Friday, April 13, 2012

Biography of Lorado Taft, Part 2.

Following the World’s Columbian Exposition, Taft and his fellow artists decided to remain in Chicago and support each other’s artistic endeavors. They chose to escape the heat and humidity of Chicago by spending a summer at a farm in Bass Lake, Indiana. An unfortunate outbreak of malaria persuaded them to try another location. In 1898, the group established a new colony overlooking the Rock River near Oregon, Illinois. The group created the Eagle’s Nest Art Colony on land belonging to Chicago attorney Wallace Heckman. The Chicago residents, all members of the University of Chicago art department or the Art Institute of Chicago, were artists, art lovers, musicians, writers, and architects who wanted a place to work, socialize, and exchange ideas. The charter members of the art colony included Lorado Taft, Wallace Heckman, Ralph Clarkson, Oliver Dennett Grover, Charles Francis Browne, Henry B. Fuller, Hamlin Garland, Horace Fiske, James Spencer Dickerson, Allan B. Pond, Irving K. Pond, and Clarence Dickinson. First living in tents and later in summer homes, the members became art missionaries as they reached out to residents of nearby communities to instruct them about art comprehension and knowledge. The colony flourished until 1942 when the last original member passed away. Northern Illinois University acquired the site in 1951 and converted it into the Lorado Taft Field Campus, the university’s outdoor education and conference center.

Taft moved from his downtown Chicago studio to a converted barn in Washington Park near the Midway Plaisance in 1906. This new Midway Studio was soon connected to a pair of frame barns that served as dormitories for male and female students. The architectural firm of Pond and Pond designed thirteen studios for Lorado Taft and associated sculptors on the property. Over the years, more than one hundred students and sculptors came to the Lorado Taft Midway Studios to learn sculpting from the master. The studios currently house the University of Chicago Department of Visual Arts and have been converted to space for students and faculty. The Lorado Taft Midway Studios are listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and are considered a U.S. National Historical Landmark and a Chicago Landmark.

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