A famous piece of Rockford history celebrates its 35th anniversary. Symbol is a modern art sculpture buy famous artist Alexander Liberman. Thousands of people see it every day in Sinnissippi Park. It has become sort of an icon to the area. But it wasn't always a landmark the city was proud of.
at 47 feet tall, weighing 30 tons and painted a bright red orange, the steel structure easily turns heads.
"Its neat to me, we don't have that where I'm from," said Shawn Cox, visiting Rockford from Mississippi.
Many others can't imagine the city without it.
"I don't think it would be the same," said Heather Kinsey.
"I don't think so either I think that this symbol is a big part of Rockford," said her friend Letticia Hernandez.
But 35 years ago, Symbol didn't just turn heads, it rolled them.
"I remember they put it up and I'm thinking what in the world is it?" said Charlene Fleming.
"It was very controversial," said Doc Slafkosky, who co-owns JR Kortman Center for Design in downtown Rockford.
Slafkosky's store isn't far from where Symbol was originally placed 35 years ago on State and Wyman Streets. But it didn't stay there long. Symbol was called ugly and monstrous and in the early '80s, the city took it down.
"An Alderman at the time stood up and said you know we've got it so close to the river why don't we get somebody from the city yards to come and just shove it into the river and a lot of us who were in the arts in Rockford, that was a wake up call," said Slafkosky.
A fundraiser saved symbol from a watery grave, placing it permanently in Sinnissippi Park. Slafkosky wanted to commemorate its 35th anniversary in a special way.
"We thought, well let's bring it to other iconic cities and put it near their icons so there's this kind of visual relationship between lets say the Eiffel tower and Symbol," he said.
France, China and even Tokyo have seen Slafkosky's miniature symbol. And while not as grand as the Eiffel Tower or famous as the Louvre, Slafkosky says it's all ours.
"It's there, and it is part of Rockford," he said.
And 35 years later, the 47 foot, 30 ton hunk of red-orange metal is a little more appreciated.
"I think it's neat, I really do," said Fleming.
The Rockford Park District has it's own plans for Symbol's 35th anniversary. It says it's time for the sculpture to get repainted. Over time the sun has faded the artworks paint, and there are chips and scuffs throughout it. The park district plans to paint it "Vermillion Red" or what some people call, "Liberman Red". That was the color Symbol was originally painted when it came to Rockford in 1978.
The painting is expected to start in early August.
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