TOWN OF NORWAY – It was in early summer, during a night of rage, when protesters at the state Capitol in Madison pulled down two statues.
One was “Forward,” toppled and dragged down State Street.
The other was a bronze honoring abolitionist Col. Hans Christian Heg. The statue had stood in front of the Capitol for more than 90 years and was yanked from its pedestal and thrown into Lake Monona.
The left leg of the Heg statue was snapped off. The head went missing.
On Wednesday, a mild late autumn day, Giorgio Gikas and his Detroit-based sculptural restoration crew were busy righting what can only be called a historic wrong.
It turns out, the Heg statue in Madison was one of three identical ones designed by Norwegian-American sculptor Paul Fjelde and cast to commemorate the life of the highest-ranking Army officer from Wisconsin killed in the Civil War.
One of those statues is in Norway, where Heg was born and spent his first 11 years.
The other one is here, in Heg Memorial Park.
So, perched in scaffolding that surrounded the statue, shielded by plastic sheets to keep out the wind, Gikas and his crew made a cast of Heg’s head.
They carefully coated the statue’s head with a rubber substance so they could make the mold to pick up all the fine detail.
On top of the rubber mold, they were prepared to put on another plaster mold, to hold it all in place.
They were then poised to bring the prized possession back to their base in Detroit where they’ll cast the head in bronze and reattach it to the rest of the damaged statue.
For Gikas, who learned his trade in his native Greece and established Venus Bronze Works in 1984, this is more than a job.
Since the 1990s, he has helped maintain the Forward and Heg statues. Now he is repairing both the works.
When he heard the sculptures were dislodged during the protest over racial justice issues, he said “my stomach turned crazy.”
“It’s a bad feeling, especially with something you worked on before,” he said.
But with great care and attention to detail, Gikas and his crew are determined to make sure the works are repaired.
It turns out a lot of people care about these statues.
The National Endowment for the Humanities provided a $30,000 grant to help repair the statues. The state has applied for a second federal grant of $30,000.
Helping oversee the project is Mike Bath, an engineering specialist with the state’s Bureau of Building Management.
Bath said the Forward statue suffered lesser damage during the protests. The Forward statue is a replica. The original is inside the headquarters of the Wisconsin Historical Society.
“She lost two fingers and we’ve already made the castings for those fingers,” Bath said.
After being recovered and then stored offsite, the statues were transported to Gikas’ shop in Detroit for restoration, Bath said.
Gikas is looking forward to completing the restoration over the winter.
So are his assistants.
It’s not just a way to have steady work through the often lean cold-weather months. After caring for sculpture gardens throughout the Midwest during the summer, they’ll now have time to concentrate on an important Wisconsin project.
“We can pick and choose what we actually restore,” said Terra Gillis, an assistant. “Col. Hegg and Forward are both very positive influences. … We immediately wanted to work on them.”
If all goes well, the restoration will be completed in the spring.
The intention is to have the statues back in place by the summer.