“On the Wings of Water,” a mosaic completed at O’Hare Airport in 2007, offers an enduring environmental statement on the importance of water to our planet.

“On the Wings of Water,” a mosaic completed at O’Hare Airport in 2007, offers an enduring environmental statement on the importance of water to our planet.

Robert Herguth / Sun-Times

Next time you’re at O’Hare Airport between Terminals 2 and 3, look up

You’ll see a mosaic, installed in 2007, titled ‘On the Wings of Water.’ It’s meant to make people think about how we take care of that precious resource.

SHARE Next time you’re at O’Hare Airport between Terminals 2 and 3, look up
SHARE Next time you’re at O’Hare Airport between Terminals 2 and 3, look up
A sprawling mosaic in the O’Hare Airport walkway between Terminals 2 and 3 celebrates water — and not the sort that sometimes drips down from leaky terminal roofs during a storm.

Titled “On the Wings of Water,” the artwork, completed in 2007, offers an environmental statement on “the source of life for our planet,” according to lead artist Ginny Sykes.

Part of the piece includes “a drop of water that’s falling into the water that has a ripple effect,” says Sykes, 63. “I’m also thinking about that and what we do has an effect on everything around us, on nature, on us.”

Chicago’s murals and mosaics sidebar

Chicago’s murals & mosaics

Part of a series on public art in the city and suburbs. More murals are added every week.

There are Chicago-specific images in the design — like alliums, flowers that are common around here, and a cardinal, the state bird.

The mosaic also includes an image of a young girl looking out over a body of water. Sykes says that’s meant to make people think about how we’re all taking care of the Great Lakes or oceans or other bodies of water.

The imagery of a young girl and a cardinal can be seen in the “On the Wings of Water” mosaic, which includes at least 35,000 tiles and is in the walkway between Terminals 2 and 3 at O’Hare Airport.

The imagery of a young girl and a cardinal can be seen in the “On the Wings of Water” mosaic, which includes at least 35,000 tiles and is in the walkway between Terminals 2 and 3 at O’Hare Airport.

Dorothy Perry

The piece is primarily glass — with more than 35,000 tiles.

But the cardinal and girl are ceramic to add texture and make it three-dimensional, Sykes says.

A water drop creates a ripple effect in a mosaic at O’Hare Airport that’s meant to show how our actions effect the environment, according to lead artist Ginny Sykes.

A water drop creates a ripple effect in a mosaic at O’Hare Airport that’s meant to show how our actions effect the environment, according to lead artist Ginny Sykes.

Dorothy Perry

Along the edges of the mosaic are puzzle pieces to represent the 15 to 20 students from the After School Matters program who helped her, according to Sykes.

She says the idea for that came from one of her students and fit the mosaic because water and environmental sustainability are “kind of a puzzle that we all have to solve.”

Artist Julia Sowles Barlow, who assisted on the mosaic, says this was her 10th project with Sykes but special because she’d recently given birth to a daughter, named Phoenix. Sowles Barlow remembers bringing Phoenix with her while she was working on the project and taking frequent breaks to check on her.

Because of how busy O’Hare Airport is during the daytime, artist Ginny Sykes and her crew installed the “On the Wings of Water” mosaic mostly during late nights and early mornings.

Because of how busy O’Hare Airport is during the daytime, artist Ginny Sykes and her crew installed the “On the Wings of Water” mosaic mostly during late nights and early mornings.

Brian McGlade

Sykes was born in Washington, D.C., but has spent most of her adult life in Chicago, where she has worked on more than 40 public art projects — though none in quite as public a setting as O’Hare.

Artist Ginny Sykes with the not-yet-installed “On the Wings of Water” mosaic at O’Hare Airport in 2007.

Artist Ginny Sykes with the not-yet-installed “On the Wings of Water” mosaic at O’Hare Airport in 2007.

Julia Sowles Barlow

Sykes says she checks out the mosaic when she flies through O’Hare and occasionally will ask someone to take her picture in front of it.

She sees the subject matter as being as relevant today as it was when it was installed nearly a decade and a half ago.

“What is our future? That’s really what the question is,” Sykes says. “It’s pressing, and I do think it’ll be present for a long time.”

Click on the map below for a selection of Chicago-area murals

The Latest
The beloved lakefront event will take place Aug. 20-21, centered at North Avenue Beach.
About 7:30 p.m., an “all-clear” was given, according to a statement from the Chicago Zoological Society.
The Cubs played game No. 81 on Tuesday against the Brewers, so it’s time to dole out midseason awards.