Friday, April 13, 2012
Biography of Lorado Taft, Part 1.
Lorado Taft: The Prairie State Sculptor
Lorado Taft was born on April 29, 1860, in Elmwood, Illinois. His father Don Carlos was born in Swanzey, New Hampshire, and graduated from Amherst College in 1852. Don Carlos married Mary Lucy Foster in 1856, and they had four children: Lorado Zadok, Florizel Adine, Zulime, and Turbia Doctoria. Lorado, the oldest, was home schooled by his parents and moved with the family to Champaign when his father was appointed Professor of Geology at the University of Illinois in 1871. Taft demonstrated his writing skills at an early age as he became the editor and publisher of a monthly magazine he called the Grandparent’s Gazette. He sent copies each month to his grandparents who lived in Springfield, Massachusetts. Each issue was a hand-written creation and contained a detailed front page. At the age of fourteen, Lorado helped unpack, repair, and arrange the first sculpture collection at the University of Illinois, and he found his vocation as a sculptor. As a student at the University of Illinois, Taft received drawing, modeling, and sculpting lessons. He was awarded his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from that university in 1879 and 1880. Taft’s first wife Carrie Scales died in childbirth in 1892 less than two years after they were married. He married Ada Bartlett in 1896, and they had three daughters.
Starting in 1880, Taft attended the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and studied with Augustin-Alexandre Dumont, Jean-Marie Bienaime Bonnassieux, and Gabriel-Jules Thomas. Because he was running low on money, he returned to the United States in 1883 and gave lectures, created some sculptures, and taught French lessons in Champaign. After a year, he returned to Paris, and in 1886 he moved to Chicago. There Taft opened his first studio and worked on one of his first commissions, a statue of Schuyler Colfax from Indiana. He served as an instructor at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1886 to 1907, taught at the University of Chicago from 1893 to 1900, and served as a non-resident Professor of Art at the University of Illinois. Taft won awards for his sculptures at national expositions including the Columbian Exposition in 1893, the Pan-American Exposition in 1901, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904, and the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915.
Taft’s artistic career went into high gear in 1891 when he was assigned to work with architect William Le Baron Jenney. Jenney designed the Horticultural Building for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, and Taft created two sculptural groups for the building. Head architect for the exposition Daniel Burnham added to Taft’s responsibilities when he expressed concern that the many sculptures designed to complement the buildings might not be finished on time. When Taft requested the assistance of several of his female students, Burnham replied: “Hire anyone, even white rabbits if they’ll do the work.” As a result, a group of talented women sculptors who became known as the “White Rabbits” emerged. The artists included Enid Yandell, Carol Brooks MacNeil, Bessie Potter Vonnoh, Mary Lawerence, Helen Farnsworth Mears, Margaret Gerow, Janet Scudder, and Julia Bracken. Taft was given credit for enhancing the stature of women sculptors.