GRAND BOULEVARD — George Washington is getting a major face-lift for the first time in 112 years.
The bronze statue of the nation’s first president was lowered from its pedestal at the corner of Martin Luther King Drive and 51st Street at the northern gateway to Washington Park for a major cleaning before being reinstalled in time for Veterans Day.
“I’ve been advocating for this to happen for three to four years,” said Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd). “It’s the only major statue that I’m aware of on this part of the boulevard in my ward and it needed attention.”
Just before noon on Thursday, a crane lifted the 16-foot-tall statue and dropped it gently next to the large granite pedestal where Andrzej Dajnowski, of Conservation of Sculpture and Objects Studio, will clean it and cover it in a new protective coating.
“This sculpture is not missing anything, it is all intact,” which is rare for a piece from that era, Dajnowski said.
Once it was on the ground, Dajnowski walked slowly around it counting the 35 large pieces of bronze that have been fused together to create the image of Washington astride his horse with his saber raised.
Dajnowski, who rides horses in his spare time, said everything about the posture was correct down to the way Washington as a military officer would have held the reins.
As soon as the statue touched the ground, Nathan Mason, curator of exhibits and public art for the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, leapt forward to inspect it.
DCASE has collaborated with the Chicago Department of Transportation and found $1 million in the city’s budget to repair the statue, which will involve moving it 25 feet south where a new foundation will be built to hold the statue and granite pedestal.
Mason pointed out sculpture Daniel Chester French’s extreme attention to detail, making sure even the muscles on the roof of the horse’s mouth were correct.
French also designed the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and the Statue of the Republic from the Columbian Exposition, and was brought to the park through the advocacy and fundraising of Art Institute of Chicago President Charles Hutchinson and other philanthropists, according to Mason.
Mason said the statue was a second casting of the original commissioned by the Daughters of the American Revolution as a gift to France to commemorate the country’s contributions to the Revolutionary War and has likely never gotten a serious cleaning since it was first installed.
Dajnowski will clean the statue on-site inside a gated paddock to protect the statue.
The statue is scheduled to be reinstalled and rededicated for Veterans Day on Nov. 11.
The pedestal for the statue will be rebuilt 25 feet to the south of its current location.
The statue has likely not gotten any significant work since it was installed in 1904.
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