Sunday, December 23, 2012

Lorado Taft's Dream Museum

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. Taft had always been very interested in art education, and hundreds of sculpture students learned their artistic skills from the master. However, educating students about sculpture was not enough for Taft; he wanted to give them the chance to see and enjoy examples of sculpture in person. Taft also strongly believed in the proper lighting for sculptures. Once when he was lecturing in the Midwest, he observed a perfectly lighted cast of the Venus de Milo. This revelation of the beauty of this masterpiece bathed in proper lighting strengthened his passion: a Dream Museum containing casts of the greatest sculptures of the world arranged in sequence.

One possible site for a Dream 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.

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