Community celebrates Alma Mater’s birthday


A rededication ceremony was held in honor of Alma Mater’s 85th birthday on June 11.

By Abrar Al-Heeti

Champaign-Urbana community members attended the Alma Mater’s Rededication Ceremony on Friday morning at Alma Mater Plaza in Urbana. The ceremony was held in honor of Alma’s 85th birthday on June 11 and served as a way to formally rededicate the restored sculpture to the University and community.

Chancellor Phyllis Wise emphasized the iconic importance of the Alma Mater to University students and alumni when she spoke at the ceremony.

“Labor, Learning and Alma welcome people on the very first day that they get here, and they also send off our students as they leave,” she said.

Wise also thanked those who helped in the restoration efforts and who financially supported the endeavor.

“The work that was done was extensive and exacting, and none would be possible without the donors who made it possible for us to do the job the right way,” Wise said. “Alma’s restoration, appropriately, was paid for by her family and not by state funds or tuition.”

Jean Bandler, granddaughter of Lorado Taft, the sculptor who created the Alma Mater, also spoke at the event.

Bandler described the gratitude and connection her grandfather felt towards the University and how his sculpture paid tribute to that adoration.

“This embracing Alma Mater flanked by Labor and Learning is what the University of Illinois gave to Lorado Taft, and that is what it still provides for its alumni and for its students,” she said.

Andrzej Dajnowski served as lead conservator of the Alma Mater conservation project. Wise said his studio was chosen “because of its cutting-edge use of lasers to conserve sculpture.”

“In my opinion, this was the first ever approach of this kind on any monument anywhere in the world, so this is a really seriously groundbreaking step,” Dajnowski said.

Upon first looking at the sculpture, he said it appeared that there were no major problems, just some corrosion on the exterior surface that needed to be taken care of.

“But then when we looked at the bronze it became very apparent that what was simple became extremely complicated,” Dajnowski said. “And that’s why it took so long.”

The conservation effort took 18 months to be completed. The Alma Mater made its return to the University from its conservation studio in Forest Park, Ill., on April 9.

Christa Deacy-Quinn is collections manager at the Spurlock Museum, a founding member of the University’s Preservation Working Group and has served on the Alma Mater conservation committee.

The Preservation Working Group began the process of Alma’s conservation.

“The group has been key in preserving various campus artwork, in addition to educating the public on preservation issues,” Deacy-Quinn said. “In 2009, the Preservation Working Group identified the Alma Mater as being the campus work most in need of preservation.”

She said working on the preservation of a beloved campus icon was an honor, and she hopes that preservation efforts will continue over the years in order to keep the Alma Mater in prime condition for the coming generations.

“Today, as a result of all the learning and labor during the conservation effort, Alma stands here, having undergone state-of-the-art laser treatment, with all new bolts and a protective wax finish, ensuring her durability and structural soundness for years to come.”

Abrar can be reached at [email protected]