Bloomington's Herb Eaton says his "Mommy's Broom" bronze sculpture chosen for this year’s Peoria Sculpture Walk is actually a vision from 30 years ago.
The sculpture depicts a young boy roughly 7 or 8 years old, wearing what Eaton characterized as a diaper, riding a broom with a horse head emerging from the straw end. The boy is holding a tall corn stalk in his right hand.
Eaton said the original idea for the sculpture idea came to him in graduate school while thinking about hobby horses, and how much fun they were when he was a young boy.
“And then of course you lose all that. So I came up with this idea, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to make cast bronze heads so somebody who had lost their imagination could pay me good money to make the horse head for him?'" laughed Eaton at his own question.
Eaton said he feels boys face different cultural expectations of boyhood than in past generations, and he struggles with a remedy.
“But I do know people look at a static object, that’s what sculpture is wonderful for, and look at it repeatedly, go back and compare what their thoughts are on this idea compared to the rest of the world, and maybe something can happen,” said Eaton.
The boy in the sculpture wears a beanie with a propeller and is standing on scattered scrap metal. Eaton said it seems to imply the days before everyone was carrying a computer in their hands, and young boys needed to use imagination to stay busy.
“Do you remember Beany and Cecil, Mighty Mouse, Tom Terrific? All these different characters had beanies. It’s the idea that your imagination has to fly,” said Eaton, who added the idea behind the broom was the way young boys (and girls) once used "mommy’s broom" as an imaginary horse.
“And the idea is that this (125-pound bronze) horse head coming out of the broom is that boys need to have this imagination. The horse looks wild and the boy has to try to control it. And he’s maybe not doing such a good job,” said Eaton.
And about the old-fashioned bomb the boy is stepping on with his left foot? It’s sculpted to look perhaps like one cartoon character Wile E. Coyote might have bought from ACME to help chase down the Roadrunner. Eaton laughed at the shared childhood memory, then referenced old Spy V. Spy and Mad magazines.
“They always had these round bombs with these little fuses on them,” said Eaton. “I thought it was really cool. He’s (the boy) also standing on this pile of junk, which I literally got out of the scrap yard,” said Eaton.
The boy stepping on the bomb is also an homage to sculptures from the Renaissance, when it was difficult to get sculpted horses to stand on three feet, said Eaton.
“So they would put bombs under the hooves of the front leg so they had four points of landing. I always loved those things because it kind of made no sense when you look at it, so this too kind of makes no sense,” said Eaton.
The cornstalk gripped tightly in the right hand references not only central Illinois' cash crop, but Eaton’s own works, which often include symbolic nods to the bounty of corn the state produces.
“We had corn fields across from my house until I was out of high school,” said Eaton of his West Peoria boyhood home.
“So when we were kids and needed spears so we could be head hunters and cannibals and stuff like that, we would steal a cornstalk or two and throw it at each other. And you could carry them around like banners from the old Knights of the Round Table,” said Eaton.
Eaton’s fascination with non-western art, especially the art of New Guinea which he said had “wonderful inventors” was also an inspiration for the corn stalk.
“Though these people were literally cannibals, I always respected their skills with making things,” said Eaton.
Eaton said he's proud of the work that took nine months to bring to life.
“There were changes throughout. Even at the end, I mounted it once, took it down and re-welded it into a slightly different configuration. I was happy with it several times along the path, but I’m really happy now, especially since it’s sitting over there (Peoria) now and I’m able to sit here and plan whatever else I’m going to do in life,” chuckled Eaton.
Eaton is one of eight artists from four states chosen from a pool of 114 entries to have their sculpture featured along Washington Street in Peoria's warehouse district through Oct. 27.
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