Buffeted by the elemental forces of nature that the mosaic celebrates, the Tower of the Four Winds that looms over Black Elk- Neihardt Park is deteriorating. Dr. Charles Bagby and Friends of Black Elk-Neihardt are concerned about the future of this Blair landmark. The composition by Reverend F.W. “Bill” Thomson was completed in 1987. The Dana art professor, artist and minister was greatly influenced by Oglala Lakota holy man Black Elk, Nebraska poet John G. Neihardt, and by Neihardt’s book, Black Elk Speaks.
The mosaic is made up of small glass tesserae attached to the Cor-Ten steel with layers of mortar and a penetrating sealer. Numerous glass tesserae are missing and the rate at which they are coming loose and falling away is increasing. Last year, the Friends of Black Black Elk-Neihardt commissioned fine art conservator Mayda Jensen to inspect the tower and prepare a treatment proposal.
On Tuesday, June 24, Friends of Black Elk -Neihardt president Charles Dr. Charles Bagby presented Jensen’s findings to Blair City Council. The retired physician who is arguably a Blair icon in his own right, asked for the council’s direction and a blessing to pursue grant writing. He told the council it could cost ”hundreds of thousands of dollars” to completely repair the tower. “We have come to believe this is beyond the scope of our (Friends group) ability,” Bagby said.
Jensen’s report finds that the glass facade, designed by professor Thomsen challenged the tradition of wall mounted mosaics by placing the Tower in the outdoor environment rather than inside the protection of architectural construction, and by selecting beveled class tesserae. No expansion joints were incorporated into to the construction of the mosaic glass facade.
The Tower was built with private funds to honor Black Elk’s message of brotherhood, peace and compassion.