Paris puts Park Ridge artist’s statue of Lincoln on display near Champs Elysee
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Paris puts Park Ridge artist’s statue of Lincoln on display near Champs Elysee

Arts patrons in Park Ridge lifted glasses of champagne last week to toast a local Park Ridge artist’s sculpture being unveiled for permanent display on a plaza in a distinguished section of Paris.

Many connections fell into place — and many challenges had to be overcome over the course of a decade– for Park Ridge’s Kalo Foundation, a nonprofit arts group, to ship the mold of a bust of Abraham Lincoln by Park Ridge’s best-known artist, Italian-American sculptor Alfonso Iannelli, to France, have it bronzed and then ceremonially presented to the city of Paris for permanent display near the Champs Elysee.  Kalo Foundation officers flew to France for its official unveiling by officials of Paris’ 8th arondissement on May 13.

In the decade from idea to execution, the process of casting the plaster Lincoln bust into bronze and donating it to Paris had to overcome several tripwires, including the deaths of its original French and Park Ridge backers, the COVID pandemic and fundraising challenges.

As good weather set in for the 2024 Summer Olympics city, the final product was unveiled in front of Kalo Foundation president Maria Hrycelak, foundation board members John and Leigh Stasser, U.S. Embassy representative Michael Turner, Carla Knorowski, former CEO of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation, and Paris officials and residents.

The cumulative labors to bring Lincoln to life were well worth it, said Hrcyelak, a retired pediatrician.

“Very good — I thought it looks even better,” she said of the bust, set more than head high on a pedestal, compared to the original plaster cast, now displayed under glass at Iannelli Studios in Park Ridge.

Maria Hrycelak, president of Park Ridge's Kalo Foundation, and John and Leigh Sasser of the foundation's board posed at the unveiling of late Park Ridge artist Alfonso Iannelli's bust of Abraham Lincoln in Paris. It will be on permanent public display near the Champs Elysee.
Maria Hrycelak, president of Park Ridge’s Kalo Foundation, and John and Leigh Sasser of the foundation’s board posed at the unveiling of late Park Ridge artist Alfonso Iannelli’s bust of Abraham Lincoln in Paris. It will be on permanent public display near the Champs Elysee.

“It’s brown-black and makes it stand out. The plaster cast always looks worse, it looks preliminary and doesn’t (completely) show what it would look like as a statue.”

Hrycelak and colleagues picked up the Lincoln saga in mid-stream. Speaking to the June 15 gathering as they sampled charcuterie and macarons was a Lincoln devotee who helped the project from start to finish – Knorowski, formerly of the Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation.

Lincoln ended up in a prime location in the French capital through the Paris-Chicago sister city relationship, Knorowski said.  Renee Derem-Johnson, heading the Paris committee of the dual-city relationship, was interested in further connecting art-wise with Chicago in the mid-2010s.

On a visit here, she saw Iannelli’s plaster cast, immediately wanted a Lincoln bust for Paris and began raising funds for a cast. The only other Lincoln statue in the city is on the grounds of a university and not accessible to the general public. Derem-Johnson began working with Knorowski and then-Kalo Foundation president Judy Barclay.

This plaster bust of Abraham Lincoln by the late Park Ridge sculptor Alfonso Iannelli is on display at the Kalo Foundation's Iannelli Studios in Park Ridge. The foundation and a group from France recently arranged for a mold to be made, then bronzed, and the finished work is now on display in Paris' 8th arondissement.
This plaster bust of Abraham Lincoln by the late Park Ridge sculptor Alfonso Iannelli is on display at the Kalo Foundation’s Iannelli Studios in Park Ridge. The foundation and a group from France recently arranged for a mold to be made, then bronzed, and the finished work is now on display in Paris’ 8th arondissement.

Sculptor Michael Grucza was commissioned to make the mold so the bust could be bronzed.

The project afforded perhaps the highest profile yet for the Kalo Foundation, which had acquired Iannelli’s former home/workshop at 255 N. Northwest Highway, Park Ridge, as its headquarters/museum. The organization also preserved the memories of the early 20th century Kalo Arts Crafts Community, which at one time included “American Gothic” painter Grant Wood.

Knorowski had to make some careful arrangements to ship Grucza’s mold to France. Its delicate nature required placement in a fine arts container, and Knorowski got the cost sponsored by a donor. The Sousse Foundry, France’s oldest dating from 1839, began work on casting the Lincoln bust.

However, the deaths of Derem-Johnson and Barclay along with the pandemic stopped the progress at the beginning of this decade. When normal conditions resumed and new presidents of the sister city committees were named, Knorowski began working with the new French leaders of the Paris-Chicago Comite (sister cities committee), Christina Guessos French, Pascale Remy and Deyi Tcherdakoff.  The production of the bust resumed, and Knorowski helped gather funds for the $15,000 cost of the statue base and plaque.

“This was accomplished by reaching out to Lincoln enthusiasts on both sides of the Atlantic,” she said.

Knorowski said Victor Hugo, author of “Les Miserables” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” headed an effort to create a gold medallion in honor of Lincoln after his 1865 assassination. Some 40,000 French citizens each donated the equivalent of two cents to fund the medallion, presented to Lincoln widow Mary Todd Lincoln.

“It’s great that 159 years later, other nations want to erect busts and statues of Lincoln,” Knorowski said. “They represent what he stood for.”

Similar sentiments prevailed at the Kalo event, where guests also inspected other Iannelli works, such as a giant Madonna statue re-assembled from its original home at the former Immaculata High School in Chicago’s Lake View neighborhood.

“We were amazed about how there is so much interest in Lincoln,” said longtime Park Ridge resident Dan Hogan, attending with wife Mary Hogan.

Kalo Foundation members are proud to spread Honest Abe’s appeal.

“To have a small town near Chicago go to Paris (via the bust) is something,” said Hrycelak.