Group working to restore HMS sculpture
Fundraising initiative will pay to restore, relocate significant work by important artist
Last updated 9/23/2021 at 10:21am | View PDF
The Windhover - the blue metal sculpture outside Hinsdale Middle School - has caused more than one raised eyebrow as passersby wondered what it was and where it came from.
HMS Principal Ruben Peña knew the sculpture was a gift from the community, but he didn't pay it much attention until talks began several years ago about building a new school - and a question arose.
"What are we going to do with that thing?" he said. "And then the magic started to happen."
He brought a scrapbook about the sculpture - which had been given to him by the school's former art teacher when she retired - to a PTO meeting. PTO board member Corlyn Simmons was intrigued.
"Corlyn was like, 'Let me see this. I'm not going to take the lead on this, but let me see what you have there,' " Peña said. "Then her work began."
Fast forward about four years and Simmons has taken the lead - with other members of the Windhover Restoration Committee - in an effort to raise $40,000 so the piece can be restored and relocated.
Simmons said she was immediately fascinated by the piece's history.
"The artist, Robert Murray, is very well-respected in the art community, and we have a piece of his art right in our community," she said.
Murray is credited with the idea of bringing sculpture from inside the museum to the outdoors for all to see. He worked with steel fabricator Don Lippincott to create large sculptures like the Windhover. Other artists soon followed suit.
"Artists like Picasso and Calder credit Mr. Murray for having this vision," said Simmons, who has done quite a bit of research on Murray. "It's the only sculpture in Illinois of Mr. Murray's as well as his only piece at a school."
The sculpture was a gift to District 181 in 1976. The scrapbook Simmons now has includes photos and articles about the efforts to raise $20,000 to buy the piece and bring it to Hinsdale.
"It was a community effort," Simmons said. "When the art committee was purchasing this art, they knew they wanted to give it to District 181.
"When the artist came, he determined how it would be sitting on the property, and he determined that the front of the sculpture actually faced the west doors of the school," she added.
Students exiting the building would see the bird in flight getting ready to take off, she added.
Community Consolidated School District 181 Superintendent Hector Garcia said the piece fits thematically with the district's mission.
"This renowned sculpture is a representation of our district's overarching goal in being a lighthouse district - a place where creativity and out-of-the-box thinking is celebrated, where great talent is attracted and where investment in our children as the future of our community is at the forefront," he said.
But the elements have taken a toll on the sculpture, which now is covered with many layers of paint and rust. It will be taken to a facility to be stripped and recoated with weather-resistant paint. When it returns it will be installed on a new concrete pad in the courtyard by the school's Third Street entrance. Students and community members will be able to walk around the sculpture and enjoy adjacent seating.
"It is going to be incredibly safe, protected from the environment, and the seating around it will be welcoming for students and the community," Simmons said.
The committee also plans to build a display case for archives relating to the sculpture and to buy books on Murray for all the District 181 elementary school libraries.
The group already has raised $60,000, half from District 181 and half from the HMS PTO. The remaining $60,000 will pay for actual restoration, landscaping around the site and preserving the archives.
The committee soon will send solicitation letters to former donors and HMS families and ask the elementary PTOs to disseminate it as well.
"We're hoping to have all the money raised this year," Simmons said. "This is the 45th anniversary of the dedication of the sculpture. We hope to have the rededication ceremony in the 45th year."
Peña said he can't help but look at the piece differently having learned all he has about the work itself and the effort that went into buying it.
"How many schools in the nation can say they have Smithsonian-recognized art on their campus?" he asked. "How do you not look at that differently? How do you not consider that every time you drive by it now?"
Knowing the Windhover carries the same Smithsonian registration as the Picasso at Chicago's Daley Plaza makes it pretty special, he said.
"I knew when I brought it out it would be a big ask to figure out what to do with this thing," he said. "I didn't realize the ask would get easier because of what this piece of art is."
Donations can be made online at https://www.hmspto.org/windhover or by sending a check to Hinsdale Middle School PTO, RE Windhover Restoration, 100 S. Garfield Ave., Hinsdale, IL 60521. Donations are tax deductible.
• The Windhover is named after a poem written in 1877 by Gerald Manley Hopkins about a falcon taking flight.
• The sculpture was created in 1970 and then traveled around the country, where it was displayed at outdoor art exhibits.
• An art committee of residents was formed in 1974 with the sole purpose of bringing art to the school in celebration of the country's bicentennial. The committee raised $20,000 to buy the piece, including a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. It is now valued at $250,000.
• Among the original fundraisers were an "I hate boys" day, Sculpture Scramble Party and needlework sale.
"I won't be doing needlework to raise money," restoration committee member Corlyn Simmons said. "People will pay me not to."
• Artist Robert Murray, originally a painter, completed a large watercolor of the piece that was given to the district at the 1976 dedication.
"We don't know where that is. We are hoping somebody does," Simmons said.
• The original dedication date was Sept. 13, but the flatbed on which the sculpture was being delivered was delayed. Notice was sent to Hinsdale over a CB radio, and hand-written signs at the site let residents know the dedication would be delayed by one day.
• In the early 1990s, the Smithsonian Institute recognized The Windhover as a significant piece of outdoor sculpture. It remains registered with the Smithsonian.