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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fountain of Time Inspired by Poetry

Time goes, you say?
Ah no, Alas, time stays, we go.

                          Henry Austin Dobson

Some of the mass of humanity as seen from the middle
 portion of the Fountain of Time on Chicago's South Side.

Benjamin Ferguson was an American lumber merchant and philanthropist who died in 1905, leaving $1 million (about $24.5 million today) that funded seventeen public monuments and sculptures in Chicago.  Under the terms of his trust, the Art Institute of Chicago was given the power to select both subjects and locations of these works.

Taft working on the model, circa 1910.

One of the outstanding projects is known as the "Fountain of Time", or sometimes simply "Time".  It was conceived by Lorado Taft, a sculptor, writer, and educator. It was inspired by the poem "Paradox of Time" by Henry Austin Dobson.  The fountain sculpture shows 100 figures passing before Father Time, in honor of 100 years of peace between the United States and Great Britain as a result of the Treaty of Ghent in 1814.

The entire piece, complete with renovation sign to the right.

The fountain was completed in 1920, but not dedicated to the city until 1922.  It is in the Washington Park community area of Chicago's South Side.  It has gone through several restorations, the most recent was completed in 2005, which corrected much of the problems from the earlier restorations.  It has been nominated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation for funding for further repairs.

Front south view.

Taft originally envisioned it made of granite.  Other plans were to chisel it from marble or make it in bronze.  Taft won the commission in 1907.  As part of his plan for the beautification of the Midway, he proposed a commemoration of the World's Columbian Exposition that was held in 1893.  His alternative theme was the commemoration of the centennial of the Treaty of Ghent.  The second theme was chosen by the Art Institute of Chicago.

Rear north view.

The sculpture was constructed from a new type of molded, steel-reinforced concrete, which was said to be more durable and cheaper than granite, marble, or bronze.  By the time it was to be built, the Beaux Arts style was dated, which led to the trust deciding to allocate funds for a concrete sculpture.  Taft first was paid to produce a full-sized plastic model in 1913, to be evaluated five years later.  He made a quarter-scale model which was approved in 1915.  He eventually completed a full-scale plaster model in 1920.  "Time" was the first art piece to be made of concrete.

View from the east.

Originally, Taft had plans to build a matching sister fountain at the opposite end of the Midway - the "Fountain of Creation" - which was never completed.  Instead the finished parts, which were depictions of figures from the ancient Greek version of the repopulation of the earth after the flood, were given to Taft's alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Two of these four figures, known as the sons and daughters of Deucalion and Pyrrha, stand outside the entrance to the main library, and the other two are on the south side of Foelinger Auditorium.

Father Time before restoration (note that
reflecting pool below figure is empty.)

Measuring about 127 feet long, 23 feet wide, and 24 feet tall, depending on whether the base, reflecting pool, or piece of property it stands on is being measured, the sculpture features a hooded Father Time with a scythe, reviewing a parade of 100 figures representing the entire spectrum of humanity at various stages of life in a procession.  Although the figures are generic representations of people, Taft himself was the model for one of them, wearing a smock, and one of his assistant follows him.  He daughters also served as models.

The likeness of Lorado Taft.

Despite the renovations and repairs that have been made to it, much more are required to keep it a showpiece.  Continuing efforts and endowments are being made.  A testament to a time and era long past, it is hoped that ways and funds will be found to preserve this unique monument.

Images courtesy of Wikipedia.
For more on "Time" and its restoration click here.

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