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Restored Alma Mater sculpture to return to U. of I. campus on April 9

AlmaMater head close-up
Photo by
L. Brian Stauffer

The green patina of Alma Mater will be gone when she returns to the U. of I. campus on April 9.

« Click photo to enlarge

3/21/2014 | Mike Helenthal, News Editor | 217-333-5491;

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The Alma Mater sculpture will make her long-awaited return to the Urbana campus April 9, where she will be put back on her pedestal to silently watch the next century of university progress.

“There are a lot of logistics that have to be in place to make this go smoothly,” said Jim Lev, an architect with Facilities and Services, which is coordinating the reinstallation project. “The most important thing is that we do this carefully and safely.”

The sculpture, unveiled by U. of I. artist Lorado Taft in 1929, was taken away Aug. 7, 2012, and sent to a conservator for restoration following years of water corrosion damage.

It will return after having more than 1,000 bolts replaced, its exterior surface laser-cleaned and its original color restored to a natural bronze finish.

Lev said the reinstallation would require a lot of site preparation, including the positioning of a crane and blocking off an area to allow a flatbed truck adequate access. Planners also expect a bevy of onlookers welcoming back Alma, though a rededication ceremony isn’t scheduled until June 6 (details of which will be announced soon).

“We’ve really just been focused on finalizing the conservation efforts and getting the sculpture back on its base,” Lev said.

He said the statue might look slightly unfamiliar to those who have become accustomed to the corrosion-tinged, streaky iteration that had been at the southeast corner of Green and Wright streets in Urbana. The green patina, however, was an indication of corrosion that was taking place as the sculpture endured decades of unaddressed water damage.

“When you see the statue in its conserved state, you’ll see she really has a serene, peaceful, pretty face,” Lev said. “She has a face you can identify with. People are going to be as fond of the sculpture as they’ve ever been.”

To prevent similar damage from occurring in the future, Lev said the conservator, Andrzej Dajnowski, the director of the Conservation of Sculpture and Objects Studio, Forest Park, Ill., has recommended an ongoing maintenance program requiring the application of a wax compound every two years.

The reconstruction project cost about $360,000 and was paid for with alumni donations.

“If we protect this sculpture from corrosion,” Lev said, “the conserved and stabilized Alma Mater sculpture will safely stand there for another 100 years welcoming the children and grandchildren of generations to come. We need to attempt to retain such images of campus because they are what bind one generation of Illini to the next generation.”

Photos and videos of the conservation work and an extended video interview with the conservator are online.

Editor's note: To contact Jim Lev, call 217-244-5095;

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