By TIM ALEXANDER
PEORIA, Ill. — A 25-foot tall statue representing America’s farmers received an anonymous gift while the Peoria Riverfront Museum was closed due to the threat of the COVID-19 virus. Sometime in the early morning hours of March 16, according to museum officials, a person or persons unknown managed to affix a giant particle mask to the face of the sculpture’s male figure, without damaging the art.
As of Sunday, March 22, no one had claimed responsibility for the act.
The Grant Wood-inspired sculpture, “God Bless America,” first moved to the Peoria riverfront in May 2019. Farmers, agribusiness workers and their families visiting the Greater Peoria Farm Show last December took the short drive from the Peoria Civic Center to the statue to pose for photos under the sculpture, which faces east towards the Illinois River on the Water Street side of the museum.
Striking similarities exist between sculptor Seward Johnson’s piece and Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” painting. Johnson’s statue replaced another outsized statue of his creation, an image of Abraham Lincoln called “Return Visit,” after its two-year loan to the museum.
On March 16, John Morris, president and CEO of the Peoria Riverfront Museum, located downtown at 222 SW Washington Street, issued the following statement:
“When staff showed up this morning, we were surprised to see the monumental Seward Johnson sculpture based on Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” painting had been altered by a prank in a statement of our times. This farmer may not have heard the mask will do him no good. (His wife apparently read the CDC warnings). He is lucky, though. At 25 feet tall, he is certainly maintaining the recommended 6-foot distance.”
What also remains a mystery is why the female of the statue was not given her own COVID-19 mask. Rumors abound that a shortage of masks — or approaching police cars — may have been responsible.