Latest public sculpture installed in downtown Champaign

CHAMPAIGN — Anyone who has taken an introductory art history course would immediately know the inspiration for the latest public sculpture to be installed in downtown Champaign.

That would be the Venus of Willendorf, an icon of prehistoric art believed to be the oldest piece of artwork yet found and the first representation of a nude woman.

Sculptor Will Cavanaugh's "Days of Venus" is not quite as graphic as its more famous counterpart, though.

Installed on Thursday morning at Park and Neil, it's a rougher and much larger take on the tiny yet fecund Venus of Willendorf, carved from limestone and believed to date to 24,000 to 22,000 BCE.

After Cavanaugh, 41, an elementary-school art teacher from Buffalo, N.Y., arrived here with "Venus" in the back of his pickup truck, a Petry-Kuhne Company employee used an end loader to lift the 1,000-pound piece and place it on a city-installed platform outside the Chicago Title Insurance Company building.

Cavanaugh bolted it down and then gave it a coat of 10W-40 motor oil to protect it and give it a glossy look.

Cavanaugh's cast iron and welded steel and copper piece is the ninth sculpture to be placed in or around downtown Champaign by the 1-year-old Public Art League. It plans to install the 10th soon at a nearby flower plot, at Randolph and Park.

That would bring the total market value of all 10 public sculptures in downtown Champaign to $250,000, according to David Wilcoxen, president of the league.

The nonprofit league — its mission is to promote creativity and improve the community's aesthetic by cultivating awareness and appreciation of public art — recently signed an agreement with the city of Urbana to have public sculptures placed there as well.

The city would cover the cost of installation, while the Public Art League would raise private money to lease the sculptures from the artists for two-year terms. The Public Art League has similar agreements with the city of Champaign and the Champaign Park District.

The league hopes to have 12 more sculptures installed this summer, in Champaign or Urbana. Their placements are "sponsor-driven," Wilcoxen said.

The league seeks sponsors for the incoming sculptures as well as for "Days of Venus," which was placed downtown before the league's sponsorship campaign begins. Anyone wanting to be a sponsor may call Wilcoxen at 898-8263 or league treasurer Eric Robeson at 351-4225.

Potential sponsors may see photographs of the 12 sculptures, selected by a league jury, during a "mixer" at 5:30 p.m. July 20 at Buvon's in Urbana.

The jury members are Steve Cartwright and Gerry Guthrie, assistant professor and professor, respectively, at the School of Art + Design at the University of Illinois; Teri Legner, economic development manager for the city of Champaign; Geoff Bant of the Urbana Public Arts Commission; and Robin Hall and Lawrence Hamlin, both members of the Public Art League board.

All of the sculptures placed here by the league are for sale. Any individual or entity who buys any of the artworks could choose to have them remain in place or move them to new locations.

So far, only one of the nine sculptures installed by the league has found a buyer: The Champaign Parks Foundation in April bought "Double Dutch — A Jump for Joy" by Gary Bibbs of Lexington, Ky., and will leave it on the east side of West Side Park.

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