Lost Quad Cities: Removed, Relocated, and Recovered Public Art Print
Art - Feature Stories
Written by Bruce Walters   
Wednesday, 15 August 2012 08:28

Pre-1892 downtown Davenport

I recently came across a photograph of downtown Davenport taken from the corner of Second and Harrison streets and facing north. The photo has a 1907 copyright date but appears to have been taken before 1892, when the Redstone Building was built. As I looked at the image carefully, I was struck by the realization that nothing in this photo – not one building or object – still exists.

I also saw a set of century-old photos of a roller coaster, merry-go-round, music pavilion, bowling alley, tunnel of love, and steep water ride – proclaimed as the largest amusement park west of Chicago – at the present-day location of the Black Hawk State Historic Site. It is so strange to see old photos that are identified as places we know well, yet little in them is familiar.

From one year to the next, the Quad Cities seem to change little. Over the course of decades, however, the differences are dramatic.

The same is true of public artworks. Many dozens of artworks have been painted over, removed, or relocated. Not surprisingly, aging materials account for the disappearance of many of these artworks; the cumulative effects of sunlight and temperature extremes take their toll on paint and materials such as wood.

The decision to move an artwork to another site, on the other hand, usually stems from remodeling or changes in ownership of the property where the artwork was originally situated.

The following are some of the best-known artworks in the Quad Cities that have been removed or relocated. Some were painted on walls; some stood prominently in front of buildings; and some lived in parks and cemeteries. Some were created by renowned artists, others by area students. What they have in common is that they are no longer at their original sites.

'Davenport Blues.' Courtesy Loren Shaw Hellige.

Missing Murals

For more than half a decade, an enormous mural with a towering portrait of Bix Beiderbecke was one of downtown Davenport’s signature landmarks. Titled Davenport Blues, it was painted on the west side of the parking ramp at the corner of Second and Perry streets. It was featured in newspapers, brochures, and innumerable snapshots taken by fans of Bix and early jazz.

Loren Shaw Hellige painted the 25-foot-tall portrait and the entire sheet music for “Davenport Blues,” a song written by Bix and first recorded in 1925. She was assisted by Gene Hellige, who marked the location of the notes with charcoal before she painted them. It took six months, from July to December 1988, for the mural to be completed.

The mural was painted almost entirely in black and white. The high contrast of value drew attention, and – combined with the mural’s monumental scale – it created a sense of importance and seriousness. The mural wasn’t a visual interpretation of the music or an attempt to present the jazz icon in a new light; its restraint and use of the most familiar image of Bix made it feel timeless.

Even when the mural was first proposed, Hellige was aware that the ramp was structurally unsound. The parking ramp was torn down in 1995 and was replaced by the Radisson Quad City Plaza hotel.

'The River Styx.' Photo by Bruce Walters.

Several blocks to the east was The River Styx, a mural painted on panel by Pat Collins in 1994. Whereas Davenport Blues stood out through its sheer scale and visual clarity, this mural was brimming with cryptic symbols that invited thought and interpretation. Its location on a building near the foot of the Government Bridge – an entrance to the Rock Island Arsenal – gave the artwork a military context.

The 24-foot-long mural depicted the Mississippi River as it passes thorough the Quad Cities. Collins, however, transformed the familiar bridges and buildings into a personal narrative with the inclusion of symbolic objects – such as the reliquary with a skull and lit candle – and words written in Russian that were based, in part, on his travels in the Soviet Union. The artwork’s title, which is the name of the river in Greek mythology that separates the living world from Hades, adds another layer of references. Its total absence of living people and its maze-like staircases and ladders reinforced the mural’s surreal quality.

Only an unpainted rectangular area on the exterior wall of the Dam View tavern gives any indication that the mural ever existed. River Cities’ Reader Publisher Todd McGreevy acquired the mural in the past few years and said he hopes to display it publicly again.

'Wall of Faces.' Photo by Bruce Walters.

Wall of Faces was painted on the concrete wall on Lincoln Road near 18th Street in Bettendorf. The mural was created in the late ’90s by the Street Heat youth program, led by artist Glenn Boyles. It depicted a row of six-foot-tall heads that were uniform in scale and proportion, but with each face divided down the center and each half of the face differing in skin color, hairstyle, etc. The proportional sameness made the differences all the more striking.

The mural was replaced in 2011 by another, Active in Iowa, that weaves together patterns and a series of images – including a 19th Century bicycle, a catfish, and a soccer ball. Led by educator Michelle Garrison, students in the Quad City Arts’ Metro Arts summer youth program completed the mural in about six weeks.

'Active in Iowa.' Photo by Bruce Walters.

