Monday, May 14, 2012
Fountain of the Great Lakes
Location: Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Dedication: September 9, 1913
Architect: Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge
GPS Coordinates: N 41° 52.731 W 087° 37.407
A remark by famed Chicago architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham convinced Lorado Taft that he should create one of his most famous sculptures, Fountain of the Great Lakes. Burnham complained that the sculptors who designed art for the 1893 Columbian Exposition failed to produce a single work representing the natural resources of the Great Lakes. For inspiration for the sculpture, Taft turned to the Greek myth of the Danaides, forty-nine sisters who were sent to Hades for killing their husbands on their wedding nights. As punishment for this crime, the sisters were eternally condemned to hopelessly carry water in sieves. Taft envisioned a fountain with five female figures each representing one of the Great Lakes. Each statue would hold a conch shell, and the water would flow from the shells in the same way that the water passes through the Great Lakes system.
Lorado Taft assigned five of his women sculpture students to design a plaster study sculpture called The Spirit of the Great Lakes in the spring of 1902. Nellie Walker, Angelica McNulty, Clara Leonard, Lily Schoenbrun, and Edith Parker were each responsible for sculpting one of the individual women. By January of 1906, Taft cast a plaster version of the sculpture that he then showed to a Ferguson Fund trustee. On December 16, 1907, the Ferguson Fund trustees awarded a contract to Taft to commence work on Fountain of the Great Lakes. Site selection concerns and legal problems delayed the project for several years. Finally, in May 1913 a plaster model of the sculpture was sent to the Jules Berchem foundry for bronze casting. Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge of Boston, the architects of the original building of the Art Institute of Chicago, designed a base for the sculpture. A pool surrounded a pedestal on which the fountain was placed and two fish served as waterspouts. The fountain was originally placed along the south wall of the original Art Institute building, but was relocated to the west side of the Morton Wing addition in 1963 where it stands today. Unfortunately, a bronze bas-relief portrait and a quotation of Ferguson on the backside of the fountain are hidden from view in the current location. Landscape architect Daniel Urban Kiley designed the gardens that surround the fountain.
Fountain of the Great Lakes was the first commission funded by the trustees of the B.F. Ferguson Monument Fund. Benjamin Franklin Ferguson was a Chicago merchant and philanthropist whose one million dollar gift to a charitable trust fund helped finance many Chicago public monuments and sculptures. The terms of Ferguson’s gift specified that the Art Institute of Chicago could select artists and sites for “the erection and maintenance of enduring statuary and monuments, in whole or in part of stone, granite, or bronze in the parks, along the boulevards, or in other public places within the city of Chicago, Illinois, commemorating worthy men or women of America or important events in American history.” In article an from an April 1905 edition of the Chicago Tribune, the writer stated: “No other city in the world has such a fund available as that left by Mr. Ferguson, and officials of the Art Institute, artists, and devotees of municipal art freely predicted that the bequest would make Chicago the richest city in the world in sculpture and the Mecca for artists.”
Fountain of the Great Lakes was dedicated on September 9, 1913. Charles L. Hutchinson, president of the Board of Trustees of the Art Institute of Chicago, presented the sculpture to the assembled audience. John Barton Payne, president of the Board of South Park Commissioners, accepted the sculpture. Hutchinson spoke first and said: “This is but one of many monuments which will in time be erected and add greatly to the beauty of our city. They will give pleasure and inspiration to thousands of our fellow citizens by recalling to memory great Americans and events, notable in the history of our country. Think of all that will be accomplished in the course of a hundred years through the generosity of Mr. Ferguson. It is difficult to conceive of the glory of it all, made possible by his farsighted benevolence. We are fortunate in having among our citizens a great artist, Mr. Lorado Taft. For several years, he worked faithfully to give adequate expression to one of his noble conceptions. The city is to be congratulated upon possessing an artist capable of creating this beautiful fountain, and at the same time a citizen so generous and of such great vision as to enable the artist to put his ideas in permanent form.”
In his acceptance speech, John Barton Payne said: “In accepting this splendid monument for and on behalf of the South Side Commissioners, I speak not only for the Commissioners but also for the people of the City of Chicago. It is singularly appropriate that the first great work, the result of the splendid bequest of B. F. Ferguson, should typify the Great Lakes. Bodies of water have always been the subject of song and story. Rome celebrated its Tiber, Florence its Arno, Paris its Seine, London its Thames. Well may Chicago celebrate our great chain of lakes, our inland seas, Erie, Ontario, Huron, Michigan, and Superior. How wonderfully these names lend themselves to poetry, song, and story, and how the rivers fade into insignificance when compared with these Great Lakes! Lorado Taft, one of the great sculptors of this age, has placed a crown upon the forehead of our Great Lakes.”
