Artist captures life after steel mills close, prosecution rests in R. Kelly trial and more in your Chicago news roundup

Today’s update is a 5-minute read that will brief you on the day’s biggest stories.

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Roman Villarreal stands among his art now on display at Intuit. Born in 1950, the self-taught sculptor and painter has been practicing full-time since the steel mills closed in the ’70s. “Since I was a little kid, my mother said I was a shaper,” Villarreal said of his path to becoming an artist.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Good afternoon. Here’s the latest news you need to know in Chicago. It’s about a 5-minute read that will brief you on today’s biggest stories.

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Top story

South Chicago artist tells story of steel mills, drugs, gangs in first major retrospective

Walk inside the Intuit gallery, and one of the first paintings you notice is “Brothers,” by Roman Villarreal.

Completed by the South Chicago artist in 2021, it shows him at age 19, hanging out.

His younger brother, Don, is at far left; Roman is in the middle. Based on a photo taken when Roman was home on leave from Vietnam where he was drafted to serve in the Army and shows the conviviality of life before the steel mills closed.

“I’m sharing experiences that happened in this community with the world, what happened in this community during the peak of the steel mills and then when the steel mills disappeared,” said Villarreal, now 72.

The show, “Roman Villarreal: South Chicago Legacies,” is on view until January at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, 756 N. Milwaukee Ave. It spans the self-taught artist’s career, from a wood carving from the ‘70s to a limestone sculpture from 2022. His first major retrospective, it documents the legacy of Mexican immigrant families that moved to South Chicago for work and struggled when industry moved elsewhere.

Next to “Brothers” is “Hanging out on the Porch.” It shows how before fears of gang violence took over, people used to spend time on the front porch. Several people stand and sit, drinking beer; a mother holds a baby and a father has his arm around a daughter.

“Everybody’s plan was to go to work in the mill, do your 30 years and retire and live the good life,” Villarreal said.

Villarreal’s father moved the family to Chicago in 1949 to work in the mill and Roman worked there after Vietnam. Then, in the ‘70s, many of the mills started to close.

“We almost made it to middle class and then when the mill closed it turned everybody into a spin. Life changed completely for a lot of us” he said.

Michael Loria has more with Villarreal here.

More news you need

  1. Chicago police have released photos of a red Jeep that struck a 5-year-old boy in a fatal hit-and-run accident in Edgebrook earlier this month. Taha Khan had wandered into the street, where he was hit by the Jeep that fled, then hit again by a Volvo driver who stopped, police said.
  2. Federal prosecutors today rested their case against R. Kelly, who they say filmed his sexual abuse of an underage girl in the 1990s then thwarted attempts to prosecute him in the 2000s. Our Andy Grimm has the latest from the trial here.
  3. Chicago Police Supt. David Brown today announced changes aimed at cutting back on the controversial practice of canceling days off for the city’s police officers. The news follows a scathing watchdog report that showed CPD scheduled nearly 12,000 officers to work at least 11 straight days earlier this year.
  4. Ald. Tom Tunney, the powerful chairman of the City Council’s Zoning Committee and a key member of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s leadership team, is retiring. Tunney’s announcement this morning comes weeks after he described City Council in an interview as “not a good place to work these days.”
  5. An Illinois man who purportedly described strolling through the U.S. Capitol as being “like going to the shopping mall,” has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack. David Wiersma, 66, now faces up to six months in prison, our Stefano Esposito reports.
  6. Jesse Lee Soffer, who has played Detective Jay Halstead on every episode of “Chicago P.D.,” is getting ready to leave the force. The longtime series regular says the next season will be his last.
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A bright one

Miss the Car Kebab? It’s back — sort of

Pisa’s Romanesque marvel inspired the creation of the Leaning Tower of Niles.

And now, Berwyn artist Pete Gamen has re-created one of the Chicago region’s great pieces of lost public art: Spindle, better known as “the Car Kebab.” And like the Niles tower, it’s about half as tall as the original — a spike impaling eight full-size cars that rose from a sea of tarmac in Berwyn’s Cermak Plaza shopping center until it was torn down in 2008 to make way for a Walgreens.

“Everyone loves a re-creation because it was gone and they want to remember it, whether they liked it when it was there or not,” Gamen said this week, just a few days after the official unveiling, also in Berwyn. “This one is more vibrant. There are not the pigeons sitting on it.”


The Car Kebab lives again thanks to Berwyn artist Pete Gamen’s re-creation.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

The original Spindle’s detractors pointed to the accumulation of bird doo-doo on the rusting automobiles. Predictably, some said it wasn’t art — that it was a just bunch of cars stuck on a spike.

But it became a worldwide kitsch icon after the 1992 release of “Wayne’s World,” which features Wayne, Garth and friends in a sky blue AMC Pacer passing various landmarks, including the Spindle, as they headbang to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Just before the Spindle’s demolition, there was a series of Save the Spindle demonstrations.

Gamen’s 23-foot-tall sculpture, in the parking lot of Paisans Pizzeria and Bar in Berwyn, is made from fiberglass go-kart bodies — all sealed up so that no critters can crawl inside, he said. And, he pointed out, fiberglass doesn’t rust.

Stefano Esposito has more on the new Car Kebab here.

From the press box

Your daily question☕

When is summer officially over in Chicago?

Send us an email at and we might feature your answer in the next Afternoon Edition.

Yesterday, we asked you: What’s the worst home disaster you’ve experienced living in the Chicago area?

Here’s what some of you said...

“My apartment burned down. Started by arson.” — Donna DeMilio

“Well, we were new homeowners for 20 days and we had water damage in our basement. Then on July 16, we more water damage — total loss this time. Waiting for the rebuild.” — Charlie Hasbun

“Windstorm crashing a utility pole in our yard, causing a massive power outage and forcing us to move out of our home and into a hotel for a few days.” — Judy Panko Reis

“A piece of roof blew off a neighboring building during a storm and came through my 22nd floor bedroom window.” — Florence Bernberg

“A 1968 snow storm — I couldn’t open the door. I was 10 years old but thought we were going to die.” — Wanda Carrasco

“The power went out for days in Sauk Village during a heatwave in the 90s. Every extremely hot day, it seemed the power would go out again.” — Kristin Bjornson

“When my landlord broke into my apartment and stole a huge amount of my belongings. They said they put it in the basement for me while they repaired a leak. They lied.” — Patricia McDonald

Thanks for reading the Chicago Sun-Times Afternoon Edition.Got a story you think we missed? Email us here.

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