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Controversial sculpture still up 30 years later

A sculpture named "The Fox River Oracle" seen on Wednesday at the north end of the Oneida Skyline bridge in Appleton. When it was dedicated 30 years ago, it was hailed by its enthusiastic supporters as a “gateway to Appleton” and “a magnificent work of art.” But the sculpture — known to some as the “Hadzi” in recognition of its creator, the late and highly accomplished Dimitri Hadzi — hasn’t exactly captured the public’s imagination. (Dan Powers/The Post-Crescent via AP)

A sculpture named “The Fox River Oracle” seen on Wednesday at the north end of the Oneida Skyline bridge in Appleton. When it was dedicated 30 years ago, it was hailed by its enthusiastic supporters as a “gateway to Appleton” and “a magnificent work of art.” But the sculpture — known to some as the “Hadzi” in recognition of its creator, the late and highly accomplished Dimitri Hadzi — hasn’t exactly captured the public’s imagination. (Dan Powers/The Post-Crescent via AP)

By ANDY THOMPSON
Appleton Post-Crescent

APPLETON, Wis. (AP) — Appleton residents have most likely heard of Houdini Plaza. The Avenue of Angels. Cleo’s Cocktail Lounge. The Industrial Flats.

But what about the Fox River Oracle?

It’s a massive sculpture at the north end of the Oneida Skyline Bridge in Appleton. It was dedicated 30 years ago and was hailed by its enthusiastic supporters as a “gateway to Appleton” and “a magnificent work of art.”

But the sculpture — known to some as the “Hadzi” in recognition of its creator, the late and highly accomplished Dimitri Hadzi — hasn’t exactly captured the public’s imagination.

There’s a longstanding belief among some observers that it is a depiction of the male sex organ. It also has been called a “strange horse statue.”

Even before it was created, some city aldermen were harshly critical. One called the 17-foot-high limestone sculpture a “dumb-looking pile of rocks,” according to Post-Crescent archives.

That feeling persists among some people today.

“I hear jokes about it from time to time,” said Dean Gazza, director of parks and recreation in Appleton. “There are people who just don’t like it and think it should come down.

“But it’s not a regular thing,” Gazza said of the complaints. “Nobody has ever started a petition (to take it down). It’s not going to go away or anything.”

It could be getting a bit of a facelift in 2018 as part of a nearby street project. Plans call for power-washing the sculpture and installing lights to make it appear more prominently, according to Gazza.

USA Today Network-Wisconsin reports that Hadzi, who was a professor at Harvard University when he was commissioned to undertake the Oracle, drew considerable praise across the country over the years for his many public sculptures.

The city provided the site and the base for the sculpture, while Hadzi’s commission was paid with donations from an arts foundation. The cost of the project was estimated at $150,000.

Alex Schultz, president of Sculpture Valley, a nonprofit arts-advocacy group in the Fox Cities, said the Oracle shouldn’t be harshly judged by local residents.

“My impression (of the sculpture) is not similar to what most people feel,” Schultz said. “For most people, it was a large piece of loosely assembled stones. But you have to go much deeper than that.

“Art is up to the individual. It is very subjective.”

Schultz said the Oracle is here to stay, and is part of Appleton’s culture.

“It’s become part of our identity,” he said, “whether we elected to do it knowingly or not. That piece is part of Appleton now.”

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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