Monument to honor Chopin proposed for Grant Park
March 4, 2011

The Chopin Monument Foundation wants to install an exact replica of a Polish statue of composer Frederic Chopin in Grant Park.

By Patrick Butler

Frederic Chopin never set foot in Chicago during his lifetime, but he will be coming to Chicago to stay if Voytak Putz and his associates have their way.

Efforts to get a statue honoring one of Poland’s best loved composers in a prominent downtown Grant Park spot moved another step forward when the Chopin Monument Foundation unveiled plans at a Feb. 8 Grant Park Conservancy and Advisory Council meeting.

Why Chicago, why Chopin, and why now?

“Chicago has the largest Polish population outside Poland,” explained foundation board member George Ruthkowski. “It’s the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth, and the Polish community wants to share its greatest gift with the rest of the world.”

He noted the statue would be a 5/8 scale bronze replica of a 1907 statue in Warsaw’s Royal Baths Park. The Warsaw Chopin statue, designed by Waclaw Szymanowski, was built by Russian Czar Nicholas II at the request of a favorite opera singer. In 1940, the Nazis melted down the statue, but in 1958 Poland recreated it.

Hammatsu, Japan, also has an exact replica, while Shanghai, China, erected a modern statue of Chopin in 2007. “There are 30 million pianists in China playing Chopin,” Putz said.

National treasure

“Chopin is our national treasure we’d like to share,” Putz continued, noting the foundation does not want to stop at just erecting another statue. It also plans to set up a piano near the Grant Park statue for free spring and summer concerts, Ruthkowski said.

“We want this to be something that goes on long after Voytek and I are gone,” he continued. “We want to create a new tradition in Chicago where Chopin’s music can be heard just like in Warsaw. It’s going to bring people downtown—not just a beautiful piece of sculpture, but the concerts” will bring people, too, Ruthkowski said.

According to architects Nick Bruno and Zenon Kurdziel of Oak Park’s Ridgeland Associates, the original plans to put the monument on a location over the Grant Park underground parking garage changed because of the statue’s “weight issues.”

Instead, workers will install the monument in the park’s south area close to the Montgomery Ward and Georg Solti statues near Roosevelt Road and Michigan Avenue.

Szymanowski’s design depicts a windswept Chopin, who is considered one of the great masters of the Romantic music era, drawing his inspiration from nature.

Steps will surround the statue and could double as “Greek theater seats,” said Bruno, adding that “people could also sit on the grass or hang out on overlooking platforms.”

Funding questions

While a Chopin monument and free piano concerts sound like a grand idea, Christine Long, who said she spent two years trying to raise funds for Magdeline
Abakanowicz’s “Agora” sculptures in Grant Park, wonders about the Chopin project’s feasibility. She noted she never was able to reach the Agora project’s $300,000 goal.

“The Polish government paid for the sculptures,” Long explained. “And Chicago and volunteers were obliged to pay for transportation, insurance, placement, and making the artist happy. We did not raise the full $300,000. I’m a proud Polish-American, but I was not proud of my community as far as raising this money was concerned.”

She added that, if the Chopin project goes forward, “you have to get firm, firm commitments” concerning funding, noting fundraising “is a very difficult thing to do, and these are difficult times.”

Long added she was recovering from surgery and would not be available to help with this campaign.

“Those are good words for the wise, but those [Agora] sculptures are down there” today, countered Ruthkowski. Some of the money for the Chopin, he added, could come from the percentage the Chicago Park District gets from the annual Lollapalooza concerts in Grant Park.

“Wouldn’t that be ironic for a rock concert to fund Chopin?” Ruthkowski asked, noting the Park District gets about $2 million a year from the Lollapalooza events.

He said the foundation has been “meeting with people from Columbia College and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra” to enlist their help because “this is going to bring people downtown.”

Below mayoral radar
Asked whether a Chopin statue in Grant Park will have the support of whoever becomes the next mayor, Bob O’Neill said he doubts the statue will be much of an issue one way or the other.

“I’d venture to guess they aren’t going to pay much attention to it,” O’Neill said. “There will be a transition with all kinds of issues” for the new mayor to deal with immediately. “My guess is that they’ll leave it up to the Park District. Now it would help if they supported it, but I doubt that will happen.”

The concept already has support from Alderman Robert Fioretti (2nd), however. Fioretti is “very interested in hearing” the public’s “thoughts and concerns about this,” said aldermanic aide Leslie Recht. “We believe this is something that should have strong consideration.”

The next steps will be for the foundation to go before the Grant Park Enhancement Committee, then the Park District board, the Park District superintendent, and back to another public meeting with the final renderings.