Murals don’t necessarily have a short lifespan. The building-sized mural of Black Hawk in the Rock Island District was painted in 1993 and is still in fine shape.

However, many area murals are more than their finished appearances; they are an opportunity for area youth to plan and execute an enormous project cooperatively. Boyles said that he likes the mural that replaced Wall of Faces and that he expected the mural he worked on to be painted over one day. And, as he pointed out, his piece replaced an even earlier mural.

A Survivor Among Sculptures

Floreciente neighborhood sculpture. Photo by Bruce Walters.In 1998, a welded metal sculpture was installed in Moline’s Floreciente neighborhood near Fifth Avenue and Seventh Street. The sculpture was created by lead artist Charles Knudsen and six youth from the neighborhood as part of the Street Heat program. Most if not all of the students participated in the Moline Boys & Girls Club. The brightly painted sculpture was centered on a sun symbol with stylized rays of light emanating from its center. On top of the sun stood a spread eagle holding a snake. Beneath the sun were twin lightning bolts and cloud-like patterns. The symbols drew from the area’s Latino heritage.

Though the sculpture was celebrated when it was created – even named to the honor roll of Midwest Living magazine’s 1998 Hometown Pride Awards Program – it was taken down in the next decade. Even the lead artist isn’t certain when it was removed. Or why.

During the First World War, two German war memorials in Davenport’s Washington Square were destroyed. One memorialized participants in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. The other commemorated veterans of the 1848 war over Schleswig-Holstein, a region between Germany and Denmark – a conflict that led to the first wave of German immigration to Davenport. This memorial was defaced with yellow paint and later, according to some reports, thrown into the Mississippi.

A replica of the 1848 memorial, based on a photograph, was dedicated in 2008 and placed near Lady of Germania, a bronze sculpture created by Jeff Adams in 2006 that sits at the foot of the Centennial Bridge in Davenport. Lady of Germania is itself based on a statue that once stood on a fountain in the center of Washington Square, a full city block that is the present site of the Scott County Family Y at 606 West Second Street. (See RCReader.com/y/germania.)

Century-old face in the Vander Veer conservatory’s windmill. Photo by Bruce Walters.

Other park sculptures – such as the central fountain in Spencer Square in downtown Rock Island, the statue at Stag Hill in Rock Island’s Longview Park, and the iron fountain at Vander Veer Botanical Park in Davenport – have also been removed over the years. One intriguing survivor is the cherubic face built into the center of the decorative windmill in the Vander Veer conservatory. It was taken from the original fountain when it was replaced in 1935. The iron fountain was donated to the park in 1906, making the face more than a century old.


'Sophisticated Lady.' Photo by Bruce Walters.

New Contexts for Moved Sculptures

Near the entrance to the Davenport Museum of Art at 1737 West 12th Street were two monumental metal sculptures with rusted surfaces: Trapezium by Beverly Pepper (1981) and Sophisticated Lady by Clement Meadmore (1977). Pepper’s 23-foot-tall sculpture rose vertically from an anvil-like base. Though shorter by eight feet, Meadmore’s work was equally massive.

The two sculptures were removed on May 1, 2001 – more than a year before the groundbreaking ceremony for the Figge Art Museum, their intended destination once the new building was completed. The removal was part of the construction project to create an entrance and parking area for the Putnam Museum’s IMAX Theatre.

The Chicago company Methods & Materials lifted the sculptures by crane, transported them by flatbed truck, and reinstalled them on the lawn of Davenport’s Public Works Center (1200 East 46th Street).

The sculptures have now been at the Public Works Center for a decade, though their residence there was meant to be temporary. Trapezium is installed on an immense lawn, and Sophisticated Lady is near the entrance to the building. The building itself is appropriate for their scale, medium, and modern style, but the sculptures seem isolated and without context, as the center is located in a commercial and light-industrial area. Across the street is an empty field.

'Trapezium.' Photo by Bruce Walters.

A third Davenport Museum of Art sculpture, Rhythm by Gene Horvath (1983), was also near the museum’s entrance. Though substantially smaller, it worked well with the other two pieces, as each emphasized the spaces between its angular forms. Rhythm has been in storage at the Figge since its removal.

Another sculpture by Gene Horvath has also been moved. Invitation was installed in 1982 at the entrance to the First National Bank of the Quad Cities in downtown Rock Island for the bank’s 130th anniversary. (See RCReader.com/y/horvath.) In 2011, the sculpture was given as a gift to the city when the bank building’s current owner, Modern Woodmen of America, made plans for exterior improvements. The sculpture is now located on Fourth Avenue near 17th Street – only a few blocks away from its original location.

'Invitation.' Photo by Bruce Walters.

