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The WNIJ audience includes a wide geographic area in diverse communities with a wide range of challenges and opportunities. This occasional series will inform our audience -- both on air and online -- of activities, opportunities and events in individual communities to build common understanding among listeners of the government, business and social climate in northern Illinois.

Oregon Adds Sculptures To Build On Art Tradition

We continue our occasional series “Community Close-Up” in Oregon, Illinois.  For the past nine years: large sculptures have been popping up around town.  They are part of a decade-long effort to expand the city’s tradition of art.

At inBronze Foundry in nearby Mt. Morris, owner Jeff Adams and his team are working on a large sculpture called “Soy Pod.”  It’s the latest winner in an annual contest to create 10 pieces of art in 10 years. 

When it’s finished, soy pod with join eight other sculptures around Oregon which showcase the town’s Midwestern values and agricultural history. Artist Pamela Lee, of Grayslake,  says that’s where she drew her inspiration for this year’s winning piece.

“From the time I was small…I’ve always lived in areas that were surrounded by farms. So, seeing cornfields and soybean plants up-close was just always there. I wanted to show how soybean plants were so integral to our food chain; they feed our animals, there are in a lot of our own food products. So it just seemed natural to depict the soy pod as having animals inside.” - Pamela Lee

Credit Jenna Dooley / WNIJ
Jeff Adams shows some of the material that will be used to create the finished "Soy Pod" sculpture

Chris Martin is a committee member of Oregon’s Community Art Legacy, the group behind the 10 in 10 project. He grew up on the farm where another one of the winning sculptures has been placed. The land is now owned by the Oregon Park District. The sculpture is called "Solar Reef."

“It’s just something that progressed from an idea saying “this guy, we’ve got an amazing amount of talent here, let’s just do a program of ten years to give something to the community that’s going to be here after we are gone. It’s just nice to be part of a program like that.” -Chris Martin

Jeff Adams says Solar Reef is a popular piece:

“The whole concept of that piece is the earth and planets, and relationships to the sun. All of which have to do with agriculture, so it sits on top of the hill. When the sun comes up and hits it from the east it just lights up.” - Jeff Adams

Adams credit famed sculptor Lorado Taft for the inspiration to start the project:

“He grew up in a small town: Elmwood. He said at one time the hometown is the dearest place on Earth, why not make it more beautiful? It’s a pretty simple concept, and I have kind of a unique craft here, but I am in a position to facilitate that. So, why not? Why not make the hometown more beautiful?” - Jeff Adams

Four of Taft’s works are part of Oregon’s Sculpture Trail, which began in 1911 with the creation of the Black Hawk Statute.

Credit DNR
Lorado Taft's Black Hawk statue in Oregon, IL

Jeff Adams’ parents, Betty and Richard, are both involved with the Community Art Legacy. It’s no surprise they are among the project’s biggest fans:

Betty Adams says one of her favorites sculptures is "Corn Ball."

"That has had different reactions. If they can’t talk about it, then it isn’t a very good piece. To me it encompasses what we are all about here in this part of the world.” - Betty Adams

Corn Ball sits outside the Oregon Coliseum.

Each of the winning sculptors receives $2,000.   More than 100 members of the Community Art Legacy have donated to the project. inBronze covers the cost of casting. Organizers estimate the sculptures are worth around $300,000

Soy pod is expected to be unveiled in June.  Next year is the final year for the contest.

History of Art in Oregon

In 1898, Chicago attorney Wallace Heckman, who also was assistant manager of the University of Chicago, purchased the land that was to become Lowden State Park. He and his wife had developed a great love of the outdoors while college students. In Chicago society, the Heckmans also became patrons of the arts. They combined these two interests as an artists' colony established on their Rock River property. The colony was called "Eagles' Nest," referring to a tall, dead cedar tree that clung to the high river bank. The bare, outstretched limbs of the tree inspired Margaret Fuller, a poet of the Concord Group, to write the poem,"Ganymede to His Eagle." For nearly 50 years, Eagles' Nest was a popular home for creative people.

Lorado Taft, who created the 50-foot statue as a tribute to Native Americans, is said to have thought of the figure one evening as he and other members of the Eagles' Nest colony stood gazing at the view from the bluffs.

Illinois Digital Archives: Lorado Taft's Indian statue "Black Hawk": an account of the unveiling ceremonies at Eagle's Nest Bluff

According to a story attributed to Taft, he and his colleagues tended to stand with their arms folded over their chests. The pose made him think of the Native Americans who were so reverent of the beauty of nature and who probably had enjoyed the same view.

-information from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources

Oregon: Close-Up

Oregon, Illinois was founded on land previously held by the Potawatomi and Winnebago Indian tribes. The name Oregon means "River of the West".
In 1839, "Oregon City" was renamed Florence after a visitor compared the scenic beauty of the Rock River to the Italian city of the same name. Florence was used for only about three years when the city opted to revert to its original name, sans the word "city," in 1843.

About 4,000 people now live in Oregon.

-information from the city of Oregon

About Community Close-Up

The WNIJ audience includes a wide geographic area in diverse communities with a wide range of challenges and opportunities. This occasional series will inform our audience -- both on air and online -- of activities, opportunities and events in individual communities to build common understanding among listeners of the government, business and social climate in northern Illinois.

Jenna Dooley has spent her professional career in public radio. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois - Springfield. She returned to Northern Public Radio in DeKalb after several years hosting Morning Edition at WUIS-FM in Springfield. She is a former "Newsfinder of the Year" from the Illinois Associated Press and recipient of NIU's Donald R. Grubb Journalism Alumni Award. She is an active member of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association and an adjunct instructor at NIU.
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