Whatever happened to: Danville's tin man and Indian statues

Whatever happened to: Danville's tin man and Indian statues

DANVILLE — If you lived in Danville any time after 1950, you likely recall the American Indian statue towering above Herb Drews' heating and cooling business on the city's north side.

A self-taught artist with a strong interest in the history of Native Americans, Drews built the more-than-16-foot-tall statue in 1949 from hand-hammered sheet copper over a steel skeleton. He displayed it in front of his business at 3716 N. Vermilion St., where it became a local landmark.

"He just really admired and wanted to honor that earlier culture in America," said Randy Graham, Drews' grandson and co-owner of Curtis Orchard in Champaign, where the statue continues its landmark status today, drawing visitors via a listing on RoadsideAmerica.com.

Referencing his grandfather's notes, Graham said the sculpture is of a local chief, named Kesis. According to the Illinois State Historical Society, Kesis was a noted Potawatomi chief who was laid to rest in the Kickapoo burial grounds on a high bluff near the Middle Fork River.

Graham bought the "Kesis" sculpture in 1994 from his cousins after the death of his uncle, the younger Herb Drews, who had taken over the heating and cooling business.

But it wasn't his grandfather's first metal sculpture.

In the 1930s, Graham said, his grandfather built a galvanized-steel tin man that stood at the business' first location on East Main Street. The piece was moved during World War II to the intersection of Main and Gilbert streets and outfitted as a soldier to encourage people to donate scrap metal for the war effort, according to Mike Clawson, who has the tin man in storage today.

After the death of the younger Herb Drews, the heating and cooling business was sold to Clawson, the owner of the present-day Clawson's Air-Conditioning and Furnace Co. at 814 Warrington Ave. in Danville.

Mike Clawson worked with the younger Drews from 1977 until his death in 1994, and bought the business in 1995, which included the tin man, who was in disrepair by that time. Clawson said by the late 1980s, the tin man's structure supports rusted through, and he fell on his face.

He was pulled behind the business on North Vermilion, where he stayed until Clawson bought the business. Clawson said he has never restored the tin man, which is still in the rafters of his warehouse. He also has outfits, such as a clown costume, that were put on the tin man through the years.

He said at one point, the tin man was even dressed as a robot.

"I never had time to rebuild him. Or if I had the time, I didn't have the money, so he got stuck up in the rafters of the warehouse," said Clawson, who would still like to rebuild him.

The chief statue is a more refined work than the tin man, Graham said, and showcases the talents of his grandfather, who used ancient Egyptian or Native American themes in a lot of his art, including paintings and murals.

Over the years, Graham said, the chief garnered quite a bit of interest from folk-art dealers in Chicago, and that's another reason he wanted to keep it.

"I just didn't want to see it slip away, outside the family. It was such a landmark," he said.

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Illiniwek222 wrote on February 04, 2015 at 10:02 am

I'm sure the anti-Chief group has a problem with this also.

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