For more than four weeks, a 5-foot fire hydrant stood in 12-year-old Bela Quintas' living room in Chicago's Noble Square neighborhood.
Bela, a self-taught artist, transformed what was once a white fiberglass hydrant into an eye-catching representation of fire safety, Chicago landmarks and the city's firefighters.
Bela is the designer behind one of the 101 hydrants, symbolic of Chicago's 101 firehouses, to be featured in the public art installation "The Great Chicago Fire Hydrants." The citywide exhibit debuts Wednesday, Sept. 11 and honors the heroism of Chicago firefighters.
Each hydrant is sponsored by a company or individual. First Alert, which makes smoke alarms and fire extinguishers, is backing Bela, the youngest designer in the program. Her hydrant features the Chicago skyline at sundown, city landmarks including the Chicago Theatre and the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel, and portraits of firefighters from the Noble Square fire station.
"Family is combined with the idea of safety," she said of her theme, "because people have to think of how lucky they are to have people watching over them 24/7, like the firefighters and (manufacturers of) fire alarms."
Her hydrant — which is almost as tall as she is — will be located at Chicago Fire Department Engine 98 at 202 E. Chicago Ave.
A seventh grader at Immaculate Conception School, Quintas works in a range of art mediums, including charcoal, acrylic and watercolor. She also sculpts occasionally and hopes to be a professional artist when she's older.
She has been drawing since she could hold a crayon, but art became a significantly larger part of her life when her mother, Melissa Quintas, was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer in 2011.
"I found this unique way to get my mind off of it," Bela said. "I thought, 'Thank God I have art.' ¿"
Because Melissa Quintas' cancer was so aggressive, she had to undergo multiple surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy and was often tired from the serious treatment. While she slept, Bela drew pictures of flowers and butterflies to greet her when she woke.
"Her face would light up," said Bela of her mother, whose cancer is now in remission. "She'd love it, and I loved seeing that. It always made me happy that she was happy, so that's one of the things that encouraged me to do more art."
Bela also is a two-time state finalist in the Doodle 4 Google competition, in which she redesigned the Google logo for a chance to win a spot on the search engine's home page.
In her fire hydrant design, she chose to use bright colors, such as sky-blue and orange. She omitted black, she said, and instead mixed paints together to create deep purples, in which she painted the Willis Tower.
"Black makes everything mucky, and it takes out all of the color," she said. "It doesn't make everything as eye-catching … I didn't want any dark colors to take away from it."
She hopes the brilliant color choices draw viewers in.
"I chose colors that people would notice so they would (see) the buildings, and popular city sites and the firemen,” Bela said. “I tried to use a lot of bright colors that are super happy."
"The Great Chicago Fire Hydrants" runs through November, followed by an auction to benefit the 100 Club of Chicago, which helps families of police, firefighters and paramedics who have died in the line of duty, and other fire-related charities. For a map of the hydrants' locations, go to GreatChicagoFireHydrants.com/Locations.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun