Chicago artist Hebru Brantley’s first statue inspires ‘wonderment’ outside children’s museum at Navy Pier

When kids approach Navy Pier’s new 16-foot statue of Flyboy – the iconic be-goggled character created by renowned Chicago artist Hebru Brantley – they imitate him.

They cross their arms over their chests, like he does. They stand up straight and look toward the South Side, like he does. And they grin, just like he does.

“They look up, they gaze 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 dock.

That’s the type of thing Brantley hopes his work will do.

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

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

“Watching how kids from the South Side, West Side, North Side, wherever, how they all responded… 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 is accompanying interactive art studio at the museum Saturday.

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

A Bronzeville native, Brantley said that growing up he saw kids who “weren’t afforded a childhood” and wants to use his success as an artist to provide kids a creative outlet.

“I always go back to what I had, and it wasn’t much,” he said. “In a place like this, to be able to enter into something that feels a little bit slick, a little cool, contemporary, that can communicate directly to 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 – plastered with drawings and paintings by its young patrons, decorated with classic children’s toys selected by Brantley and dotted with images of Flyboy in his trademark goggles and toothy grin – will provide a backdrop for classes and other programming for kids whenever the museum is open.

“Art galleries, museums can be daunting to some,” Brantley said. “I wanted to create a space that didn’t feel like that. I wanted to create a space that felt like fun first… Fun was sort of the headline of the agenda. ”

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