Crystal Lake artist creates sculpture of Chicago settler DuSable

Crystal Lake-based artist Erik Blome microwaved a handful of clay at a time in his Woodstock art studio.

Piece by piece and over years, those handfuls of clay turned into an 8.5-foot-tall molding of Chicago founder Jean Baptiste Point DuSable.

That molding was cast into pieces of solid bronze and welded together to create Blome’s latest sculpture titled “Explorer.”

And the sculpture will live up to its name. Currently sitting in front of the Evanston Public Library, Blome plans on taking the sculpture to different locations.

“I actually want it to travel around,” he said.

DuSable was a trader of African descent who arrived in what became Chicago in the late 18th century. He’s regarded as the first non-native person to settle in Chicago, whose famous Lake Shore Drive now bears his name.

Blome’s larger-than-life DuSable sculpture weighs over a ton and stands 8½ feet tall. It will be in Evanston until the fall of next year.

From there, it will be in Fort Mackinac, Michigan. Blome chose that location for the historical significance of when DuSable was imprisoned there during the American Revolution.

Crystal Lake-based artist Erik Blome welded pieces of the bronze DuSable sculpture from the inside at his Woodstock studio. Courtesy of Erik Blome

Other future locations could be at DePaul University and the DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center in Chicago, he said.

The massive project is described as a “labor of love” since Blome poured his own money into the project, which he estimates cost him about $80,000.

Lemar Wilson, an artist and art teacher at Stanton Middle School in Fox Lake, has assisted Blome on his projects since 2016. He said this project was “the most personal” for Blome because it was his first that wasn’t commissioned.

“This is the first one to work with him to create something and put it out there just for the sake of doing it,” Wilson said.

The toughest part of the project was manipulating and welding the bronze pieces into one large sculpture, Wilson said.

“Just like life, nothing quite goes the way as planned,” he said. “The weather constantly changing, the highs and lows, the metal is going to shrink and expand depending on the weather it’s in.”

Blome has public artworks scattered across the world, including statues of hockey players outside of stadiums in Canada and a stone sculpture in Egypt.

His art can be found in Crystal Lake, like a statue at the ComEd headquarters, and busts in the Raue Center for the Arts. Other local works of art can be found in Waukegan, DeKalb, Aurora and Mount Prospect.

In 2009, Blome created a life-sized version of DuSable that sits on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

DuSable is one of many historical Black figures Blome has sculpted in his career. Other famous figures include Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Duke Ellington.

Last year, Blome took a trip to Ghana, where he taught students how to pour bronze.

His next venture involves a 5,000-square-foot historic home in Spain, which will be the home of his artist residency program. The home is being renovated and restored, and Blome hopes to have it ready to take in artists next year, he said.

“That is my big project,” he said.

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