PEORIA — It would be understatement to say Abraham Lincoln had an outsize influence on the state of Illinois.
But as this corner of the Land of Lincoln prepares to celebrate the state's bicentennial, an outsize sculpture of Lincoln will help residents to do so.
The Peoria Riverfront Museum is preparing for the installation next week of "Return Visit," a 31-foot-tall, 19-ton painted bronze sculpture of Lincoln standing with a modern-day man who is holding the Gettysburg Address.
The sculpture has been on display in Chicago for the past year next to Tribune Tower, and through some serendipitous timing, museum officials were able to secure its next stop here just as bicentennial celebrations are beginning.
A local resident had mentioned the sculptor, Seward Johnson, to PRM President and CEO John Morris, and the museum chief asked one of the curators to reach out to Johnson's foundation.
Johnson's other work includes sculptures of Marilyn Monroe and of a couple standing with a pitchfork in homage to the famous Grant Wood painting. Both were displayed in Chicago during the last decade.
During the course of the curator's conversation with the foundation, it came up that the Lincoln piece was wrapping up its run in Chicago and needed a new home.
"We took advantage of an opportunity," Morris says, marveling at how the timing worked out.
It's been a hectic few weeks since, lining up local groups to volunteer services to transport the sculpture (Centre State International Trucks Inc.), engineer and construct the 6-foot-deep concrete base the piece will stand upon (Dewberry and River City Construction), and even to find a crane operator (R. Gingerich Crane Inc.) to hoist it into place, along with others to help fund bringing the display here.
Its display is also intended as a salute to Peoria public art advocates Harriet Swager and her late husband, architect Gene Swager.
"Everybody seems to be coming together to make this happen for Peoria," Morris says of the more than one dozen sponsors.
In fact, some of the early work, digging the 17-foot-square platform at the museum's Sun Plaza along Water Street, is now underway.
The installation is expected on Tuesday, after the sculpture is transported down on specially outfitted, extra-long flatbed trucks. The museum will hold a celebration of the installation starting at 11 a.m., which is free and open to the public.
"Given that Lincoln gave one of his most important speeches here in Peoria, it's a good thing to celebrate him," Morris says. "There are a lot of lessons about Lincoln that are still fresh and relevant today."
In fact, the sculpture's presence will also help anchor an exhibit at the museum launching in February on the state's 200th birthday, with exhibits on and words from 200 Illinois citizens.
Chris Kaergard can be reached at email@example.com or 686-3255. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard.