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Running Reagan design unveiled at City Hall

Fundraising could begin March 1

Published: Friday, Feb. 7, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT
(Philip Marruffo/pmarruffo@saukvalley.com)
Mayor Jim Burke (left) and Dixon Park Board President Ron Pritchard listen as Tom Whitcombe tells of the story of his grandfather being saved by Ronald Reagan when our 40th president was a lifeguard at Lowell Park.
(Philip Marruffo/pmarruffo@saukvalley.com)
Sculptors Omri Amrany (left) and Gary Tillery talk about their past works Thursday during the unveiling of their vision for the Ronald Reagan lifeguard statue.
(Philip Marruffo/pmarruffo@saukvalley.com)
Artist Gary Tillery (left) and Omri Amrany talk about their vision for a statue of former President Ronald Reagan as a lifeguard at Lowell Park on Thursday afternoon at Dixon City Hall.
(Philip Marruffo/pmarruffo@saukvalley.com)
A rendition of a 7-foot-tall statue of a young Ronald Reagan was unveiled Thursday afternoon at the Dixon City Hall. Artists Omri Amrany and Gary Tillery will create the statue in their Chicago studio.

DIXON – Near the beach Ronald Reagan once patrolled as a lifeguard, there could eventually be a statue dedicated to the country’s 40th president.

An artist’s rendering of Dixon’s next Reagan statue was unveiled during a press conference at City Hall on Thursday. It will be placed in Lowell Park and depict a young Reagan running toward the Rock River to rescue a swimmer.

The statue will be 7 feet tall and have a base about 3 feet wide, according to sculptor Gary Tillery, of Rotblatt Amrany Fine Arts Studio in Highland Park, a Chicago suburb. It’s same gallery that did the Michael Jordan statue outside the United Center in Chicago.

Omri Amrany and Tillery will do the sculpting, Tillery said, adding that the process could take a little more than 2 months and will start after the funding has been raised.

Fundraising for the project, which was estimated at $200,000, according to Mayor Jim Burke, could start March 1 and will hopefully be finished by June 1. The city will approach private donors, as well as have four musical tributes.

Funds for the initial work were donated by KSB Hospital, Midland States Bank, Dixon Tourism, John Weitzel, Lee County Republicans and the Dixon Area Chamber of Commerce, Burke said during the news conference.

The city decided to go with a nationally known art gallery, Burke said, to help with the fundraising. A website will be set up once the fundraising begins.

Amrany and Tillery have worked together on other sculptures, including the Pat Tillman statue for the Arizona Cardinals in Tempe, Ariz.

The Reagan statue will begin as metal poles welded together, Tillery said, before wood and wire are added, and the clay is put on. Then, the sculpting begins, he said.

Similar to other sculptures, the face will be among the most difficult elements, Tillery said, especially because the sculptors won’t have a picture of a young Reagan running to use.

“In a situation like this, you want kind of a grimmace,” he said. “You want something with some intensity. Otherwise it’s just a face stuck onto a sculpture.”

Because the statue will show Reagan wearing a 1920s-era bathing suit, like he would as a lifeguard, a significant amount of time will be spent on the leg and arm muscles. The sculptors will likely have a live model pose in a running stance, Tillery said, and then take photographs from all angles to use as references.

The statue will show Reagan doing something most people don’t associate with the former actor, governor and president. And it will show him at an age most don’t associate with him.

“It’s a challenge,” Tillery said. “We’re using an image of him from a time when he was probably in his early 20s. The face is going to be a little different than most people expect.”

The image the sculptors will use as reference is of Reagan standing still.

In his 7 years as a lifeguard, Reagan reportedly rescued 77 swimmers, and among them was Bert Whitcombe. On Thursday, his son, Tom Whitcombe, talked about what he remembers his father telling him about the rescue.

What Whitcombe remembers hearing from his father varies slightly, he said, from what was reported in an article in the Dixon Telegraph about the rescue.

“I was happy to find that article,” he said. “There are so many people who claim to be among the 77. The number had grown during the time he was alive. There were about 100 of them when he was governor and about 500 during his first term [as president]. ... But at least we have some documentation so that we know that it really happened.”

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