GALESBURG -- Pete Gorham stood a dozen-plus yards down the massive garage bay of the foundry where artist and Galesburg-area native Lonnie Stewart has for months worked to create a 9-foot-tall clay and steel sculpture of Carl Sandburg.
It had been a dozen years, Gorham recalled, since he first approached the Galesburg City Council about a project to honor Sandburg, Galesburg's native son and two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author.
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"About 12 years ago I put this project before the City Council and waited on a response from them," Gorham recalled at the East Peoria foundry where supporters and friends were invited to see the statue upon completion of the clay process.
Gorham said no response came and the idea "kind of dried up. But I really thought it would come to life again."
Fast forward to 2010 when the Galesburg Public Art Commission took up the cause and began working on plans for a 9-foot bronze statue to be displayed on Public Square on a 6-foot-tall base. The City Council in February 2011 gave its stamp of approval, but funding for the $225,000 project would have to come from private donations.
While Gorhman, friends with Stewart since high school, feels a part of the effort to make the statue a reality, he said it was GPAC and its president, Chuck Bednar, "who have done a masterful job making this happen."
It is a fitting tribute, Gorham said, "to have Lonnie do the Carl Sandburg bronze. I'm very gratified for my friend as this was a dream we had.
"I think the result is a very strong Sandburg," Gorham said. "I hope it resonates with Galesburg -- it should. Much of Galesburg doesn't seem to realize it has a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner to claim as its own."
Bednar's brother, Rick, attended the event Sunday, stopping in on his way from his home in Champaign to catch a flight out of Peoria to Las Vegas.
"It's so neat having a person doing this from Galesburg as opposed to an artist from New York," he said. "It's great to have someone with ties to the area."
He agreed with Gorham's description of a "strong" Sandburg.
"It has a very manly feel to it -- the way he has sculpted the arms and hands. My late mother (Juanita) would be thrilled. She lived and breathed the Sandburg site."
Juanita Bednar oversaw the Carl Sandburg Historic Site for years and originated the idea of the Penny Parade where children bring in pennies as a fundraiser for the site.
"When Sandburg would come back to Galesburg she would drive him around -- he'd want to see his old haunts," Rick Bednar said. "I was fortunate to have met him three or four times. He was quite a man."
Stewart said the clay process has taken longer than typical because of ailments including back surgery and a recent fall that tore tendons in his shoulder.
He's pleased, however, with the final clay product.
"I think he looks imposing," Stewart said. I like the fact he's not looking directly at you."
The statue includes a Nubian goat based on Sandburg's beloved goat, Nellie, and portrays the author with a Swedish guitar strapped to his back and a couple of his own literary works held in one hand.
With Stewart at Mayo Clinic this week for surgery to torn tendons, a Peoria-based company takes over for the next stage in creating the eventual mold that will be used to pour the bronze.
He said it was a photo of Sandburg exercising with a lawn chair held over his head that inspired him to create a strong image of the author.
"I didn't want to represent any age ... I wanted to represent his aura," he said.
Chuck Bednar said it's been an honor being a part of the project.
"I told Lonnie his interpretation of Sandburg looked more like Sandburg than he looked himself ... it's so powerful," he said. "He has said it's one of his best works."
The final unveiling and placement on the Public Square is expected to be in early October and will include sidewalks, lighting, flags representing places Sandburg has called home, and inscriptions of his work.
Stewart said he's excited about seeing the statue evolve through the next stages before it becomes the final bronze piece.
"It's been a labor of love," he said.