painted a portrait of the major abolitionist of the time, Frederick Douglass. The second portrait is of Ida B. Wells, who was a civil rights activist and champion against lynching. The next illustration is the figure of Harriet Tubman in the woods, armed with a loaded rifle, ready to lead enslaved people to freedom. Then there’s the illustration of slaves escaping bondage. The second factor in my choice of subject matter was revealing the connection of some of the Tuskegee Airmen to a training program for pilots at nearby Robbins. Two panels are combined in a diptych of the heroic airmen and their WWII aircraft.”

Gallery 2. Jittaun Priest,
Past, Present, Future 
“I wanted to reflect something positive, educational, and modernist art. I went from dark and somber to bright and hopeful. Some of the colors represent the Imani Village logo and images placed within the pieces, like the buildings on the top of the mountain they are pointing to, a tractor tire, and the windmill. My artwork shows a journey from when we were living in Africa to our being captured and brought over to the states. Despite any challenges African Americans face, we still have a strong level of discernment and always persevere. I symbolically showed this through images of people dancing, praising, looking up, and pointing toward something better. It also depicts knowledge of education, agriculture, energy, and the importance of family and community to grow and be better to break the cycle of mental and physical slavery. The last piece reflects hope and possibilities of what is yet to come. Aaron Douglas, a well-known artist in the Harlem Renaissance era, inspired this collection.” 

Gallery 3. Osei Agyeman-Badu, Underground Railroad Quilts 
“I am an art educator located on Chicago's South Side. The paintings are examples of the communication signs used during the Underground Railroad. In these desperate times, secrecy and trust went hand in hand. Symbols were guides and signs of danger; enslaved people brave enough to seek freedom had help from those who opposed this horrific industry. Thinking one step ahead of the enslavers, abolitionists used symbols incorporated into quilts to communicate with other abolitionists and brave enslaved people who sought freedom from their oppressors.”