Tracking the Maquette
As the curator of Shalom Chicago and a longtime resident of Skokie, I had a particular interest in the village’s World War II Holocaust memorial. The larger-than-life sculpture is located between Village Hall and the library. It’s a dramatic tableau, featuring a member of the Polish Jewish underground protecting a Jewish family during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. The figure of a deceased little girl serves as a powerful reminder that approximately six million Jews, and an estimated six million other victims, died in the Holocaust.
Edward Chesney working on Holocaust, c. 1987
Courtesy of Dean Chesney
I have always wanted to learn more about the memorial and working on the exhibition gave me the perfect opportunity to do so. My first clue came while searching the collection of the Illinois Holocaust Museum where I found a 1984 photograph of a group of Holocaust survivors with the then mayor of Skokie, Albert Smith. The survivors had banded together to resist a neo-Nazi demonstration in 1978 in front of Skokie’s Village Hall. Next, they planned to erect a permanent memorial to the Holocaust in their adopted hometown.
The work, based on a sketch by Bert Gast of Gast Monuments, Chicago, was further developed by Edward Chesney, a sculptor based in Michigan. Chesney’s maquette, or model, of the memorial was shown in the 1984 photograph and would make a perfect addition to the exhibition, if I could find it. The staff of the Illinois Holocaust Museum did not have any information on its whereabouts but suggested I contact the village. So, I did, sending the current mayor, George Van Dusen, an email request. He promptly replied and proceeded by contacting one of the remaining survivors and Gast Monuments.
After a few days, Tom Gast, the company’s current president, informed the mayor that the sculptor’s son, Dean, would probably have the model. I quickly called Tom, who gave me Dean’s contact information. Once connected, Dean told me that he had the maquette and would be thrilled to lend it to the exhibition. There was only one problem: the model was missing some components, but he, being a sculptor, too, could recast the pieces to recreate the entire piece. Several months later, Dean proudly delivered the restored maquette to the Museum, where it is now on view in Shalom Chicago.