One of the most well known historical landmarks in Oregon is The Eternal Indian more commonly known as Black Hawk. The statue, in honor of Chief Black Hawk, was planned by Lorado Taft and several of his students and associates at the Eagles Nest Art Colony. Work on the statue began in 1908 and the dedication of Black Hawk statue took place in 1911.
Chief Black Hawk was best known for the 1832 war that bears his name. The Black Hawk War was the last Indian war fought east of the Mississippi River. The Indians’ defeat ended 200 years of armed resistance to American encroachment on Indian lands. President Andrew Jackson brought Black Hawk east in 1833 where he attracted great crowds. Just before he died in 1837, He said, “Rock River was beautiful Country. I loved my towns, my cornfields, and the home of my people. It is yours now. Keep it as we did.” The dedication of the Black Hawk Statue took place in 1911.
Taft first created smaller models of what would later become the actual statue. The statue, standing 125 feet above the Rock River, accounts for only 48 feet of that height. Black Hawk weighs 536,770 pounds and is said to be the second largest concrete monolithic statue in the world. From a distance one notices the folded arms and penetrating stare across the river. Close up one notices the blanket which covers Black Hawk.
An original model of the statue is now on permanent display at the art museum of the Discovery Center in Rockford, Illinois. Another model is located at the Oregon Public Library in Oregon, Illinois.
100 years later, the statue is in desperate need of repairs. During one 1950s major restoration, landscaping and lights were added. Some minor patch-and-fill work was done in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but moisture seep in and major cracks developed. It has been estimated $350,000 is needed to restore Black Hawk. A not-for-profit 501(c)(3) fund has been established and contributions may be sent to: Friends of the Black Hawk Statue Fund, P.O. 537, Sterling, IL 61081.
Lorado Zadoc Taft, an American sculptor, writer, and educator was born April 29, 1860, in Elmwood, Illinois. He died October 30, 1936, in Chicago.
After being homeschooled by his parents, Taft earned his bachelor’s degree (1879) and master’s degree (1880) from the University of Illinois where his father was a professor of geology. That same year he attended the Ecole des Beaus-Arts in Paris to study sculpture. Upon returning to the United States in 1886, he settled in Chicago and taught at the Art Institute of Chicago, a post in which he remained until 1929.
Taft was instrumental in advancing the status of woman as sculptures. In addition, in 1898, he was a founding member of the Eagle’s Nest Art Colony which spent summers in Oregon, IL.
In some settings, Taft is perhaps better known for his published writings than for his sculpture. In 1921, Taft published Modern Tendencies in Sculpture, a compilation of his lectures given at the Art Institute of Chicago. The book continues to be regarded as an excellent survey of American sculpture in the early years of the 20th century. Interestingly, Taft is best remembered for his various fountains. One of those fountains, Fish Boys, is located in Mix Park, Oregon, IL.
Oregon is also home to two other commissioned bodies of work: Black Hawk Statue Monument and The Soldiers’ Monument.
In 2004 a group of citizens formed the Community Art Legacy (CAL) with the purpose of installing “ten sculptures in ten years” in the Oregon area. Their guiding motivation was expressed by sculptor Lorado Taft when he said, “The hometown is the dearest place on earth: why not make it more beautiful.”
Each year CAL holds a competition in which sculptors submit maquettes (models) of work based on the theme of the Fields Project ….. “bringing art and agriculture together”. The winning sculptor receives a prize of $2,000 and then enlarges the maquette to a “lifesize” sculpture which is then molded and cast in bronze. The completed sculpture is then placed in the community for all to enjoy.
Funds for this program are given and pledged by friends and members of the community. Ownership, installation and maintenance responsibilities are assumed by the entity where the sculpture is placed.
In addition to the recent sculptures, the Trail includes original works by Lorado Taft, who completed the well known statue called Black Hawk, and local artist Jeff Adams who created Paths of Conviction, Footsteps of Fate, which reflects on the crossing of the paths of Abraham Lincoln and Chief Blackhawk during the struggles in this area in 1832.
Lincoln Highway Mural
In 1915, the Lincoln Highway became America’s first all-weather, coast-to-coast, paved automobile highway. Travelers were encouraged to visit scenic and historic wonders along the route with Oregon being promoted as a “delightful side trip.” Leading visitors through beautiful, breathtaking, rolling countryside and along the Rock River, visitors arrive in quaint Oregon where rich art and cultural heritage await to be discovered. The colossal statue of Black Hawk rises about the majestic river resembling a sentry keeping watch over his land.
This mural was installed in 2010, at First and Washington Streets by ShawCraft Sign Company of Machesney Park. It features tourists visiting Black Hawk in their 1910 Etnyre touring automobile manufactured here in Oregon at E. D. Etnyre and Co.
Midland States Bank Mural
Residents and others who travel south along Route 2 can enjoy a present day piece of the past while passing by Midland States Bank located at 122 N. 4th Street. An 8’ x 24’ community mural was constructed and painted by local artist Nancy Rice Early in 2010. The mural is a pictorial of the early 1900s in Oregon, IL. Using art deco flair to reproduce paintings based on photos, Oregon residents and tourists alike will be drawn to this piece. Ganymede Springs, Eagle’s Nest Tree, The Owl’s Club, and the Heckman House are just a few of the scenes from earlier days. The mural was dedicated on November 27th, 2010, during the 24th annual Candlelight Walk Festival.
Harry Nurmet Mural
The Oregon Park District in cooperation with the Art Community, City of Oregon, Oregon School District, Chamber of Commerce, and Forward Oregon held a dedication ceremony on February 16th, 2011, to unveil a replicated mural of the 1976 Harry Nurmet mural. The mural was replicated by the talented John Barnhart and hung on the south side of the Max Media building located at 220 W. Washington Street. Mr. Barnhart was assisted by two very talented OHS art students, Jeanine Shier and Eli Murray.
Harry Nurmet immigrated to the United States in 1950, and settled in Oregon, IL. Nurmet painted the original mural in 1976, one block west of the reproduction, to celebrate two hundred years of American independence. His work mainly included watercolor, oils, monotypes and acrylics. Founder of the current Oregon Illinois’s Eagle’s Nest Art Group, Nurmet was the group’s leader and president 8 times. Now deceased, his work is another example of the rich history of art found in our community.