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On the record ... with Donald Krehl

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012 11:37 a.m. CDT

DeKALB – Donald Krehl grew up on the north side of Chicago. Like many city-dwellers, he spent much of his life walking past monuments and sculptures without stopping to appreciate the statues or read the inscriptions near them.

When Krehl, a retired dentist from DeKalb, wanted to find a statue in Chicago’s Lincoln Park of a pioneer in the dental field, he had difficulty finding it. After inquiring at several museums and bookstores, he was surprised to learn that there was not a guide book about the statues and memorials in his hometown.

”I was told that ‘We really need one,’ and I said ‘Fine, if you need one, I’d like to make one.’ That’s how it came about,” Krehl said.

Krehl embarked on a two-year project to find, photograph and write about 240 of the most beautiful and significant statues and memorials in Chicago. He finished his 166-page self-published book, “Monumental Chicago,” earlier this year. The book is now available online and at the Chicago Architectural Society’s gift shop.

Krehl sat down with MidWeek reporter Curtis Clegg last week to discuss the process of researching, publishing and marketing his first book.

MidWeek: Do I understand correctly that you were a dentist before you published this book?

Donald Krehl: Yes, I’m a retired dentist. I was here in DeKalb for 33 years.

MW: What led you to writing a book about statues in Chicago?

DK: I was looking for the statue of G.V. Black, who is known as the father of modern dentistry. He established a lot of the procedures and principles that were being used when I was in (dentistry) school in the 60s and 70s. I had always heard there was a statue of G.V. Black in Lincoln Park, but going through Lincoln Park I couldn’t find it. I stopped in several stores in downtown Chicago and inquired about a guide, and nobody had one.

MW: How did you get around Chicago to do your research?

DK: It depends on the area. In Lincoln Park and Grant Park, I rode around on a bike. I even did a little downtown (on a bike). …I put my bike in the back of my van and in the downtown area I would park in the museum complex. …Sometimes my wife would drop me off and go around the block.

MW: If there was no existing guide book to these statues, how did you know where to go and look?

DK: I didn’t. A lot of it was hit and miss in the downtown area – I just walked up and down the streets. …There were several (statues) inside buildings in downtown Chicago that I really wanted to use, but after contacting a copyright lawyer to find out how much of what I was doing was publishable, the lawyer told me that as long as it’s outside in public access areas, you are free to do anything you want. You get inside a building and the rules change – you need permissions to do that.

MW: Once people found out what you were doing, did they offer suggestions about which statues and monuments to include?DK: Not really. I was pretty much on my own. I discovered several things that I didn’t know were there just by walking around. …I found a few sites on the Internet of sites in outlying areas, but I wasn’t going to ride my bike six miles to take a picture. I was not trying to have a catalog of all the public art. There’s way too much to do that.

MW: You included information about the artist and the sculpture with each photo. Was that information on plaques near the statues, or did you have to do additional research?DK: Oh I had to do some digging. My wife didn’t see me for two years because I was on my computer a lot. I would come home with a picture of a statue and I would start digging into the history of what that statue was about. I also tried to include dates about the life of the artist and when the statue was installed.

MW: Did you lay out the pages yourself?DK: Yes.

MW: What is the next step after that? Did you already have a publisher, or did you find one when you were done with the book?DK: That in itself was a major part of it. Finding the statues and writing about them was one part, but the publishing was another story. I was trying to find a way to produce this book that would keep the costs down. …This is not meant as a coffee table book that someone would pay 50 bucks for. …I went to black and white for the photos and then everyone said to go to a self-publisher so I could print per copy. If you wanted five copies, you could print five copies and they didn’t make a run of 100 or 200 copies. But that has led to the problem that (physical) book stores don’t want to carry it if it’s self-published, such as Barnes and Noble right here in town. You can order it through them, but they will not carry it in the store. I went around and around with them.

MW: What camera do you use?DK: I have been asked that a couple times. I basically use a pocket camera, I think it was 12 megapixels.

MW: What can you tell me about the Al Capone monument?DK: That’s in the cemetery where he is buried. My parents are buried out there and I had heard that Al Capone was out there. So I drove around for a bit and I found the cemetery he was in, and I took a picture of that. I said, “Well, he’s certainly not a role model, but he’s a big part of Chicago history.” It’s in Hillside, but I included it.

MW: How is the book organized?DK: I tried to do the guide book by sections of the city. I think there are seven different sections. I tried to include a map of those sections.

MW: Would this book appeal to historians as much as it does fans of art?DK: I think it would. Anybody who is into history – there are statues that go way back. There is a statue of Louis Pasteur – I went to school for four years on the medical campus and I heard about a statue of Louis Pasteur on the medical campus, but I never saw it. When I heard about it I thought it must be new but it has been there since 1945.

MW: Do you have plans to publish another book?DK: There is a lot of neat artwork in the cemeteries of Chicago, but there are so many cemeteries and there are already some great books, like (the one about) Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, that I think I’d be repeating what had already been done. Then I started mulling around in my head the idea of putting together the more well-known statues around the state of Illinois. …I enjoyed all the Lincoln statues in Chicago and I know there are a lot more Lincoln statues around the state.

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