In his dedication address, Lorado Taft explained his thinking behind his artistic creation: “The motif of the group is not profound. I have sometimes wondered if it were not too obvious. ‘Lake Superior’ on high and ‘Lake Michigan’ at the side both empty into the basin of ‘Lake Huron,’ who sends the waters on to ‘Lake Erie’ whence ‘Lake Ontario’ receives them. As they escape from her basin and hasten into the unknown, she reaches wistfully after them as though questioning whether she has been neglectful of her charge. The exigencies of placing have made her reach toward Saint Louis instead of the Saint Lawrence, but you are requested to overlook this solecism. But we are gathered here for another purpose. We come to do honor to a good man, a man of imagination and vision. I never met Mr. Ferguson, but I wish that I had. I remember what a thrill I felt when the significance of his unprecedented benefaction first dawned on me. I felt that I should have known him. I wanted to thank him personally in the name of all Chicago, the Chicago of today and of the many tomorrows.”
For further reading:
Bach, Ira J. & Mary Lackritz Gray. A Guide to Chicago’s Public Sculpture. Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1983.
Exercises At The Dedication Of The Ferguson Fountain Of The Great Lakes: Chicago, September 9, 1913.
Garvey, Timothy J. Public Sculptor: Lorado Taft and the Beautification of Chicago. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1988.
Graf, John & Steve Skorpad. Chicago’s Monuments, Markers, and Memorials. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2002.
Hilliard, Celia. “The Prime Mover:” Charles L. Hutchinson and the Making of The Art Institute Of Chicago. Chicago, Illinois: The Art Institute of Chicago, 2010.
Moulton, Robert Hunt. “Chicago’s Dream of Civic Beauty Realized in the Symbolic Marble of Lorado Taft’s ‘Spirit of the Great Lakes’.” The Craftsman. Vol. 25, 1913.
Riedy, James L. Chicago Sculpture. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1981.
Weller, Allen. “Lorado Taft, the Ferguson Fund, and the Advent of Modernism,” in The Old Guard and the Avant-Garde: Modernism in Chicago, 1910-1940. Sue Ann Prince, ed. Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1990.
Friday, May 4, 2012
The Western Illinois Magazine is a student-run newspaper based at Western Illinois University in Macomb. This bi-annual publication showcases interesting people, places, and things in the Western Illinois region. The motto of the periodical, “The only magazine in the world that gives a damn about Western Illinois,” is printed on the masthead.
In the Spring 2012 issue of the Western Illinois Magazine, Kelsey Wolfe authored a story entitled “Lorado Taft’s Legacy Lives in Elmwood.” Among other topics, Kelsey wrote about the emergence of Taft’s gift to his hometown, the sculpture The Pioneers. Kelsey wrote: “Lorado Taft always maintained a connection with Elmwood because of friends in the area. In fact, his ashes lie in the Elmwood Township Cemetery surrounding his memorial. When he was alive, he wanted to give something back to his hometown, so he said he would donate a statue that he had envisioned if the town could come up with the money for a granite base. To collect money for the base, Elmwood librarian Carol Inskeep said that grade school students in Elmwood made ‘golden rulers’ by collecting dimes and taping them to pieces of paper shaped like a ruler. The town pooled together over $15,000 by hosting chicken dinners and other events. The result was The Pioneers, a sculpture in Elmwood Central Park. In June of 2010, two tornadoes touched down in Elmwood and wreaked havoc downtown. The tornadoes destroyed many buildings and trees in Elmwood Central Park, but The Pioneers remained standing."
Thursday, May 3, 2012
Location: Central Park, Elmwood, Illinois
Dedication: May 27, 1928
GPS Coordinates: N 40º 46.698 W 089º 57.949
On September 12, 1925, a small group of citizens from Elmwood, Illinois, met and recommended that one of Elmwood’s most famous citizens, Lorado Taft, be commissioned to create a sculpture in his hometown. The members of the group contacted Taft, and he accepted the assignment. Taft agreed to donate his work if the town could raise the necessary money for the casting of the sculpture and the mounting of it on a base. Marion Webster Lott volunteered to be the chairman of the fundraising committee, and Edson Smith served as the cochairman. The committee needed to raise $15,000 for the project, and a generous donation of $5,000 by Mr. & Mrs. E. L. Brown provided the foundation for the remainder of the fundraising.
The project was a true community effort. The local newspaper, the Elmwood Gazette, was very supportive and helped with the fundraising effort. Solicitation letters prepared by the high school typing class were sent out to friends and former residents of Elmwood. The Boy Scouts, the Kiwanis Club, the King’s Daughters, the E.O.W. Club, the International Order of Odd Fellows, the Rebekahs and Eastern Star Lodges, and the Women’s Club all pitched in to raise money. School children gave $120 by saving and contributing dimes. The committee reported on February 1, 1926, that the amount of money in hand or pledged exceeded the original goal.
