Before an overflow crowd of 60 people at the Oregon Depot on Jan. 27, local author Beth Baker Simeone shared excerpts from her 2015 book, “The Art of Oregon.”
Subtitled, “Influence of Eagle’s Nest Art Colony and Rediscovered Collection They Left Behind,” Simeone’s book was originally designed as a means for cataloging local art, but a much greater story developed.
“It became a two-year journey for me,” Simeone said.
What Simeone discovered was the wealth of stories behind the Eagle’s Nest scene, including people like John Prashun.
Everyone knows who Lorado Taft is, but Simeone brings Prashun to life, who she called an “unsung hero.”
“Without him, the Black Hawk statue would not have been built,” said Simeone, being sure to remind everyone that the correct name for the statue is the “Eternal Indian.”
“When all of Taft’s friends went back to Chicago after the summer [of 1909], it was Prashun that stayed to help him. He spent four years on it as a sculptor and engineer.”
Prashun even had a car made by the E.D. Etnyre Company for his use traveling to and from the statue.
In another tidbit by Simeone, she explained the car was found decades later in Indianapolis and now is on display at the Etnyre office.
Tracking down information on Prashun was difficult, as he was not as well known as other characters that were a part of the Eagle’s Nest colony.
“I starting calling anyone with the last name of Prashun in the Indianapolis phone book,” Simeone said. “I finally found someone related to him. Not only that, but they had a box belonging to him.”
Taft gets all the credit for Black Hawk statue, but Simeone made it clear how important Prashun was to the construction.
Interestingly, Simeone related another story of Prashun returning to Oregon in 1946 to repair damages the statue had incurred because of lightning strikes and weather.
Unlike today’s bureaucratic snarl that has delayed repairs on Black Hawk, Prashun pulled it off by himself.
He built his own crude scaffolding, lived in a tent, picked berries and caught fish from the Rock River for subsistence.
It was no easy fix either, as cracks existed on the head.
Simeone showed photos of the top of the head gone and rebar in place.
Prashun did such a good job that the statue was considered structurally sound many decades later.
“Little did those inspectors know that Prashun had made repairs,” Simeone said.
Another odyssey told by Simeone concerned the “Cabbage Patch” painting by William Wendt.
Part of the original 1918 collection, it was stolen from the Oregon Public Library around 1991. It’s a complicated saga, but the painting went from the St. Charles flea market to Massachusetts to California.
With only five percent of stolen art ever retrieved, it was a shocker when the Oregon police received a package in 1994 that contained the “Cabbage Patch” painting.
It is one of many back stories on various works of art in Oregon that Simeone uncovered.
Simeone could have gone on for hours about the rich history and heritage of the vast collection that emanated from Oregon, including a portrait of Ralph Clarkson by the Spanish artist Joaquin Sorolla and how former library board president Scott Stephens came upon it at a museum in Spain in 2014.
Or what about the diorama at Oregon high school or any of the other eight sites around town that display artwork?
Simeone went into detail on that and made it clear that Oregon has eight other sites around town that hold various artwork.
For more details on these and other stories in the 180-page hardcover book “The Art of Oregon,” copies are available for sale.