Friday, September 28, 2012

Trotter Memorial Fountain
Location: Withers Park, Bloomington, Illinois
Dedication: May 30, 1911
Medium: Georgia Marble
GPS Coordinates: N 40° 28.793 W 088° 59.529

Lorado Taft began his artistic career primarily as a sculptor of portrait busts and monuments to soldiers. Later in his profession, he became best known for his symbolic and allegorical fountains including the Fountain of the Great Lakes and The Fountain of Time in Chicago, the Columbus Memorial Fountain in Washington, D.C., and the Thatcher Memorial Fountain in Denver. The Trotter Memorial Fountain, one of Lorado Taft’s most emblematic sculptural creations, is located in Withers Park in Bloomington, Illinois. Located near the corner of East and Washington Streets in Bloomington, the Withers Park land was originally the site of the home of Alan and Sarah Withers, prominent early settlers of Bloomington. The widowed Sarah donated the property to the Library Association, and in 1887, the Withers Library was dedicated on the site. The library served Bloomington citizens until 1977 when it was razed.

The Trotter Memorial Fountain was named for the Trotter family, Bloomington community activists. Siblings John, James, and Georgiana were refugees of the Great Irish Potato Famine who immigrated to the United States before the Civil War. The Trotter family operated a prosperous lumber, grain, and coal business in Bloomington. John Trotter represented his ward on the Bloomington City Council from 1873 to 1879 and was subsequently elected mayor of Bloomington three times. First serving as a nurse in the Civil War, Georgiana Trotter with her friends Sarah Withers and School Superintendent Sarah Raymond led the fund raising campaign for the Withers Library. Georgiana was elected to the Bloomington Board of Education and served on the Withers Library Board.

When James Trotter passed away in 1907, his will contained a provision calling for the creation of a fountain near the Withers Public Library. The fountain would serve as a memorial to his parents and siblings. Sarah E. Raymond, married to Captain F. J. Fitzwilliam since 1896, served as the executrix of the will. Mrs. Fitzwilliam contacted Lorado Taft to design the fountain, and she remained involved with the project until the day of the dedication. Taft’s students from his Chicago workshop sculpted the fountain, carving the Georgia marble with hammers and chisels. Native American women are depicted on the east and west sides of the fountain. Water flows from urns on the shoulders of the women when the water is turned on. A Native American child is located near each woman, and a dog and a bear cub standing on hind legs are featured on the north and south sides of the fountain. These figures symbolize childhood, animal life, and pioneer life. The coat of arms of the Trotter family is located on the north side of the fountain, and the following inscription is included on the south side: “This Fountain Presented to the City of Bloomington Under the Will of James Trotter as a Memorial to His Father John Trotter, His Mother Ann Trotter, His Brother John, and His Sisters Maria, Ann, and Georgiana.”

Although the fountain would remain unfinished for several months, the Trotter Memorial Fountain was dedicated at a grand ceremony on May 30, 1911. A large parade of members of local civic organizations preceded the event. The renowned public speaker from Chicago, Dr. Frank W. Gunsaulus, and Sarah E. Raymond Fitzwilliam addressed the audience. Large bouquets of flowers were given to honored guests Ex-Vice-President Adlai E. Stevenson, Ex-United States Ambassador to Belgium James S. Ewing, Judge Owen T. Reeves, and Judge Reuben M. Benjamin. Sarah E. Raymond Fitzwilliam also presented the Trotter Memorial Fountain to the City of Bloomington, and Acting Mayor James Costello accepted the fountain on behalf of the City. Florence Funk, granddaughter of the oldest living native born citizen of McLean County, George W. Funk, unveiled the fountain. Water flowed from the fountain on dedication day. Unfortunately, city officials soon realized that the mineral content of the city water caused unsightly yellow stains to appear on the stonework, and the water was shut off for decades. In recent years, modern technology has allowed the city to turn the fountain’s water back on during the summer months.

Lorado Taft interpreted his design of the Trotter Memorial Fountain by saying: “Fountains have always had a peculiar appeal to my imagination. They stand primarily for beauty and refreshment. My studio threatens to become a natatorium, for I have at present four fountains under way. But even this great opportunity granted to me in Chicago and Washington has not given me greater pleasure than the thought of making something for a children’s playground in this central part of Illinois, a region so dear to my heart. Half of the charm of Rome and Florence lies in their picturesque, gurgling, and splashing fountains that make the heat of the summer endurable through their very suggestion of comfort. Every town should have its own visible symbol, a something tangible around which its civic affection may twine. We lack traditions; we owe it to ourselves to make them. I love to address an audience of young people, but think of the sculptor’s privilege in sending a message down the centuries to unborn and unnumbered generations. This is a playground. I want to tell our children and their children that little ones had played here long before we came. This is the privilege of the sculptor’s art, this most enduring of the arts with its hint of eternity, to unite the ages, to reach a grateful hand to the past, and a loving greeting to the future. In this work, I send an affectionate message to all the little people to come.”

For further reading:

“Art Committee at University: Dr. Hieronymus, Lorado Taft, Noted Sculptor, and President Felmley Speak.” The Daily Pantagraph. June 23, 1924.

“Comes Here to Oversee Fountain: Mrs. Fitzwilliam Arrives in the City With Flags and Other Material for Memorial Ceremonies.” The Daily Pantagraph. May 15, 1911.

“Dedicate Memorial Fountain: Lorado Taft, Dr. Frank Gunsaulus, and Adlai E. Stevenson are Speakers at Notable Event.” Chicago Tribune. May 31, 1911.

“Fountain is City’s Heaviest Stone: Granite Block Weighs 22,500 Pounds.”
The Daily Pantagraph. May 27, 1911.

Kemp, Bill. “Trotter Fountain Work of Lorado Taft.” The Daily Pantagraph.
February 10, 2008.

“Lorado Taft is Heard at Normal: Demonstrates Work of Sculptor with Clay and Paper Mache Models.” The Daily Pantagraph. August 12, 1924.

“Lorado Taft to Speak at Normal: Will Lecture Monday Evening at University on Glimpses of a Sculptors’ Studio.” The Daily Pantagraph. August 9, 1924.

“Maker of Trotter Fountain Is Here: Noted Sculptor Talks of the Proposed Memorial in Bloomington and Other Subjects in His Line.” The Daily Pantagraph.
October 19, 1910.

“Pictures Shown of New Fountain for the Withers Park.” The Daily Bulletin. February 16, 1910.

“Programme of Dedication & Unveiling Exercises of Trotter Memorial Fountain in Children’s Playground, Withers Park.” Bloomington, Illinois: May 30, 1911.

Smedley, Gene. “Fountain Promoted Youthful Play.” The Daily Pantagraph.
March 26, 2000.

“Trotter Fountain Here is Among Works of Lorado Taft, Sculptor: Bloomington Friends Mourn Death of Famous Artist Who Died in Chicago.” The Daily Pantagraph. October 30, 1936.

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