John Thomsen experienced many sleepless nights worrying about one of his father's most well-known artworks as it deteriorated on a hill overlooking the city of Blair.
The Tower of the Four Winds, a Blair landmark created by former Dana College art professor F.W. Thomsen more than 30 years ago, was slowly being destroyed by the elements and could have been lost for future generations.
“That would have been a real tragedy,” he said.
Instead, Thomsen spoke Saturday during a rededication ceremony hosted by the Blair Historic Preservation Alliance (BHPA) at Black Elk-Neihardt Park.
“How great it is to be here with Dad's work restored as it has been so beautifully,” he said. “I'm sure Dad is looking down now with his big smile, happy that this has taken place and also Black Elk and Neihardt no doubt.”
The tower was restored this summer by Jensen Conservation Services of Omaha after the BHPA secured the $187,450 in funding from a single donor.
Until Saturday, that donor had remained anonymous. However, BHPA member John Mark Nielsen and his wife, Dawn, BHPA president, announced a marker was placed at the base of the tower to honor the gift from the John and Elizabeth Lauritzen Foundation of Omaha.
The Nielsens had been instrumental in obtaining the donation after Thomsen had shared his “deep concern with keeping this very important and unique work alive.”
“It wasn't the first time I had reached out for help to restore the tower so I was happily surprised and incredibly relieved when John Mark and Dawn jumped aboard almost immediately to accept this fundraising challenge,” Thomsen said. “Their willingness to take on the task was thrilling and even more thrilling was their success. It still feels like a dream that almost $200,000 was raised for the restoration so quickly.”
John Mark Nielsen recognized the City of Blair, including City Administrator Rod Storm and Assistant City Administrator Phil Green, for their efforts
“When we brought them a copy of the check that made this day possible, they were as excited as I think we were,” he said.
Nielsen and Thomsen also acknowledged the Blair City Council, which stepped forward to contribute funds allowing an endowment to be established for future maintenance of the tower.
“With these blessings of these contributions, the tower should never have to face the black road of difficulty that it has been experiencing, but rather be a spiritual light that continues to shine from this very special hill,” Thomsen said. “A light that when treated with care will share shine over the city of Blair and the Missouri River valley for centuries to come.”
During there ceremony, Thomsen explained the symbolism of the mosaic and the tower, which shows the crossing of two roads — the black and stormy Road of Difficulties and the Sacred Red Road, which is “the road of deep spiritual truth, understanding and atonement with higher powers,” Thomsen said.
F.W. Thomsen, a Danish immigrant, artist, teacher and minister, created the Tower of the Four Winds after he was inspired by John G. Neihardt's book, “Black Elk Speaks,” which he read in Dana College's Liberal Arts Reading Program (LARP).
Upon seeing some of his work during one of his three visits to Dana College, Neihardt suggested Thomsen paint scenes from “Black Elk Speaks,” according to articles Dawn Nielsen discovered at the Danish American Archive and Library.
On Oct. 5, 1972, Neihardt visited Dana College again for a special speaking engagement. He read from “Black Elk Speaks” as works created by F.W. Thomsen were projected on a screen overhead. More than 2,000 people attended the event.
In October 1975, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for the new Black Elk-Neihardt Park. The Tower of the Four Winds was completed and dedicated in 1987.