ROGERS PARK — An art project that began 10 years ago in an Edgewater front lawn has made its Rogers Park debut, telling the story of Bobby, the 100-foot-tall boy, through an oversized letter and props.
The “Giant Letter” exhibit is posted at the corner of Glenwood and Albion avenues, where a 12-foot-tall letter and 35-foot-long tape measure greet commuters and passersby.
Bobby the giant boy came to life around Christmas 2012, when artists and Edgewater residents Caro D’Offay and Laura Gilmore installed a giant “Dear Bobby” letter written from Santa to the fictional boy, complete with a massive pencil, cookie and glass of milk.
The art display was a hit, and the “Dear Bobby” series has stuck around, following the artists to Austin, Texas, and back to Rogers Park, where it was unveiled in December in the yard of the condo building where D’Offay lives.
The artists said their project seeks to bring a touch of whimsy while encouraging an emotional connection for the people who take it in. It also is an art therapy project for its creators.
“We’re trying to create an atmosphere,” D’Offay said. “The person standing there can in a way feel very small but also have big emotions. It can be transformative for someone, and they’re just walking their dog.”
Read the full text of the letter at the bottom of the story.
The Giant Letter project started as a response the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre where 26 children and adults were killed.
D’Offay and Gilmore wanted to channel their grief over the tragedy into something that could highlight the good in humanity.
For its first few years, Bobby told Santa about his fantastical travels and his problems with the world, and Santa wrote back to impart wisdom. In 2018, Bobby told Santa about his mother’s battle with cancer.
Marj Wormald, who in 2016 joined D’Offay and Gilmore on the project, said the scale and accessibility of display is its real appeal.
The lawn displays have included the giant letter coupled with equally large microscopes, books, slices of pie and this year’s tape measure. The displays are unveiled every year on Dec. 12, D’Offay’s mom’s birthday.
“I have always been drawn to create projects on a large scale, but it’s right there on the sidewalk,” Wormald said. “I like that it’s available to anyone on the street. You don’t have to go to a gallery or museum.”
This year’s letter is written from Bobby’s mom, Lucinda, to him and details more about her cancer diagnosis. The story is drawn from D’Offay’s mother’s own illness.
D’Offay found confronting the cancer de-stigmatized her mother’s struggles, she said. She learned to not “hate” the cancer, which helped in her own grieving process.
This is referenced — in a more fantastical way — in this year’s letter.
“I know it sounds weird, but there’s something very healing about the thought of sitting around a table and sharing childhood stories and laughter with my cancer cells,” the letter reads.
Including such personal connections into the story is cathartic for D’Offay, but the aim is to write the letters in such a way that they conjure universal emotions, she said.
“We’re just trying to create an atmosphere that is large and can accommodate everyone,” she said. “These emotions are difficult. When you can lend your emotions to this … they tend to become less heavy.”
Each year, a “Bobby box” is attached to the display, allowing people to leave anonymous or signed letters to Bobby. It is the artists’ hope that writing to the program is as emotionally healing for those writing as for the artists creating the project.
“That’s the crux of the project,” D’Offay said. “To get people to feel a part of themselves that feels true.”
The existing display will remain up in Rogers Park indefinitely, D’Offay said. The art project will take on a new form in 2022.
Instead of taking over a front yard, the creators hope to move Giant Letter into something more like a gallery. The creators are looking for a warehouse or other space to display all 10 of the letters and artifacts created over the years.
The exhibit will allow people to take in the full scope of the project, placing themselves more fully into the world of Bobby, the 100-foot-tall boy. Maybe visitors can learn something about themselves in the process, they said.
“What it’s become is remarkable,” D’Offay said. “We’re creating a place for people to feel their true emotions. We just want to connect and uplift.”
This year’s letter:
I’ve been preparing one of your favorite meals for dinner. As I’ve cut the onions and celery, soaked the beans and stirred the spices into the pot, I’ve also been meditating on the joys of being your mom. So save your appetite, because it’s chili night. I even got your Fritos or “corn chips” as you used to refer to them when you were little.
But there’s another dinner that I’d like to share with you tonight too. I’d like to reenact that dream you reminded me of last year. I know it sounds weird but there’s something very healing about the thought of sitting around a table and sharing childhood stories and laughter with my cancer cells. When I was sick, I could feel them fighting me. I resented them. You helped me understand that it’s not their fault, that if I turn them into monsters, I’ll have monsters living inside me. So I have to twist the golden rule around just a bit and help the cells look up and notice the being they live inside so that they can return to their goodness.
I know this is a much bigger tape measure than you probably need but I want you to dream big and make giant magic!
P.S., Give Mr. McFluffins the bow when you take it off. He’s been fixated on it all day.
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