American sculptor Lorado Taft called it “The Eternal Indian”, but it’s universally known as “Black Hawk.”
Taft constructed the statue out of concrete and colored cement on a bluff overlooking the Rock River near Oregon in 1911. Since then, the years, weather and repairs and restorations of varying quality have taken their toll.
Sterling resident Frank Rausa is leading the effort to restore the statue. He says the group which was hired to evaluate its condition found the damage was much worse than previously thought, and the deterioration seems to be accelerating. But Rausa says he remains optimistic.
“We know that the problem is going to be greater than we anticipated, but we are confident with the people that are working on this project and their background, that the expertise is there to do it.”
~ Frank Rausa
The team includes Amy Woods, the conservator who directed the restoration of Taft’s “Alma Mater,” created for the University of Illinois, and his large Chicago work “Fountain of Time.”
Woods is with Thornton Tomasetti, Inc., the international engineering firm coordinating the restoration. She says not all of the damage is due to Mother Nature. She says most repairs over the years did some good, at least for a time. But an attempt over a decade ago to "glue" the statue's material together with epoxy most emphatically did not.
"I think that contributed to the additional freeze-thaw," she said, "and, once you start that cycle, it's not linear; it's exponentially worse and worse every single year."
That cycle has led to pieces and even large chunks of the statue shearing off. A fence has been put around the figure to protect the public in case more parts of it fall off.
Woods says, ironically, there's a silver lining in what they found.
"I never want to say that we're happy about the level of damage, but I think that in light of the extensive damage that we have, we now have to do larger repairs which may actually last longer than the smaller repairs we would have done."
~ Amy Woods
The extent of the damage means that the cost of the restoration has risen from less than the $400,000 originally estimated to close to $800,000, or maybe more.
Rausa says people have been extraordinarily generous. The project has also benefited from state and private foundation grants, and even a sizable donation from the Chicago Blackhawks organization. Rausa says it's added up to more than $720,000 raised so far.
"I'd say we're about 93 percent funded, if I had to pick a number out of the air. But we actually won't know until they start removing the outer surface from the statue."
~ Frank Rausa
Woods says they hope to start putting up scaffolding around the statue in July. Testing of patching materials would begin in August, with the actual restoration starting in the fall. Woods and Rausa say the process can’t be hurried if it’s to be done right, though Rausa is still optimistic that it can be completed by sometime next spring. In the meantime, Rausa says, they're considering setting up a webcam so people can follow the progress of the restoration. And, Rausa says, he still hopes to able to see the statue restored and rededicated by next summer.
Woods says that some prep work can begin in July pending state approval of their plan, with testing and actual restoration in the following months. Rausa says he hopes work can be completed by spring. In the meantime, he says, they're considering setting up a webcam so people can follow the progress of the restoration.