SIOUX CITY | Sometimes the decorative building facades made out of terra cotta fall to the ground and shatter. Other pieces crack.
"Manufacturing replacements is a very specialized field," said David Dahlquist, head of RDG Dahlquist Art Studio in Des Moines.
Dahlquist will give a keynote address as part of Historic Preservation Week at noon Wednesday at the Sioux City Public Museum, 607 Fourth St. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own lunches to the free program.
Dahlquist, known as an interesting storyteller, will share his background in doing such restoration work and explore terra cotta's use today as contemporary art.
It takes more than slapping on some glue to fashion the replacement cherubs, flower-covered tiles, intricate geometric designs, cornices, eagles or griffins, he said.
"The shrinkage of the material has to be considered or the replacement pieces end up too small," he said.
A nationally recognized public artist and teacher, Dahlquist's commissions for private and public clients range from restoring tile work and sculpture to major architectural installations. Since 1988, Dalhquist has completed more than 60 large-scale public commissions across the country. He heads RDG, a comprehensive design and fabrication studio employing professional artists.
"We're still using the same handiwork that's been used for thousands of years," he said. "You've got incredible examples of terra cotta in Sioux City. Those buildings are part of the historic fabric of your city."
The best known example is the Woodbury County Courthouse, at 620 Douglas St. The Williges building nearby, at 613 Pierce St., also features terra cotta designs and was saved from the wrecking ball in 2007. Both were designed by famous architect William Steele and have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The courthouse is considered the finest example of the Prairie School style of architecture in the country, while the Williges building's facade is decorated out of terra cotta, featuring intricate foliage designs.