Taft’s The Pioneers was cast in bronze and arrived in Elmwood in a railroad boxcar on May 23, 1928. The J.P. Bourgoin Monument Company supplied a granite base set on concrete. Taft depicted a young pioneer couple with the man holding a gun in his hand, and the woman clutching a baby. There was a look of idealism and great fearlessness on the face of the young man. A dog at the family’s feet represented the domestic life experienced by all pioneers. Taft’s explanation of The Pioneers’ significance was engraved on the base: “To The Pioneers Who Bridged The Streams, Subdued The Soil, And Founded A State.”
The Pioneers was unveiled and dedicated in Elmwood’s Central Park on May 27, 1928. Two thousand invitations to the ceremony were mailed out, and an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 people arrived in Elmwood by train and automobile. The Elmwood Community Band gave a one-hour concert while the attendees were taking their seats. The Girl’s Glee Club of Elmwood High School sang “America The Beautiful” and “Illinois”. Taft’s daughter Emily, later the wife of Illinois Senator Paul H. Douglas, and Marian Brown Pollitz, daughter of the E.L. Browns, unveiled the statue. Elmwood mayor, S.R. Fleisher, officially accepted the statue on behalf of the community. Dr. David McKinley, president of the University of Illinois, and State Superintendent of Instruction Francis Blair offered greetings and congratulations to the community. Former Governor Frank Lowden sent a message saying: “This is a fine thing that Lorado Taft is doing for his home community, but he is always doing fine things for everybody’s community.”
Taft’s brother-in-law, author Hamlin Garland, was the principle speaker, and the topic of his address was “The Westward March of the Pioneers.” He called the pioneer the most distinctive personage in American life and literature. Employing all of his considerable literary and poetic skills, Garland continued: “The pioneer had never before been seen. Europe colonized in tribes, in communities. The individual explorer is a development of the western continent. Who shall estimate the wealth of shadow, the fund of poetry, the splendor of romance, which the pathfinders, both red and white, have bequeathed to us? The trail of memory leads away to shadow-dappled glades. It offers the cabin and sweet sleep. It recalls the heroism, the simplicity, and the sanity of our grandsires. It enables us to overtake the things vanishing, to listen to the creak of the latch-string, to bend to the rude fireplace, and to blow again upon the embers, gray with ashes, till a flame springs up and the shadows of mournful beauty dance upon the walls. I am glad that I was born early enough to catch the dying echoes of their songs, to bask in the failing light of their fires.”
Lorado Taft greeted the assembled crowd and expressed great satisfaction in having one of his creative works located in his hometown. Taft continued: “I am very grateful and very glad you have helped me in placing this group. It is not my gift to you, but rather your gift to yourselves. It would give me great joy to be able to place in every community some work of art that would make permanent the traditions around which it was founded. I should like to help in making all communities interesting to themselves. All have memorials, there is much to commemorate all through Illinois. All is changed now from the time of the pioneer. Now we travel where they used to travail. Now all are neighbors. All communities have paid tribute to war, horrible as it is, but there are so many other things to be capitalized. Better things should come to this state of ours, so rich, so fortunate.”
The Pioneers was added to the National Register of Historic places in 2001. On Sunday, August 2, 2009, the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Elmwood Community Band, band director Stewart McKechnie debuted a newly commissioned work called “The Pioneers.” The band gave the concert in the Central Park gazebo, very near Taft’s sculpture of the same name.
Elmwood boasts another Taft sculpture. After Lorado Taft died in Chicago on October 30, 1936, his ashes were scattered over the ground in Elmwood Cemetery. The spot is now marked by the sculptural piece Memory, one of Taft’s most intimate creative works. Memory is a smaller replica of an original bronze statue entitled Foote Memorial Angel. Located in Woodlawn Cemetery in Jackson, Michigan, this statue was a favorite of Lorado Taft’s wife. Memory was dedicated in Elmwood Cemetery on April 29, 1938.
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.
“Descendants Pay Tribute to Central Illinois Pioneers at Unveiling of Group Statue at Elmwood on Sunday.” Bloomington Daily Pantagraph. May 28, 1928.
Hieronymus, R. E. “Lorado Taft’s Pioneer Group At Elmwood.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society. Vol. 21, No. 2. July, 1928.
“A Memorial To Pioneers.” Chicago Daily News. March 6, 1928.
“The Pioneers.” The Illinois Teacher. April 1929.
“Taft Remembers Old Home Town: Eminent Artist to Present Sculptured Group to City of Elmwood.” Bloomington Pantagraph. October 21, 1925.
Von Keller, Beatrice. “Taft’s ‘The Pioneers’ Unveiled at Elmwood: Noted Sculptor Honors His Birthplace.” Illinois Journal of Commerce. August 1928.