A 10-foot-4-inch, stainless-steel, 1,000-pound figure will watch over East Chicago Avenue for at least the next two years.

It’s not a robot or a monster but a sculpture named “Traveler,” leased by Oak Park to help enhance the business district just east of Austin Boulevard on Chicago Avenue.

Pilsen-based artist Eric Stephenson installed the piece Friday afternoon on the south side of the Humphrey intersection.

The Public Arts Commission subcommittee chose Traveler at a Lincoln Park art festival, and the business district was labeled as an ideal spot for the piece because it’s a gateway area to Oak Park, has a large expanse and was just repaved, Business Services Manager Loretta Daly said.

“The materials used were really quality,” she said. “The shape itself is very expressive. So, they felt that the piece is one that would fit into the community well.”

In June, the village board unanimously approved the $6,000 lease, which ends in 2009. If the community likes Traveler, the village will then negotiate with Stephenson to purchase it.

“This is an area where having a piece of art of this quality, I think, speaks to the businesses and lets them know that it’s alive and thriving,” said Chris Tatum, the founder of the Oak Park Neighborhood Development Organization, who lives right around the corner.

Daly said this is part of an ongoing process to place one or two artworks in the village each year. Two other sculptures were leased last year for Oak Park-now on display at Maple Park and Austin Gardens-and two were purchased the previous year.

Traveler’s existence started when Stephenson, 42, submitted a small model version of the sculpture, which was accepted as part of the Lincoln Park arts show. He had three weeks to construct a full-size model.

Stephenson did about 90 percent of the labor himself, cutting and welding together $4,000 worth of stainless steel and other materials.

The project took about 300 hours of work. Stephenson said he worked 14-hour days, on average. A night owl, he does the majority of his work in the evening, which is why he calls his studio “Lunar Burn.”

The ceiling wasn’t high enough at Stephenson’s small Chicago studio, so he had to cut the sculpture in half and weld it together later.

Stephenson and some of his friends from the local arts community helped him lower the massive sculpture into the ground on Chicago Avenue with a crane-like machine called a gantry, anchoring it to the brick pavement with steel spikes.

If Oak Park chooses not to purchase the piece, it will be resubmitted to other shows with the chance for other villages to lease.

“Hopefully the neighborhood falls in love with it,” Stephenson said.

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