Moline artist John Ketner has been chosen from among five applicants to sculpt a replacement for the eroded marble statue that stood atop the Rock Island County Civil War Soldiers' Monument.
The monument is at the northeast corner of the courthouse, fronting 15th Street in downtown Rock Island. But the statue of a Civil War infantryman that originally was on top was taken down and has been in storage since October 2014 when a passerby noticed that it was in danger of falling off the base.
A group that includes the sheriff's office — in charge of county buildings and grounds — and the Quad-City Civil War Roundtable, a study group, and the Rock Island County Historical Society mounted a fund-raising campaign to replace the statue in bronze that is more durable than marble.
This past summer, group members reached the $48,000 mark and bid out the project.
Ketner is a self-taught, self-employed artist who created the Quad-City Police Monument at the Rock Island County Justice Center, a statue of an officer with a child, and the John Baker-Vietnam Monument at Jumer's Casino, Rock Island. Baker was a Medal of Honor recipient from Moline and is shown in uniform.
"We've had a chance to see his (Ketner's) work, and we think he will do a fine job for us," said Capt. Ron Erickson, who has led the project from the sheriff's office.
Ketner founded Lost Arts Studio and specializes in bronze sculpture and custom-made rustic furniture. He doesn't do the actual casting, though; his role will be to sculpt a model. He will begin by shaping a metal and foam armature that he will cover with clay, then use tools to shape in the details.
The model will then be taken to a foundry in Loveland, Colorado, that specializes in art work where a plaster/rubber mold will be created. The clay will be removed and the foundry will cast a copy out of bronze, consisting of "a couple of dozen parts cast separately," Ketner explained.
These parts will then be welded together, a patina added and the piece sealed, ready to return to Rock Island, hopefully by April, he said.
In doing his part of the project, Ketner will have three guides: a photo of the original statue, the eroded original statue in storage that he will measure extensively, and his own research into Civil War uniforms and rifles to make sure he gets the details right.
"That's my main concern," he said of the details. "I want to honor the original sculptor. It's not really my work, but his work."
The original sculptor was Leonard Volk, a one-time Rock Island resident who became a founder of the Chicago Academy of Design.
Work remains; donations still needed
Although Erickson and others feel they are "over the hump" with the statue on order, they are still seeking donations because more work remains.
A priority is to get someone to do an in-depth examination of the monument base to determine whether its cracks are superficial or deep and to fix them, regardless.
"No work has started on that," Erickson said.
Another part of the project is to replicate in bronze or granite — they haven't decided yet — the names of the 354 Rock Island County men who died in the war and whose names are inscribed on the existing base. Many are so eroded that they are no longer legible, and Erickson and others are adamant that this be corrected.
They also want to recondition a rusting copy of the Gettsyburg Address that sits on a crumbling concrete base a few feet from the memorial.
Finally, there will be cost involved in installing the bronze replacement on the marble base.
Money raised so far has come from a variety of sources: $8,000 from the Moline Foundation, $5,000 from the village of Carbon Cliff, $500 from the Rock Island Foundation, outright donations from individuals, "adoptions" of soldiers whose names are on the monument, two gun raffles and a car wash.
The guns were donated by Lewis Machine & Tool, Milan, and Rock River Arms Inc., Colona.
The replacement statue will be formally dedicated during April 2019, the 150th anniversary of the monument's original unveiling.
The statue is being replaced rather than restored because Erickson determined through research early on that replacement would be preferable.
Restoration would look "tacked on," it would mask the work of the artist, and it would not wear any better than the original, because marble is not durable outdoors.
The original statue likely will be displayed somewhere indoors, such as the courthouse or the Rock Island County Historical Society building, Erickson said.