OREGON, Ill. (AP) — The Eternal Indian statue stands tall, his gaze accustomed to overlooking the city and rest of the Rock River Valley.
But for the past couple of years, renowned artist Lorado Taft’s 107-year-old, 48-foot-tall icon more closely resembles a frumpy black trash bag.
Efforts to restore the Eternal Indian statue, colloquially known as Black Hawk, have come and gone over the past several decades. The last effort, which began in 2015, came to an abrupt stop in 2016 after the conservator and the engineer butted heads over how much of the statue’s exterior concrete skin needed to be removed. The project was stuck in limbo.
Rented scaffolding remained in place around the statue, running up costs. The statue had to be covered in protective wrap to keep it safe from freeze and thaw because the conservator and engineer went their separate ways during core testing and drilling.
And the statue has been wrapped up ever since.
“I hate looking at it like that,” said Jan Stilson, a historian in Oregon. “Have you seen it? It looks awful.”
Stilson is spearheading the Black Hawk Team, a division of Oregon Together, an organization that aims to improve quality of life in the area. Stilson and about 20 volunteers are orchestrating efforts to raise money to pay for the next phase of the statue’s restoration.
“People were bewildered when it came to a screeching halt,” Stilson said. “People were confused about what happened and what will happen.”
The project includes recreating the statue’s original mix of concrete, cement and red granite, though it will still require annual upkeep, Stilson said.
The Black Hawk Team needs $500,000 to complete the project. Unwrapping the protective coating will cost $7,000. Depending how much money is raised by fundraisers — and what might be contained in the state budget — work could resume as early as this summer and last through October, then resume next year.
Stilson said she hopes the state will pass a capital budget to fund a $350,000 grant that will go to the Illinois Department of Natural Resourced for restoration. Black Hawk stands on property owned by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
A few fundraisers are scheduled this summer.
“We’re just getting started,” Stilson said. “We’ve had pledges but no money. People seem to be very enthusiastic about it.”
That wasn’t always the case, though.
About $600,000 was raised and spent previously to study the project and to set up and remove scaffolding. But even after the previous effort halted, the rented scaffolding stayed at the statue through construction and then some — totaling 560 days at a cost of $42,000.
The loss of money and the failed previous attempt resulted in “hurt feelings that run deep regarding the restoration project,” Stilson said. “We’re trying to educate people but it’s been difficult.”
Any money raised is monitored by the Illinois Conservation Fund, a nonprofit that supports DNR programs. Eric Schenck, the executive director of the Illinois Conservation Fund, said all the money raised is accounted for.
“It’s been a complicated project in terms of the technique used for restoration,” Schenck said. “Obviously there was disagreement on the technique that was being used. Unfortunately, the project suffered from cost overruns.”
ICF has set up a place to donate on its website, icf.org/portal.
In 2015, the statue was listed as the second-most-endangered historic landmark in the state, according to the nonprofit Landmarks Illinois.
“The weather and other natural forces that have worn on this statue have caused it to deteriorate,” Schenck said. “It’s reaching a point where it either has to be restored or it may continue to deteriorate to where it’s a safety hazard or not even salvageable.”
Oregon Mayor Ken Williams serves on the Black Hawk restoration committee. He said the statue draws people from all over, but since the protective wrap went up, “it’s put a bit of a damper on our tourism.”
Getting it uncovered and in good condition is a high priority, Williams said.
“It’s been an icon for the Rock River Valley for more than 106 years,” he said. “If you’re less than 106 years old, you’ve grown up with this overlooking the city.”