The 12-foot-tall statue of Ray Bradbury astride a rocket ship unveiled Thursday evening outside the Waukegan Public Library honors “a literary icon and a beloved Waukeganite who gifted us his ever expanding universe of imagination, intellect and optimism for our future,” its sculptor said."The dedication was the culmination of a years-long effort that began a little more than five years ago over lunch at Louie’s Restaurant in Waukegan, said Richard Lee, the Waukegan Public Library’s former executive director and a co-chair of the committee that led the statue’s fundraising effort.
The idea came from the late Waukegan booster Hank Bogdala, Lee said. Bogdala thought the city should put up a statue honoring the Waukegan native and “Fahrenheit 451” author, just like it did for Jack Benny down the block.
"Titled “Fantastical Traveler,” the statue was created in stainless steel by artist Zachary Oxman. The design — which features Bradbury, book in hand, on a rocket ship — was inspired by Bradbury’s poem “If Only We Had Taller Been.”
“We see a grown man on the outside yet a curious boy on the in,” Oxman said. “As a writer, Ray loved metaphors, and this rocket is the personification of the scores of novels young Ray devoured at the Waukegan library that propelled him to uncharted worlds.
“The cogs and gears turn, interlock and harmonize, the endless churning of a vibrant and curious mind. Enraptured in the glory of the moment, Bradbury sends to the cosmos with pages fanning in the wind, beckoning us to explore, imagine, write and tell stories yet untold.”
Bradbury, who died in 2012, often spoke of the hours he spent at the Waukegan Public Library, then housed in the Carnegie Building on Sheridan Road. The library moved in 1965 to its current home at the corner of County and Clayton streets.
The current library stands on the site of Waukegan’s Central School, which Bradbury attended as a child before his family moved to Los Angeles in his teenage years.
Bradbury, who received an Academy Award, two Emmy award and a Pulitzer Prize but never attended college, struggled during his years at Central School, said Jonathan Eller, the director of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at Indiana University -Purdue University Indianapolis.
“He was occasionally banished to the hallway outside of his classrooms in Waukegan Central School, where the principal would fix him in her gaze and say, 'When are you going to learn to keep your mouth shut?’” Eller said.
His “secret source of early learning and his great passion for literature” instead came from the Waukegan Public Library, Eller said.
Oxman’s statue proposal was selected in August 2016 from three finalists narrowed down from 41 domestic and international submissions.
The committee was “blown away” by Oxman’s submission, and the choice was unanimous, Lee said. The Maryland sculptor has created works for a variety of public art commissions as well as for two U.S. presidents and has exhibited throughout the U.S., including at the National Museum of American Art, the White House and the Delaware Art Museum.
The $125,000 project was primarily financed through donations, big and small, from all over the world. Donors of gave at least $150 received a book from Bradbury’s personal collection, donated upon his death to the library."