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Piasa Bird cleanup might begin by end of month

By AP/KWMU

Alton, Ill. – The Piasa Bird painted on the limestone bluffs in this Mississippi River city may be repainted and cleaned with a new cryogenic blasting technique, after vandals threw tar-dipped sticks at the local landmark.

City officials, who still are studying the liability of the repair project, hope to begin work later this month.

"The vandalism has revitalized interest in that park and in that bird," said Mike Drake, executive director of the Alton Park and Recreation Department.

The creature, a mythological human-headed, fish-tailed, man-eating monster, was defaced early last month. Five local high school students confessed to the crime.

The bird is said to be based on a long-vanished American Indian rock painting that decorated a river bluff near here.

Over the years, the bird's likeness has appeared in several locations and in various styles, including a metal cutout affixed to a bluff. The latest version a painting about 50 feet wide and two stories tall, with the bottom edge roughly 20 feet above the ground was painted by community members in the mid-1990s.

Instead of using high-pressurized sand or water to clean the bird, workers hope to blast pellets of dry ice at the painting to chip away the tar.

The technique is more commonly used in industrial settings, said Stephen Stodnick, whose Chesterfield, Mo., company Paragon Certified Restoration along with other vendors, are donating labor for the project.

Drake said he plans to establish a fund for the restoration and two people already had called in donations Thursday afternoon.

Artist Dave Stevens, who led the painting of the current bird on the bluffs in 1998, said he plans to retouch portions of the bird that have faded.

"It was just kind of sickening, it made me half nauseous," he said of the vandalism. "It's been a piece of history in this area for umpteen years. It needs to be maintained. It is part of our history here."

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