The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

February 28, 2013

Chief Wapello’s restoration is underway

Conservation of 119-year-old statue on schedule, completion date not set yet

OTTUMWA — The work on restoring Chief Wapello to his original glory is progressing.

The 119-year-old statue had stood atop the Wapello County Courthouse for decades before he was ripped from his perch during a high-powered wind storm last June.

“He had a fair amount of damage over the years,” said Wapello County Supervisor Steve Siegel. “They’re going to rig up a new way to attach him so he’ll last a couple hundred years this time.”

That “rig” is a new armature, the structural piece that will hold the chief in place once he’s atop the courthouse again.

“We’re replacing the internal armature with stainless steel and we’ve straightened out a number of pieces and parts, including moccasins and hands; one of his legs was badly damaged and feathers and his face,” said Rob Jensen, director of Jensen Conservation Services Inc. in Omaha, Neb. “In theory, now the building should go before the chief.”

When the chief was first constructed, the manufacturer used mild steel for the armature, which was “fairly traditional” at the time, he said.

“Stainless steel was not widely available the first part of last century,” he said. “There are any number of sculptures in the country that have mild steel armatures in them.”

Before he fell, the armature that went 3 feet down into the courthouse ran up through one of Chief Wapello’s feet and all the way up through his head.

“Over time, it rusted, and when we had that big wind storm, it snapped,” Siegel said.

It likely would have snapped at some point due to the rusted support, Siegel said, though “who knows when.”

The conservation of Chief Wapello is right on schedule, Jensen said, though a completion date has not been set.

“The issue with completion is frankly we’re going to work on it until we get him right,” Jensen said. “It’s nothing completely unexpected. We’re just going to take our time and when he comes back, he’ll look very good.”

Jensen did find more damage once he began working on the chief.

“Not being able to see the back, we couldn’t lift and turn it around without some kind of hydraulic assist,” he said.

When they were able to turn him over, they found that the back of his arm, his arrows and his bow had caved in, which they hadn’t originally been able to see from the front.

“But it’s nothing that’s going to cause any dramatic shift in our approach,” he said.

Looking at the statue, Jensen said he can tell it’s been patched before.

“I do believe he’s been out playing with other children, because he appears to have some bullet holes in him,” Jensen said, though he couldn’t tell for sure.

Original estimates showed the restoration would cost more than $20,000, though it will be paid in full through insurance since the damage was done through no fault of the county.

Siegel said the supervisors plan to display the chief for a few weeks once he returns from Omaha before securing him to his outlook over the city.

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