College of LAS « Illinois

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Long-Awaited Homecoming

The restored Alma Mater returned this spring in all of its bronze glory.

Alma 1940s

As good as new: The Alma Mater was originally placed south of Foellinger Auditorium from 1929 until 1962. A home movie submitted to LAS by Dan Kallal, shot in the 1940s by his uncle Robert Kallal (BS ’43, MS ’46, chemical engineering), is currently one of the only color images of the statue found before it had a green patina. (See the video at lincolnhall.illinois.edu/storyography.)

Alma on truck

The Alma Mater sculpture, created by University of Illinois alumnus Lorado Taft, was removed from its granite base north of Altgeld Hall on August 7, 2012. It was transported to the Conservation of Sculpture and Objects Studio in Forest Park, Ill., whose lead conservator, Andrzej Dajnowski, also restored Taft’s Fountain of Time in Chicago.

After examining the 5-ton, 13-foot tall bronze sculpture, lead conservator, Andrzej Dajnowski determined the deterioration of the sculpture was more extensive than just the exterior surface. The majority of the iron bolts, holding the sculpture together, were severely corroded. This significantly delayed its return date and added to the scope of the repair work (increasing the project cost from $100,000 to about $360,000). The project is being paid for with gifts from alumni and friends to the Chancellor’s Fund.

Alma on truck

Workers replaced about 1,000 decayed bolts and removed the sculpture’s green oxidation through laser cleaning, helping to return the Alma Mater to its original bronze color. They spent more than a year and a half restoring the statue. The last time repairs were made was in 1981 under the supervision of Robert Youngman, an art professor at U of I.

Alma on truck

The 85-year-old campus landmark returned to its pedestal at Green and Wright streets on Wednesday, April 9, in time for the most popular occasion for students to take photos with the Alma Mater—commencement. In the future, the statue will be treated regularly with a wax compound to help maintain it.

As the base proclaims: “To thy happy children of the future those of the past send greetings.” Literally. Campus solicited greetings from students, faculty, staff, and alumni for a time capsule that won’t be opened for at least 100 years. Items representative of the colleges, institutes, and students were also included, as well as a letter from Chancellor Phyllis Wise and President Robert Easter. An official rededication ceremony is scheduled for the Alma Mater on Friday, June 6. The College of LAS is celebrating Alma’s 85th birthday on Wednesday, June 11. See the statue at go.illinois.edu/almacam.

Photos by Todd Hearn, University of Illinois Facilities and Services
Spring 2014