Should Antioch pay full cost for 7-foot bronze sculpture?

  • Antioch-area artist Dennis Downes with his bronze sculpture of a trail marker tree that is to be installed next spring in downtown Antioch.

    Antioch-area artist Dennis Downes with his bronze sculpture of a trail marker tree that is to be installed next spring in downtown Antioch. Courtesy of Dennis Downes

Posted12/20/2017 5:37 AM

A 7-foot tall bronze sculpture of a trail marker tree will debut next spring in downtown Antioch, as what village officials say will be an educational conversation piece and general attraction.

"This is an opportunity," said Mayor Larry Hanson, who pursued the idea.


However, while some village trustees agree with the intent, the $35,000 cost for the piece by well-known local artist Dennis Downes was a sticking point in a 4-3 vote this month to approve the purchase.

"I think the idea for Antioch is an attractive one," said Trustee Mary Dominiak, the board's liaison for planning, zoning and economic development.

But Dominiak said she didn't think the village should pay the entire cost. She said she looked for contributors before the vote but came up empty.

"Because we are unable to get a commitment from any other public or private entity, I voted 'No'," she said. "I think it's a great idea but I don't think it should be paid for by the village solely."

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Trail marker trees were shaped into a specific form and used as guides to fresh water, shelter or other resources and to mark significant Native American sites. Downes likened the trail marker trees to exit ramps from a main road.

Downes is a well-known expert on the topic, and his works are on display in various locations including Chicago and the former Lake County Discovery Museum at Lakewood Forest Preserve in Wauconda. His book "Native American Trail Marker Trees: Marking Paths through the Wilderness" is based on 30 years of research.

Eighty percent of noninterstate roads were Native American trails, according to Downes. That includes Route 83 (Main Street) in Antioch, which was known as the Porcupine Trail and marked with the distinct trees.

The Dec. 11 village board action authorizes Village Administrator Jim Keim to buy the sculpture from Downes. He will provide a bronze plaque explaining the significance and help install it at no charge.


The sculpture will create an image and identity and hopefully boost interest by residents and visitors in the downtown area, Hanson said.

"Why not grab onto something we can be known for? It's more than just a tree, it's about history, it's about education," he said.

Hanson contended investments of this type could pay large dividends.

"The scope is bigger than that. We have to start somewhere."

Hanson said money for the purchase isn't coming at the expense of something else but he is motivated to seek contributions to help offset the cost.

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