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Leonard Volk

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

The 30,000 citizens who gathered on Court House Square in Rock Island on April 9th, 1969, had come for the dedication of the Rock Island County Civil War Soldier’s Monument. But many were eager to meet the monument’s creator, Leonard Volk, a former Rock Islander who had made good.

Volk had learned marble carving from his father out east. In 1853 he and his wife Emily had moved to rock island to set up a marble factory on Second Avenue and 16th Street. He did not remain for long. Emily’s famous cousin, Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln’s political rival, was so impressed by Volk’s sculpting ability that he paid for the young man to study sculpting in Rome, Italy. When Volk returned din 1857, he became involved in the arts movement in Chicago. He set up a studio employing 30 assistants.

It was Volk who set up Chicago’s first art exhibition and who was one of the founders of the Chicago Academy of Design. In 1858, Volk took advantage of his friendship with Stephen Douglas to attend the Lincoln-Douglas debates, where he made close life studies of both men. From these he produced a large monument to Douglas in Chicago and a statue and bust of Lincoln for the State Capitol—works which made him world famous.

Rock Island was especially proud of the fact that Volk was the only sculptor to study Lincoln so closely and in such detail from life. His life mask of Lincoln and the cast he made of Lincoln’s hands are invaluable to historians—they were the only ones ever made.

And so, Rock Islanders that April 9th came to see the monument in Courthouse Square, a life-size statue of a soldier made of Carrara marble atop a 14-foot pedestal. It was impressible. The famous sculptor Lorado Taft would call this Rock Island monument “one of Volk’s greatest works.” But many others came to greet an old friend who they remembered from his formative years in Rock Island.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.