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Urgent need for Black Hawk Statue fixes, funds

Damage to statue ‘way more than we expected’

OREGON – The $724,000 already raised for the repair and restoration of the Black Hawk statue probably won’t be enough.

“We have sufficient funds to do 80 percent of the work,” said Frank Rausa of Sterling. He is leading the effort to repair the 103-year-old statue that overlooks the Rock River at Lowden State Park near Oregon.

Rausa said he will not have a better estimate of the cost until repair work begins later this summer.

“Until we start removing the exterior surface, we won’t know the full extent of the damage,” he said.

Rausa is a member of the Friends of the Black Hawk Statue, an organization that has been working to secure funding for the repairs. 

He had a news conference Tuesday morning at Maxson’s Riverside Restaurant to outline the repair and restoration plan.

Amy Lamb Woods, an engineer with a Chicago architectural firm, said testing and evaluations done recently show that three areas of the statue are significantly deteriorated and in dire need of repairs. Those include the folded arms, especially the elbows and underneath the arms; the middle of the robe; and the vertical fold in the robe from armpit to toe.

Chunks of concrete have fallen from the areas, Woods said, and others are loose and ready to fall.

Woods was among a team of experts who measured, cored, and poked the statue last fall and again this spring to determine the toll taken by time and weather.

“The damage is way more than we expected,” she said. 

The statue has deteriorated significantly since close-up photos were taken in 2008. Last winter’s cold and snow hastened the aging process.

Getting the work done is urgent, Woods said, before the statue’s surface deteriorates further.

A restoration plan she presented must be approved by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois Historical Preservation Agency, Rausa said.

Once approved, the repairs will include removing bushes, which are holding moisture at the base of the statue; putting up scaffolding; and removing the damaged areas.

After that, experts will create forms that duplicate the lines and curves of the statue. The arms and other damaged areas will be remolded using a mixture of materials that matches the current concrete as closely as possible.

“The urgency now is to put a very large restoration project in place,” Woods said.

The process will be slow and painstaking, she said, and probably will not be completed this year.

She said she hopes the scaffolding will be in place by mid-July, with work beginning in August.

The statue will be covered with a tent over the winter to protect it from further damage.

Woods said the statue has been patched and repaired numerous times over the years.

Ironically, epoxy injections done in 1989-1990 to repair cracks actually made the damage worse, she said.

“Epoxy is plastic,” Woods said. “It actually traps water and causes even more freeze-thaw damage.”

The epoxy will be removed and the cracks repaired, she said.

Created by sculptor Lorado Taft in 1910 as a tribute to all Native Americans and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the statue stands on a 125-foot bluff. It draws thousands of visitors each year. 

“It is a huge honor to work on this project,” Woods said. “We understand the significance of a Lorado Taft statue.”

Rausa said fundraising efforts will continue.

“We will be seeking donations. We will be knocking on doors again,” he said.

Nearly half the money raised has come from a $350,000 grant the IDNR received from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

The rest came from donations, as well as funds raised during the annual Oregon Trail Days festival held at Lowden Park since 2010.

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

To donate

Checks can be made to the Illinois Conservation Foundation and marked for the Black Hawk Statue, and mailed to Illinois Conservation Foundation, 1 Natural Resources Way, Springfield, IL 62702.

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