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Face mask stolen from Art Institute Lion; will be replaced

The large-scale masks were installed early Thursday as a symbolic gesture ahead of a statewide mandate starting Friday requiring people to wear masks in public places amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The lion statue which had its face mask stolen.
The lion statue which had its face mask stolen.
Sam Kelly / Sun-Times

A face mask adorning one of the iconic lion statues at the entrance of the Art Institute of Chicago was stolen Thursday evening, less than 24 hours after the symbolic masks were applied.

By Friday afternoon, the mask had been replaced and both lion statues were once again sporting the protective gear.

On Thursday, an Art Institute security guard saw two men get out of a black Chevrolet sedan about 10:55 p.m., climb onto one of the statues at the museum at 111 S. Michigan Ave., cut the mask from the lion’s head and take off, according to the Chicago police.

In a statement Friday morning, Kati Murphy, the Art Institute’s executive director of Public Affairs said: “Naturally, we are disappointed that the North Lion’s mask was stolen, but we are replacing it — and we look forward to continued partnership with Mayor Lightfoot to spread awareness in the city of Chicago.”

The large-scale masks had been installed early Thursday as a symbolic gesture ahead of a statewide mandate starting Friday requiring people to wear masks in public places amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The other lion, whose mask was left untouched.
The other lion, whose mask was left untouched.
Sam Kelly / Sun-Times

A mask also adorns the Picasso statue in Daley Plaza.

The masks were designed by Kelly Winter of Dimension Design in Glenview, and the materials used in their creation did not draw from the materials needed to produce PPE supplies for those on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19.

“It’s disappointing to have such a great event [Thursday with the installation of the masks] and then to have this happen,” said Jim Winter, executive vice president of Dimension Design, when reached by phone Friday morning.

“We are remaking both masks with new kinds of cables instead of just the strapping that was requested,” he said. “We’re going to use some of the creative methods we normally use. When you use vinyl- or fabric-coated [steel] cables, you get the same results but it will make it very difficult cut them.”

The lion masks were made for a “very modest three-figure charge for material and labor,” he said, while the mask adorning the Picasso statue was “donation from the company to the city and people of Chicago.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot tweeted out a pair of photos of the masked lions on Thursday night.

Lightfoot’s office hasn’t responded to a request for comment.

Contributing: Miriam Di Nunzio