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Black Hawk repairs are on hold

The Black Hawk Statue at Lowden State Park remains encased in plastic mesh with a fence around it while the Illinois Department of Natural Resouces searches for a general contractor to undertake repairs to the 105-year-old icon. Photo by Earleen Hinton
The Black Hawk Statue at Lowden State Park remains encased in plastic mesh with a fence around it while the Illinois Department of Natural Resouces searches for a general contractor to undertake repairs to the 105-year-old icon. Photo by Earleen Hinton

By Vinde Wells


Efforts to preserve Ogle County’s most well-known landmark are indefinitely on hold due to a conflict over artistic integrity.

Repair work on the Black Hawk Statue has been halted while the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) looks for a new general contractor for the project to replace Dr. Andrzej Dajnowski from Conservation of Sculpture & Objects Studio, Forest Park.

“The contract with the project’s general contractor has not been renewed, so repairs have halted temporarily while the Illinois Department of Natural Resources seeks a new general contractor. No timeline has been established yet for when work might be restarted,” IDNR Communications Director Chris Young said in an email sent May 4.

The IDNR has jurisdiction over the statue because it’s situated in Lowden State Park near Oregon. 

Dajnowski, who was under contract last year with the IDNR to work on the 105-year-old statue, said he declined to sign the contract the IDNR sent him for this year because it stipulated that the repairs be done in a way he could not agree to.

“They hired an engineer who wanted to remove more of the surface of the statue than necessary,” he said. “Ethically that’s not acceptable. I’m a conservator, she’s an engineer.”

He confirmed that the engineer is Amy Lamb Woods from Simpson Gumperta & Heger, a Chicago-based engineering firm that designs, investigates, and rehabilitates structures and building enclosures.

Lamb Woods referred questions about the project to Young.

“It’s the first time in my life I’ve ever walked away from a contract,” Dajnowski said. “It took seven years to get to this point.”

Dajnowski said the new contract also gave him no compensation for the scaffolding which surrounds and protects the statue.

“I could not work for one more year with no additional money for the scaffolding,” he said.

Most of the scaffolding, which completely surrounds Black Hawk, belongs to Dajnowski, but he rents some portions of it. 

Green plastic mesh is wrapped around it to protect the statue from the elements, particularly winter weather, and prevent further damage.

The scaffolding has been in place since December of 2014 when Dajnowski and his crew built it around the 50-foot concrete statue, put a roof over it, and then enclosed it in dark green plastic mesh.

Dajnowski said he charges $75 per day for the scaffolding, and that cost is being paid by the Dillon Foundation, Sterling.

“It’s not about the cost — it’s about protecting the sculpture,” Dajnowski said. “I can’t take it down and walk away. Without protection it will be exposed to the elements.”

Created by sculptor Lorado Taft in 1910 as a tribute to all Native Americans, the statue stands on a 125-foot bluff overlooking the Rock River and draws thousands of visitors each year. 

It was unveiled and dedicated in 1911.

The effects of time and weather have caused parts of the statue to crumble and fall off.

Dajnowski had high praise for the Dillon Foundation and for Frank Rausa, who spearheaded the effort to have the state repaired.

“I have nothing but good things to say about the Dillon Foundation and Frank Rausa,” he said. “I wish I could have done more, but it’s not up to me.”

Rausa, along with his wife Cherron, heads up the Friends of the Black Hawk Statue, an organization formed approximately seven years ago to develop a plan and raise the funds to have the statue repaired.

Most of the estimated $900,000 had been raised, but Rausa said Tuesday that much of the money has been used up due to the state’s lack of a budget.

A large portion of the money for the project came from a $350,000 grant the IDNR received from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

However, Rausa said the state has not released any of the grant money.

“The state can’t issue any checks until the budget is passed so we’ve used a lot of our money,” he said.

In fact, Rausa plans a trip to Springfield this week to see if some funds can be released and to find out more about how the IDNR plans to replace Dajnowski.

Other than the grant, the money for the project came from donations, as well as funds raised during the annual Oregon Trail Days festival held at Lowden Park from 2010-2014.

A large contributor was the Jeffris Family Foundation, Janesville, Wis., which gave a $150,000 matching grant.

The project has been beset with delays from the start. Red tape and getting official approval of a plan and contract repeatedly delayed the work. 

Everything seemed to be in place in the fall of 2014 after IDNR officials signed a contract with Dajnowski.

However, the IDNR terminated that contract and revised it.

Dajnowski signed the revised contract in the spring of 2015 but another glitch slowed the process when Lamb Woods left her former employer Thornton Tomasetti and joined Simpson Gumperta & Heger.

At a presentation in July of 2014, Lamb Woods said testing and evaluations showed that three areas are in dire need of repairs.

The folded arms of the statue, especially the elbows and underneath the arms; the middle of the robe; and the vertical fold in the robe from armpit to toe are the critical areas.

Her presentation included photos of the damaged areas, as well as illustrations of how the statue was constructed, and the plan for how to restore it.

The plan had to be approved by both the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and the Illinois Historical Preservation Agency (IHPA), and both signed off on it in last August.

Because the statue has landmark status, the IHPA also had to sign off. Black Hawk has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2009.

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