Nationally known conservator Andrzej Dajnowski is being commissioned by the Illinois Labor History Society to restore the Haymarket Martyrs Monument for its 125th birthday. This is the second major art work from Forest Park that Dajnowski will refurbish.

Dajnowski is a pioneer in laser cleaning. He’s restored major works in Chicago, including those mounted Indians at Congress Parkway and Michigan Avenue. In the late 1980s, he was a conservator for the Smithsonian Institute, when a magnificent statue was rescued from a dump and donated to the Forest Park Historical Society. Dajnowski traveled with curator George Gurney from Washington, D.C., to meet with historical society president Dr. Frank Orland and examine The Death of Cleopatra.

This creation, by renowned sculptress Edmonia Lewis, had its unveiling in Philadelphia in 1876. By 1894 the statue sat exposed to the elements at a racetrack in Forest Park, on property later occupied by the mall. After being unceremoniously dumped in Cicero, the statue was rescued by a Boy Scout troop, which attempted to “restore” its beauty by painting it.

Dajnowksi remembers when the 3,015-pound statue arrived at the Smithsonian. It would take him seven months to undo the damage done by weather, vandals and, yes, the Boy Scouts.

The well-intentioned lads had shaved off some of the carrara marble, crushed it, mixed it with epoxy and attempted to replace some of its lost features. For example, they replaced the missing nose and mouth with features that Dajnowksi called “cartoonish.” The scouts also gave the statue an ill-advised coat of white latex paint.

Working from historic photos of the statue when it was in pristine condition, Dajnowksi rebuilt Cleopatra’s missing hands, gave her a proper facial and removed the blue ink artwork of assorted vandals. The results of the $30,000 restoration were breathtaking and Cleopatra has taken her rightful place in the Smithsonian.

Soon Dajnowksi will be using his conservator skills on the Haymarket monument. He lamented that the bronze sculpture had been cleaned in a “very aggressive” manner in the past, which caused it to lose its patina. With its dull surface, green streaks and hooded face, the monument has become more forbidding than formidable.

The Haymarket will be Dajnowksi’s closest-ever commission to work on, as the sculpture is only 400 feet west of his shop at 900 Des Plaines. Dajnowski’s plans include removing the green streaks, restoring its luster with a wax coating and recreating its lost features. He has a photo of the missing plaque from the back of the monument and parts of the missing floral piece from the front.

Fittingly, Illinois Labor History Society member Mark Rogovin rescued those lost bronze petals.