The Blair City Council will be asked to approve a resolution Tuesday that would authorize the repair and long term preservation of the deteriorating monumental mosaic on the Tower of the Four Winds in Black Elk -Neihardt Park. As recently reported, the Blair Historic Preservation Alliance (BHPA) has received a check for $187,450 – the full amount needed to repair the mosaic. The donating foundation wishes to remain anonymous.
While the generous donation covers the cost of the conservation treatment proposed by Jensen Conservation Services Inc., the longevity of the restored tower will require on- going maintenance through renewed application of water repellants and flexible joint compounds to keep water entry to a minimum.
If the resolution is approved, the city would provide $20,000 in funding from the Park budget as had been contemplated in the 2019 fiscal budget, and the BHPA would provide not less than $167,450. The BHPA would also deposit not less than $20,000 with the Blair Community Foundation in a restricted endowment fund to pay for future repairs. Funds from an account for Friends of Black Elk-Neihardt Park (formerly known as Black Elk-Neihardt Park Board) will also be deposited in the restricted endowment. The goal is to build the restricted fund to $50,000.
The prospect of the restoration and preservation of the colorful mosaic is particularly satisfying to Dr. Charles and Carole Bagby. Charles and Carol have been the driving and sustaining force behind the Friends of Neihardt Park and Carole was a founding member of the Black Elk -Neihardt Park Board. For years the Bagbys would visit the park and painstakingly search for and pick up the fallen glass tesserae tiles beneath the tower.
Following an inspection by Mayda Jensen of Jensen Conservation Services Inc. in 2014, Doctor Bagby presented the findings to the Blair City Council and asked for direction and a blessing to pursue grant writing. Bagby told the council that a complete repair of the tower could cost, “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
“We have come to believe this is beyond the scope of our (Friends group) ability,” Bagby said. at the time.
The Tower of the Four Winds is arguably the signature art work and tourist attraction for the city. The tower and the park has been featured on numerous websites and Nebraska tourist publications. The tower is visible from for miles in all directions, and the park offers sightly views of the Missouri river valley.
The Tower of the Four Winds project was first envisioned by Dana art professor Rev. F.W. Thomsen in the early 1970’s. Poet John G. Neihardt visited the campus and spoke to faculty and students in 1971. Thomsen was inspired by the visions of Oglala Sioux Holy Man Nicholas Black Elk as revealed through the narratives of Neihardt.
A 1983 prospectus describes the mosaic artwork as, “depicting the crossings of the trails of adversity and redemption the flowering of the Tree of Life, and the symbolism of the universal brotherhood of men of all nations – themes central to the vision of Black Elk.”
The park was established in 1975 with land donated by Dana College and the City of Blair. The tower had the backing of the Nebraska American Revolution Bicentennial Commission and river front development programs. The 1975 U.S. Bicentennial Commission donated $10,000.
Former Omaha Mayor Eugene Leahy, speaking for the Midlands Riverfront Bicentennial Alliance described the proposed monument as, “one of the most magnetic visual attractions in the Midlands.”
The 45 foot, $150,000 tower was dedicated on June 27, 1987 as a part of the Gateway the West Days Celebration. The original plan for the project also called for a museum and visitor center to be constructed.
After photographing and documenting more than my share of stories of demolition and destruction over the past year, it is a pleasure to write a good news story about the prospect of giving new life to an important local and regional artistic icon.