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New volunteer team readies to raise funds for statue repairs

The Black Hawk Statue remains wrapped in black plastic as repair work on the iconic structure remains stalled. Photo by Earleen Hinton
The Black Hawk Statue remains wrapped in black plastic as repair work on the iconic structure remains stalled. Photo by Earleen Hinton

A new volunteer group is attempting to raise funds as well as hope for the restoration of the Black Hawk statue.

Oregon Together’s recently formed Black Hawk Restoration Team has plans to raise the estimated $500,000 needed to complete the repairs to the 107-year-old landmark that stands on a 125-foot bluff overlooking the Rock River at Lowden State Park.

Team chairman Jan Stilson said members of the team met March 28 with representatives from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois Conservation Foundation, Lowden State Park, and the Northern Illinois University Taft Field Campus to discuss the project, which was begun in 2014.

Created by sculptor Lorado Taft in 1910 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2009, the concrete statue needs the repairs due to the ravages of weather and time.

It was unveiled and dedicated in 1911.

Over the years, despite numerous repair efforts, parts of the statue have crumbled and fallen off. Winter weather has been especially devastating.

Before being encased in protective wrap almost four years ago, the 48-foot-tall landmark drew 400,000 visitors a year, according to state and regional tourism officials.

Because it is situated in a state park, the statue is under the jurisdiction of the IDNR.

At a team meeting Tuesday morning, Stilson said IDNR officials have agreed to remove the black plastic which has encased the statue for the last two winters.

Ed Cross, IDNR Director of Communications, confirmed in a phone call Tuesday that the covering will come off next month.

“We are going to remove the cover for the summer,” he said. “We’re going to wait until May for the weather to stabilize. We think that being able to see it will help with the fundraising.”

The statue will be rewrapped before freezing weather set in next fall, he said.

The cost is $19,000 each time the statue is covered and uncovered. 

In November of 2016, a team from Quality Restorations, Inc., Wood Dale, spent three days wrapping the concrete monument in 12 millimeter thick dual-layered black polyethylene, padded underneath with blankets, and tied on tight with a half-mile of elastic rope.

It has remained shrouded ever since.

For the previous two winters it was encased in a scaffolding covered with green mesh, put in place by then conservator Andrzej Dajnowski from Conservation of Sculpture & Objects Studio, Forest Park.

Cross said all the money raised by the Black Hawk Restoration Team will be used to repair the statue.

“The agency [IDNR] has had a plan for several years to repair the statue,” he said. “We just lacked the capital funds to go ahead with it.”

The most recent efforts to repair the statue began in 2014 but were side-tracked by red tape and the state budget crisis.

The Friends of the Black Hawk Statue, headed up by Frank Rausa, Sterling, and his late wife Cherron, began fundraising more than 10 years ago and eventually raised most of the estimated $900,000 needed for the repairs.

A large portion of the money raised came from a $350,000 grant to the IDNR from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, but it has never been released due to the state’s budget woes.

Hopes were high in July of 2014 when the Rausas and project engineer Amy Lamb Woods held a press conference to announce the extent of the damage to the statue and that work would begin later that summer to repair it.

Dajnowski, who had already done conservation work on other Taft monument, was named the conservator on the restoration team, and testing and evaluations of the damaged areas began.

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.

After numerous delays, Dajnowski and his crew put up the scaffolding, which was rented from another entity, and protective mesh in December of 2014.

Dajnowski and his assistants spent weeks on the scaffold the following summer and fall testing mixtures of materials in an effort to duplicate the original formula used to make the statue.

However, a dispute between Lamb Woods and Dajnowski brought the project to a halt, and the IDNR canceled its contracts with Dajnowski.

Lamb Woods has since left the project as well.

Stilson said Tuesday that about $31,000 remains of the funds raised by the Rausas. Those funds are kept with the Illinois Conservation Foundation in Springfield and earmarked for Black Hawk.

Rausa said Tuesday that the rest of money was spent on testing samples taken from the statue and preparing the statue for the repairs.

“We’re half-way there,” he said.

Some of the money was spent for renting the scaffolding, which cost around $100 per day for the approximately two years it was in place.

Cross said the Illinois Conservation Foundation has received three donations since a story about the Black Hawk Restoration Team’s efforts appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Monday, but he did not know the amounts.

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