Friday, April 13, 2012

Biography of Lorado Taft, Part 3.

Lorado Taft had long envisioned the creation of a Dream Museum, a building dedicated to the exhibition of casts of all the greatest sculptures from all over the world. One possible site for the museum was the Palace of Fine Arts or the Fine Arts Building from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Unlike the other buildings from this Chicago World’s Fair, this structure was constructed with a brick substructure under its white plaster fa├žade. It originally housed the Columbian Museum, later the Field Museum of Natural History. The site was left vacant when a new Field Museum was opened near downtown Chicago in 1920. Taft led a campaign to raise funds to restore the building and convert it into his Dream Museum. City officials authorized the expenditure of five million dollars to restore the building. Unfortunately, while Taft and his wife were traveling in Europe, philanthropist Julius Rosenwald changed the focus of the project. The Fine Arts Building became the Museum of Science and Industry instead. In the early 1930’s, Taft approached officials from Los Angeles and suggested that his Dream Museum be built on a site in Griffith Park. He received help from his brother-in-law Hamlin Garland and Los Angles Times publisher Harry Chandler. Taft went on the lecture circuit to generate financial support for his Dream Museum. The museum would have cost two million dollars back in the 1930’s. The museum staff organized a premature groundbreaking ceremony on February 9, 1934, and Taft dug out the first shovel of dirt. Because of the Great Depression and Taft’s declining health, sufficient funding never materialized for the construction of his Dream Museum.

Taft’s considerable speaking and writing skills were put to good use in his later years. He published The History of American Sculpture in 1903 and Modern Tendencies In Sculpture in 1921. In collaboration with Frederick Ruskstull, he spoke against the modern and abstract tendencies in sculpture. Taft also gave hundreds of “clay talks” during that time. He actually modeled pieces of clay into numerous shapes as he made his presentation. From early drawings to the casting of plaster, Taft illustrated the various processes of creating sculpture. Taft also gave a series of free lectures in the Chicago area during the 1920’s. His speeches in front of soldiers camped on the Chicago lakefront were very popular as they were sprinkled with Taft’s memorable humor.

Perhaps his greatest legacy to his alma mater, the University of Illinois, is his Alma Mater Group sculpture that now stands in front of Altgeld Hall on the university campus in Urbana. The sculpture was unveiled and dedicated in 1929 and was originally placed behind Foellinger Auditorium. The university also granted Taft an honorary Doctor of Laws degree the day of the dedication and established the Lorado Taft Lectureship on Art a year later. Taft continued to work until just before his death on October 30, 1936, not long after he traveled to Quincy to attend and speak at the dedication ceremony of his Lincoln-Douglas Debate plaque.

For further reading:

Coon, Richard A. & Nancy C. Coon. Remembering A Favorite Son: The Story Of Lorado Taft. Elmwood, Illinois: The Elmwood Historical Society, 2003.

Garvey, Timothy J. Public Sculptor: Lorado Taft And The Beautification of Chicago. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1988.

Handy, Jeanne Townsend. “Celebration of Nature: The Art of Lorado Taft’s Illinois.” Illinois Issues. December 2010.

Stilson, Jan. Art and Beauty in the Heartland: The Story of the Eagle’s Nest Art Camp at Oregon, Illinois 1898-1942. Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse, 2006,

Taft, Ada Bartlett. Lorado Taft: Sculptor And Citizen. Greensboro, North Carolina: Mary Taft Smith, 1946.

Weller, Lewis W. Lorado In Paris: The Letters of Lorado Taft, 1880-1885. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1985.

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