When viewed from an approach to the bank’s entrance, the sweep of the sculpture’s arc was emphasized. At its current location on a one-way street, it will be seen primarily from an angle that highlights its openness. Its present placement in a flowerbed amid trees seems to bring out an organic, almost tree-like form in the sculpture.

'Tower.' Photo by Bruce Walters.

Sol LeWitt’s Tower was installed near the entrance to the RiverCenter at 136 East Third Street in Davenport in 1984. Twenty years later, it was moved to the Figge Art Museum plaza. Although specifically designed for its original site, the 21-foot-tall sculpture is better-suited to its new location because of the spaciousness of the plaza and the work’s visual consistency with the minimalist architectural style of the museum. (See RCReader.com/y/lewitt.)

Since 1954, the granite sculpture of Black Hawk by David Richards has gazed over the Rock River from a high ridge at the Black Hawk State Historic Site. The location of the sculpture near the site of Black Hawk’s village, Saukenauk, is so appropriate and poignant that it’s surprising to learn that the sculpture was first in downtown Rock Island, on Second Avenue, for more than 60 years. (See RCReader.com/y/blackhawk.) The sculpture was moved from Spencer Square when the Rock Island post office was built on the site.

Black Hawk statue. Photo by Bruce Walters.

Two elegant sculptures of lions, originally purchased by Frederick Weyerhäeuser in 1889-90, were also moved from Spencer Square in 1954. They were placed near the south entrance to Longview Park. After 120 years, they were cracked and physically deteriorating. In the past few years, they have been replaced with new lion statues.

For decades, the grave of Charles H. Deere (1837-1907) in Moline’s Riverside Cemetery was marked by a large cross and a cast-metal sculpture of a woman approximately seven feet in height. The cross remains, but the sculpture was removed by the family in the 1970s after it became a target of vandalism and the subject of spooky stories about a black angel. In one story, a woman’s hair turned white after spending the night with the statue. In another, a dead boy was found in the sculpture’s arms.

The woman is now at the entrance to the Mandala Center in New Mexico on the Sierra Grande Mountain. Anna Hewitt Wolfe, great-great-great granddaughter of John Deere, founded the retreat center.

The sculpture is usually described as an angel, yet there are no wings or overt angelic symbols. Through her gentle gesture and facial expression, the woman expresses a sense of serenity. One hand holds a wreath (a traditional symbol of victory) and the other holds grapes (a symbol of the Eucharist). Removed from a cemetery and far from the urban legends about a black angel, it is hard to envision this sculpture in any other environment.

A Happy Ending

'The River of Life.' Courtesy Figge Art Museum.

In 1976, thieves stole a 1905 Tiffany stained-glass window from the Denkmann mausoleum in Rock Island’s Chippiannock Cemetery.

Measuring 40 by 50 inches, the window was visible from outside of the mausoleum, its rich colors iridescent and radiant. Titled The River of Life, it is a bountiful image with flowers in full bloom and a golden river gently winding through the landscape. Partly because of our association of stained-glass windows with religion and its location in a cemetery, it is imbued with a spiritual quality.

The search for the stolen window by the cemetery superintendent, Greg Vogele, paid off after two decades when a Florida museum that specialized in Tiffanys informed him that it had received a flyer advertising the stolen artwork. Working with the FBI, the window was recovered from a residence in Jamaica, New York. The window was finally returned to the Denkmann family in 1997 and was restored. It is now on permanent loan to the Figge Art Museum and displayed prominently in the museum’s permanent-collection gallery on the second floor.

What’s Lost

When I looked at the old photo of downtown Davenport, I realized that the familiar landmarks – rather than the location itself – create a sense of place and character. The Gateway Arch immediately identifies St. Louis. The Statue of Liberty is synonymous with New York. My immediate image of Rock Island is the towering mural of Black Hawk. These iconic public artworks tell us of the aspirations, ideals, and self-identity of these cities, as do more modest examples.

Those things are lost when a piece of art is removed or destroyed.

And when public art is preserved but moved, a new setting can either diminish or improve it, because artworks in public spaces are seen in relation to their environment, not in isolation.

The statue of Black Hawk is all the more meaningful because of its relocation to the Black Hawk Historic Site and positioning at the ridge over the Rock River. Conversely, the two sculptures at the Public Works Center have little association with the center or the surrounding fields or nearby businesses. Though the works themselves are unchanged, something subtle – but important – was lost when they were moved from the entrance to the art museum.

Bruce Walters is a professor of art at Western Illinois University.

This is part of an occasional series on public art in the Quad Cities. If there’s a piece of public art that you’d like to learn more about, e-mail the location and a brief description to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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