Eagle Finds Permanent Home at Evanston Civic Center

Sculpted from a single piece of Vermont marble, the work of art was once exhibited at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair

The eagle that landed recently in Evanston’s Civic Center has had an unusual 55-year flight, ending up back where it started: On public display.

Sculpted from a single piece of Vermont marble, the work of art was once exhibited at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair, but soon made its way into a family’s private collection. It was recently donated to the City of Evanston by residents Charles and Marjorie Benton.

“The eagle was originally intended as public art, and with the Bentons’ gift, it will become public art again,” said Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl.

The bird that was sculpted to appear ready to take flight is now perched in the lobby of Evanston’s Civic Center, greeting visitors as they come and go.

Charles Benton said he and his wife are downsizing from a house into a smaller apartment, and it was time to part with the piece.

“This is the place for our eagle,” Benton said at a July 23 ceremony at the Civic Center to honor the donation.

The sculpture was completed in 1957 by Armenian-born American artist Koren Der Harootian, and was originally displayed at the Contemporaries Gallery in New York City, according a 1958 letter he wrote.

“Although it is quite large, I have tried to express the illusion of a deftly poised bird momentarily alighted and about to take off again,” Der Harootian wrote in the letter.

The gallery director, a friend of Der Harootian’s, died shortly after it was installed and the gallery changed hands. The piece was to be removed, leaving its future uncertain, but a representative of the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair swooped in and offered to include it. The artist agreed, according to his letter, “and the shipping agents for the State Department picked it up and sent it to Brussels.”

While on display there, and with the Fair winding to a close, the eagle’s next home was again uncertain. The visiting former U.S. Sen. William Benton (D-Conn.) inquired what was to become of the piece, and was told it would be moved to U.S. Government general storage.

The former senator offered to pay for shipping in exchange for ownership, and the eagle was moved to his home, where it remained until his death in 1973. Later that decade, it was transferred to Charles and Marjorie Benton’s Evanston home.

After more than 30 years, Charles Benton said he is adjusting to the eagle’s absence.

“It was a very big presence in my bedroom,” he said of the couple’s home overlooking Lake Michigan. “I had a little alcove and it was in front of the window looking out, so I’ve already missed it. But I think many more people will enjoy it where it now is.”

By John P. Huston, Chicago Tribune reporter

August 2, 2012

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