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Campus icon undergoes restoration

September 26, 2019

KOKOMO, Ind. –  Once again, the Phoenix is rising from the (figurative) ashes.

As part of the celebration of Indiana University’s Bicentennial, one of the iconic symbols of the Kokomo campus is receiving a long-needed makeover from expert sculpture conservators.

Giorgio Gikas, founder and president of Venus Bronze Works Inc., and his crew are restoring Phoenix Rising from the Ashes, the sculpture more commonly called The Phoenix.

The metal and fiberglass sculpture, created by Kokomo fireman and sculptor Bob Hamilton, has anchored the campus since shortly before the Main Building was dedicated in 1965. Hamilton passed away in 1990.

“It was the symbol of a new beginning for IU Kokomo,” said John Sarber, director of physical facilities. “There’s no better time than now as we celebrate our 75th anniversary, to preserve this piece of our history.”

It’s in good hands under Gikas’ direction. His previous work includes restoring the 38-foot Victory sculpture at the top of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in downtown Indianapolis.

“When it was new, it was absolutely stunning,” said Gikas. “Our goal is to get it as close to original as possible, and preserve it as much as we can.”

The project presents unique challenges because of the materials used to create the sculpture. While the wing is made from stainless steel, Hamilton used concrete on the body with steel mesh to hold it together. Weather conditions and aging cause the steel to expand and contract, cracking the concrete and creating holes that then allow water to infiltrate the structure. 

Gikas and his colleagues will fill the cracks and holes with a special epoxy for sculpture, that will bond existing concrete and other parts. They will sand it down and repaint the body, and also will clean and polish the stainless steel wing. The base also will be repaired and cleaned. Work is expected to take one or two weeks.

After restoration, new landscaping will be installed to provide a fitting setting for the sculpture.

IU commissioned Gikas, who is based in Detroit, to restore metal sculptures on multiple campuses, as part of its bicentennial celebration.

Sherry Rouse, IU curator of campus art, said it was included in the project because of its symbolic importance.

The Phoenix is a key element of the IU Kokomo campus,” she said. “We knew it was in rather desperate shape, and were able to allocate the funds to fix it.”

According to campus history, Hamilton, who was friends with Chancellor Victor Bogle, created The Phoenix in Bogle’s garage on South Taylor Street, funding it from his own pocket and with small donations from faculty and friends. When epoxy wasn’t enough to fill the body, he allegedly filled it with tin cans and junk. When it was completed, he had it moved with a flat-bed truck and a crane from Bogle’s garage, arranging for electric and telephone wires to be moved or temporarily turned off because of its size.

IU Kokomo has made its mark on north central Indiana since the first day of classes in the Seiberling Mansion in 1945. Many events throughout this academic year will take place to celebrate the occasion. For more information, go to 75years.iuk.edu.

Indiana University was founded on January 20, 1820, making it one of the oldest public universities in the nation. To celebrate its bicentennial, IU has developed a multiyear, multicampus program that will recognize and chronicle IU history, showcase the university's significant contributions to the world and set a course for the next century. For more information about the IU Bicentennial program, visit 200.iu.edu.

Indiana University Kokomo celebrates 75 years as north central Indiana’s choice for higher education.

Last updated: 09/26/2019