In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Bix 7 race, a bronze statue of two runners was unveiled in 1999 at the corner of Fourth Street and River Drive in Davenport, in front of the Quad-City Times building. They are atop a five-foot pedestal and base on the eastern front of the Bix 7 Plaza, a circular garden with a walkway and honorary plaques that commemorates the participants and contributors to the annual race. The runners are Bill Rodgers, who won the seven-mile race twice, and Joan Benoit Samuelson, a four-time Bix 7 women's champion. Both athletes represented the U.S. in the Olympics; Samuelson was the gold medalist in the first women's marathon.
The life-size sculpture depicts the runners side-by-side, running nearly in tandem with a similar stride that conveys a sense of equity between the genders in sports. The figures are confident but not triumphant - not stretching their arms out in victory.
Two years later, in 2001, a life-sized bronze figure of Bix Beiderbecke was also installed on the plaza; the race is named in honor of the jazz legend from Davenport. When first installed, it was an unexpected pleasure to discover the statue of Bix sitting quietly back on the plaza's rear wall. Placed about 20 feet behind the two runners, he is seated on the three-foot wall in formal dress with his cornet in hand. He seems to be both relaxed and attentive - as if waiting to play his next solo.
The sculpture's subject, demeanor, and vintage clothing have no direct relationship with the two runners. Yet, paradoxically, the artworks work together. Their dissimilarities seem to translate the 20-foot separation between them into a distance in time. (Bix died in 1931 - 70 years before the statue's installation.)
In 2006, a fourth sculptured figure was added. This one depicted Bill Wundram, who has written for the Quad-City Times for more than 65 years and has been an advocate of both the Bix 7 and the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival. Three years later, a statue of Ed Froehlich - who served as the event's director for more than three decades - was added. A sixth figure was added in 2011: Dan Hayes, who was instrumental to the event's growth and success.
The plaza has been enriched with the additional artworks and their stories, yet its overall cohesion has been lessened with each additional figure. A lack of interaction between them is, perhaps, the result of installing each sculpture separately over the course of a dozen years.
Ted McElhiney, a LeClaire resident, created each of the Bix 7 sculptures. He has other bronze sculptures in the area, including a trio of children playing in Vander Veer Park, and a figure throwing a skipping stone at the edge of the Mississippi at Leach Park near the I-74 bridge. His ability to draw us into ordinary activities and to relate the figures to their environments is the outstanding feature of these works, including the six sculptured figures McElhiney created for the Bix 7 Plaza.
Bruce Walters is a professor of art at Western Illinois University.
This is part of an occasional series on the history of 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 BD-Walters@wiu.edu.