Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.
West Street Sculpture Park
620 S. West St., Galena, Ill., (815) 777-9591, weststreetsculpturepark.com
Artist John Martinson moved to Galena from St. Peter, Minn., in 1979 to operate the Galena Blacksmith Shop. Seven years later he opened his own studio on 2 acres of wooded property on West Street, where he focused on his own welded steel sculptures. Before long the site grew into the West Street Sculpture Park.
More than a dozen large steel sculptures now greet visitors to the park, creating a unique juxtaposition between the art and the natural beauty that surrounds it.
Visitors are free to visit from dawn to dusk. Admission is free for anyone to explore and contemplate sculptures like “Leaning Tower of Family Farming,” an assemblage of round bale feeder sections designed to resemble Pisa’s famous tower and represent the uncertainty of the modern agriculture market. Another sculpture, called “Big Ol’ Tinkertoy,” is a giant reproduction of the children’s construction toy. Other pieces, like “Baby Blue #2,” continue to grow as time goes on.
Martinson works in the on-site studio and is often on hand to meet with visitors. Smaller works of art are also sold in the studio. Maps of the park are available, and donations are appreciated.
Hours: Dawn to dusk.
Mr. Pumpkin Statue
On the corner of Somonauk and West Elm Streets, Sycamore, Ill., sycamorepumpkinfestival.com
Wally “Mr. Pumpkin” Thurow was a man with a dream. The Sycamore businessman had a reputation for creatively decorating his front yard every Halloween with pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns, but he envisioned an annual pumpkin festival that would be hosted by his hometown every fall. In 1962, with the help of the Sycamore Lions Club, Thurow helped to make the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival a reality.
Thurow became a staple of the festival and was often seen riding in the annual parade on his penny-farthing bicycle wearing a top hat and a vest festooned with badges. Despite moving to another state in 1979, Thurow returned each year with his bicycle and was a beloved figure in the festival.
After Thurow’s death in 2012, festival planners decided the Pumpkin Festival just wouldn’t be the same without him. So, they raised funds for a life-sized bronze statue of Mr. Pumpkin, complete with top hat, vest and penny-farthing bicycle. The sculpture, designed by David Seagraves of Elizabeth, Ill., and cast in Mount Morris, Ill., was unveiled in October 2014. Located at Somonauk and Elm Streets in downtown Sycamore, Mr. Pumpkin and his bicycle will, forevermore, stand along the parade route of the Sycamore Pumpkin Fest, casting his gaze on the festival he inspired more than half a century ago.
Bessie the Cow
3515 Milton Ave., Janesville
Janesville has been the home to more than a few professional athletes, musicians and politicians, but no resident is more prominent than Bessie the Cow. A beloved fixture since 1966, this 16-foot-tall, 20-foot-wide fiberglass giant is pretty hard to miss.
Originally constructed to attract visitors to the Oasis Restaurant, Motel and Cheese Shop, poor Bessie became a cow without a home when the business closed in 2006.
It looked as though the building-sized bovine would be sent out to pasture, but the citizens of Janesville raised a public outcry, demanding that Bessie be moo-ved to a new location.
She now stands proudly on Milton Avenue. Always one to milk a photo opportunity, Bessie is accompanied by a giant stool and steel bucket for anyone who wants to pose for a picture.
The owner of her own Facebook page, Bessie can sometimes show her controversial side. Some of the city’s denizens have a beef with her habit of wearing colored patches to show her support for various causes, and a mask she wore during the quarantine caused more than a few people to have a cow. For the most part, however, Bessie continues to enjoy an outpouring of love from people in Janesville and beyond.