Artist’s sculpture of ‘Head’ of State receives negative reaction

By Vince Dixon

There is the Statue of Liberty in New York, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and Cloud Gate in Chicago. What famous sculpture will Champaign be best known for? A 21-foot replica of Abraham Lincoln’s head?

This is Frank Gallo’s mission. Gallo, a 75-year-old Champaign-based artist, has begun working on the bronze sculpture that he suggested be put in the east plaza of the Champaign County Courthouse, 101 E. Main St., Urbana.

Gallo said he came up with the idea two months ago while driving by the courthouse and noticing the large plaza space. He said the courthouse had originally planned to move the full-figured Lincoln statue from Urbana’s Carle Park to that location, but he said the statue would be too small and that he had a better idea; create a larger, more symbolic art piece that would be iconic of the city.

“I was suggesting that this would satisfy that function,” Gallo said. “To have a single identifier of (the area).”

Gallo said he has not made an official proposal to Champaign County board members but has expressed his idea to some of the members. Since then, the sculptor has started building a small model for the piece and even made a Photoshop-ed rendering of what he thinks the statue will look like if approved and placed in front of the courthouse.

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    When the photo was printed in The News-Gazette last month, Gallo said it received a lot of negative reaction, with some people even calling it “cartoonish.”

    Ralph Langenheim, Champaign County Board member and supporter of Gallo’s design, said the photo did not accurately portray Gallo’s true perspective of the piece and the negative reaction is only common for great works.

    “People look at it and say ‘oh no not that,'” Langenheim said, adding that people did not like the Eiffel tower when revealed in Paris in 1889 and that he remembered when people threw eggs at the now famous untitled Picasso sculpture in downtown Chicago.

    “All of these public iconic art objects have been greeted with violent reaction,” he said. “But there are also people who are violently for (Gallo’s piece).”

    Gallo, also a former University art professor, has been nationally recognized and has won several honors, including awards from the National Academy of the Arts and the University.

    The Lincoln head will not be the first Lincoln piece Gallo has produced, and is one of several works he has made depicting Lincoln. Gallo said the Lincoln head found in the Photoshop-ed sample was made with the same model he used to create the 1960s Lincoln statue in Urbana High School. That Lincoln head, along with other Gallo pieces, can be seen in the Cinema Gallery, 120 W. Main St., Urbana.

    Gallo said this statue will be different from any other Lincoln statue. He said this Lincoln will not have the iconic beard and will be one of the only statues of Lincoln wearing a top hat. He also wanted the head to touch the plaza ground and not rest on a pedestal. He said these unique aspects are also what received the most criticism when the photo was released.

    Still, Gallo said the features are all symbolic and represent “the whole man” of Lincoln before he was president, and that the ground-level take on the president is not the superior Lincoln we are used to.

    “That’s the kind of grandiosity that I wanted to avoid,” Gallo said. “I think the thing that is important to me is to establish a myth of Lincoln we all can live with.”

    Still, others, like Champaign County Board member Steve Beckett, said they “aren’t buying it.”

    Beckett said Gallo has never made an official proposal to the Board and has not gone through proper procedure to have his idea approved. He said there has to be an open public process for any proposed sculpture and that he will see to it that the process be carried out fairly.

    Beckett added that if Gallo did make a proper proposal, he would not be behind it, calling it too strange.

    “I think it’s odd and unusual,” Beckett said. “While Mr. Gallo has an interesting idea, I wouldn’t support it.”

    Beckett said there are other courthouse issues that he sees being more important including finishing courthouse repairs and the courthouse clock tower.

    When Amy Huynh, sophomore in Business, saw Gallo’s Photoshop-ed sample of the Lincoln in the courthouse plaza, she laughed, also calling the photo weird.

    “It looks like he’s decapitated,” Huynh said, adding that she thinks Lincoln is a significant person and would rather the sculpture be of him standing.