The Wilmington Chamber of Commerce is purchasing a one-of-a-kind piece of folk art for a future roadside attraction that will greet Route 66 travelers visiting Wilmington.
The Chamber is working with the city to purchase and place a metal sculpture of a bison created by Jack Barker of Essex.
Barker, who has been featured in countless newspaper articles, magazines and travel books, died May 16 of this year. His family is planning an auction in September to sell his metal art and there is great interest in his works by art museums, universities and institutions.
Motorists driving south into Essex have been greeted by Barker’s metal sculptures for years. As his collection of artworks grew in front of his former auto body shop, the bison was among the more notable pieces, often photographed since it was closest to the road.
Why would Wilmington want the bison? While there is a long approval process ahead, planning is underway to someday raise bison at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Midewin bison will become a big draw for the community as tourists by the busload will travel here to experience this new addition to the prairie. They will seek out nearby restaurants, shopping and photo opportunities during their visit.
“Jack Barker’s metal art could be that draw,” commented Chamber president Eric Fisher. “It’s a one-of-a-kind piece made by a local artist. It is the perfect anchor for a Wilmington landmark and someday it will be just like the Gemini Giant in helping to put Wilmington on the map.”
The artwork is appraised at over $8,000. City administrator Tony Graff spoke with the Barker family, asking if they would take less, or at least hold it out of the Sept. 22 estate sale. Eleanor Barker, Jack’s widow, and son Jack, Jr. agreed to sell it for $4,950.
Fisher sent an email blast to chamber members and 20 responses were in favor of making the purchase; three were opposed; four businesses offered donations.
“The price is right and the city is willing to work with us in getting it moved and stored for now,” Fisher said. “We will have to raise funds in the near future but for now we have sent the Barkers a check to let them know we are committed.”
There is potential to put it on the point near the walkbridge or at the entrance to the South Island Park.