35th year of ‘Symbol’ celebrated at Kortman Gallery

“What is it?” Mixed media by Leslie Arbetman
“What is it?” Mixed media by Leslie Arbetman

Staff Report

Alexander Liberman’s “Symbol” stands majestically along the banks of the Rock River in Sinnissippi Park. This year marks the 35th anniversary of this Rockford icon that has survived a somewhat tumultuous history as the city’s grandest and most controversial work of public art.

To celebrate this milestone, the Kortman Gallery will be presenting a holiday group exhibition titled “Symbol: Art Inspired by Art” featuring more than 35 of some of Rockford’s most accomplished artists. The opening of the exhibition and celebration of Symbol’s anniversary will be Friday, Nov. 22.

Works of art in this exhibit will include painting, sculpture, jewelry, photography and mixed media.

The invited artists represent a variety of styles and media and feelings about Symbol,” said Jerry Kortman. “This is almost certain to be an eye-dazzling and entertaining holiday show. It’s a subject matter that every Rockfordian can identify with, both culturally and visually.”

Two years ago, J.R. Kortman Center for Design, along with artist Ben Pettee, created and started producing small 2-D metal models of Symbol as a souvenir of Rockford.

Gallery Director Doc Slafkosky noted: “Each artist was given a miniature 2-D model of Symbol and asked to create a work of art inspired by this grand iconic sculpture with no restrictions on size or media. We thought asking artists to create a piece of art inspired by art would be a fascinating challenge to this amazingly creative group of people.”

In 1978, “Symbol” was commissioned by a small group of concerned citizens, along with the Rockford Area Arts Council, which wanted to present an exciting work of public art to renew interest and pride in a fading city center. It was funded by private donations and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Needless to say, it was wildly controversial,” Slafkosky said. “Six years later, when the State Street mall was removed, Symbol was disassembled and left to rust along the river. It was saved by culturally alert citizens with the help of the Rockford Park District and relocated to its current location in Sinnissippi Park.”

Participating artists include Leslie Arbetman, Sarah Bell, Michael Bugler, Lynn Fischer Carlson, Jesus Correa, Ryan Davis, John Deill, Michelle Dorr, Sherrie Dorr, Joseph Goral, Keith Grace,Shari Grace, Joanne Gustafson, Karen Harding, Drew Helge, Jarrod Hennis, Matt Herbig, Margret Hesler Hynes, Brian Hierstein, Javier Jimenez, Lisa Jimenez, Jeremy Klonicki, Norm Knott, Britney Lindgren, R. Scott Long, Jeanne Ludeke, Sarah Reed McNamara, Valerie Olafson, Ben Pettee, Cherri Rittenhouse, Sarah Stewart, Robert Sunday, Maggie Thienemann, Kyle Wolfe and Betsy Youngquist.

Another exciting feature of this art event will be an original maquette of “Symbol” loaned to the Kortman Galley from the collection of Lon and Richard Behr.

The opening reception for “Symbol: Art Inspired by Art” will run 5:30-9 p.m., Nov. 22, and will not only be an art opening, but an anniversary party for this sensational and iconic work of public art.

The Kortman Gallery is upstairs at J.R. Kortman Center for Design, 107 N. Main St. This historic holiday exhibition, which is free and open to the public, will run through Jan. 4, 2014.

For more details, call (815) 968-0123 or visit www.jrkortman.com.

From the Nov. 20-26, 2013, issue

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