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Minimalist homage to Peoria restored to former glory

Tim Shelley
Ronald Bladen's "Sonar Tide" sculpture was rededicated on Sept. 13, 2022. The public artwork was restored over more than 300 hours by Bradley University's Fisher Stolz and Jaci Willis.

Peoria's iconic "Sonar Tide" outdoor sculpture looks as clean and crisp as it did when it was first installed nearly 40 years ago.

That's due in no small part to the efforts of Bradley University's Fisher Stolz and Jaci Willis. The pair have spent more than 300 hours restoring Canadian-American Minimalist artist Ronald Bladen's final large-scale public artwork back to its original state.

"They initially assessed the sculpture," said Andrea Tortora of the Junior League of Peoria. "Luckily, it did not have any structural damage. And then they spent time removing and repairing scrapes, graffiti, rust, painting the sculpture, (and) applying a finish so that it will last out in the elements for the next generation."

The Junior League partnered with art benefactors John and Sharon Amdall to fund the $60,000 project. Born Paint created new paint and sealants to match the originals.

"Sonar Tide" is situated on Fulton Street between the Peoria Civic Center and City Hall. The 14-ton sculpture was influenced by Bladen's impressions of Peoria.

"Bladen's vision was to connect Sonar Tide with the Illinois River," said Bill Conger, curator of collections and exhibitions at the Peoria Riverfront Museum. "He was particularly interested in conveying the idea of the energy he saw in our landscape and the people of Peoria. Sonar Tide was very much made for and about Peoria. He felt the positivity of both nature and industry at work and express these ideas of the piece."

Conger said Bladen was particularly fascinated by the sonar systems used by scientists to study fish migration patterns in the Illinois River.

The Peoria Civic Center installed new landscaping around the sculpture. Tortora said new LED lighting for the piece is on backorder.

"It will be installed around Sonar Tide so that we can show off the sculpture's beauty in the evening hours," she said.

Peoria also touts a second Bladen sculpture. "Cosmic Seed" is on view permanently at the Peoria Riverfront Museum's Sun Plaza.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.