COLUMBIA — J.W. "Blind" Boone once again provoked astonishment while at his piano, but this time he didn't strike a single key.
An influential ragtime piano player and composer who was blind, John William “Blind” Boone again drew a crowd of people Monday night. About 50 people gathered at the MU Reynolds Alumni Center for the unveiling of a maquette, or model, of the former Columbia resident.
Some of Boone's music can be heard on the state historical society's website.
The unveiling drew an audibly positive response from attendees. Some noted the motion depicted looks like Boone playing on a piano. The maquette is about a third of the size of the final sculpture, which will be life-sized, the sculptor, Harry Weber, said.
"I love a lot of movement," he said. “Nothing moves more gracefully than a piano player.”
Weber, a Missouri-based sculptor, attended the unveiling. His work includes the bronze sculptures of former Cardinals players outside Busch Stadium and a St. Louis riverfront monument of Lewis and Clark.
Weber said the Boone piece has been in the works on and off for three years. In that time he has read a lot about the musician, listened to his music and studied the few available pictures.
“The maquette was a little difficult,” Weber said. “I had to decide what to do with the piano.”
Although Boone is sitting at a piano, the entire instrument is not depicted, which helped to cut down on costs. Weber said the final cost will be about $200,000.
“Harry gave us the best price,” said Lorah Steiner, director of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau. “He has been so gracious through the whole process. It really has been a labor of love.”
Weber said the sculpture project is a happy challenge “because of the fact that he was blind, all that movement comes out in the keyboard.”
He said he hasn't started the life-sized sculpture, but when he does it will take about six months to complete. The sculpture is slated to be placed in a planned tribute garden outside Boone's restored home in downtown Columbia.
Steiner added that restoring the Boone home is an important project.
“This is a man who gave and gave to this community and died with almost no estate because of it," she said.
After giving a significant amount of his money to the community, Boone's estate was only left with $132.65 and his house, according to the State Historical Society of Missouriwebsite.
“We need to honor not only his musical talents, but his amazing generosity as well,” Steiner said.
Boone lived with his wife at 10 N. Fourth St. from 1889 until his death in 1927, according to a previous Missourian report. In 2000, the city purchased the home with an aim to restore it.
The first phase of the restoration is 95 percent complete, said Clyde Ruffin, chairman of the J.W. “Blind” Boone Heritage Foundation.
The restoration thus far has been on the exterior. The second phase of the project will be a tribute garden and outdoor amphitheater for small performances and recitals. The garden will included engraved memorial bricks and stones, which cost between $100 and $500.
Ruffin said that the second phase will be completed next year if there is enough funding.
The third phase will include renovations to the home's interior, which will include an interactive museum, Ruffin said. It will house exhibits and a restored piano Boone played on.
High school students will have the opportunity to study the documentation of oral histories in the Ethnography Center. The center was established in Boone's name as his life story was not well documented, according to a pamphlet from the heritage foundation.