Portal: A Timeless Symbol

A new public sculpture welcomes visitors into Peoria’s Warehouse District.

Having witnessed firsthand the evolution of Washington Street in downtown Peoria—from a bustling center for industry, shifting to dilapidated warehouses, and now coming to life as a newly remodeled Warehouse District—George and Norma Kottemann seized the opportunity to put their own stamp on the area. This particular urban development was designed to encourage pedestrian foot traffic and non-motorized methods of transportation. The vintage-like city setting would not be complete without an installation of public art, welcoming visitors and residents to what could be considered the cultural hub of the city.

George and Norma are lifelong art enthusiasts and longtime collectors. After several meetings with city officials, it was determined that a commissioned work by Bruce White would be both timeless and symbolic for the roundabout at the intersection of Washington and Harrison streets. With their passion for public art, the Kottemanns began fundraising in the community to make their vision come to fruition.

A current resident of DeKalb, Illinois, White was born in Bayshore, New York, and grew up in New Jersey. Spending most of his summers on Long Island and the Jersey Shore, he developed a keen interest in boat building and sailing. He earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Maryland and master’s and doctoral degrees at Columbia University in New York City. After graduation, White taught at Florida State University, Adelphi University and Southern Illinois University, finally settling in at Northern Illinois University. While teaching at Northern, he received a Distinguished Research Professorship Award.

White’s style is described as “an elegant union of ancient symbolism and contemporary science.” His steel sculptures gained popularity after numerous installations along Navy Pier and within the Chicago International Art Expo. His permanent public sculptures span three countries, 15 states, and now, Peoria, Illinois.

Portal was installed on September 24, 2014, and the ribbon cutting was performed by the Honorable Ray LaHood, former secretary of transportation, at the Peoria Art Guild’s 52nd annual Fine Art Fair Preview Party. During the ceremony, LaHood expressed the importance of incorporating public art into city infrastructure.

After just three months post-installment, the sculpture has become a magnet for photo opportunities, as pedestrians explain it’s simply too great to pass by. “Portal is a tremendous symbol of transition from downtown into the Warehouse District,” says Mayor Jim Ardis. “I know that Peorians and visitors for generations to come will appreciate it.” a&s