Illinois Icons: Lorado Taft

Music: Driving, high-tempo violins Music: slow strumming guitar I’m graduating I’m getting my PhD in
nutritional science It’s a beautiful day it’s a fun time
Singing: Hail to the Orange ….
We are taking pictures at Alma
It’s just a really big deal something you’re gonna want to look back on it appreciate
this Every year when everybody graduates they all wait in line to take
pictures with Alma dressed up as we are Alma Mater was really a labor of love
for Lorado Taft Music: acoustic guitar he really put two contradictory things
together there he put something you know that has both a lot of strength but that
is also welcoming his Alma reaches out towards you she’s approachable that
figure is acting when Lorado Taft created the Alma Mater
in 1929 he wanted students to interact with it almost a century later they are
still fulfilling his wish The first time I saw the Alma Mater statue I came up to it I immediately thought it’s a masterpiece it shows a deeply
grounded training someone with a knowledge of the history of art he wanted that statue to be there to
recognize the love he had for the place that had molded him all of his formative
years at the University of Illinois his family was there his father taught there
in 1871 Lorado Taft’s father was hired to teach geology and zoology at the
University his father helped the university plan a
grand art gallery and dozens of plaster casts of classical sculptures were
ordered from Europe however they arrived in pieces
young Laredo helped his father repair the sculptures and it inspired him to
study art he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Illinois in 1880
Lorado Taft was really born with the natural talent as a sculptor Sculptors
like Loredo Taft went to Paris in Paris Taft learned classical sculpture
techniques at the Ecole de Butare students studied the nude human form and
were asked to express its ideal in clay models lavish ornamentation as well as
symmetry wear characteristics of their work you can’t understand the story of
American art if you don’t study Taft Taft left Paris in 1883 and returned
home to Illinois he settled in Chicago and he wanted to stay among his people
of the Midwest helping to create an art scene in Chicago he saw Chicago as a
place where he could step in and really make his way in the world he decided
well if I have to start and build my way up from the ground up he would do so he
did things like death masks wrought iron work decorative reliefs and as the 25th
anniversary of the Civil War came up Music: Banjo a lot of veterans and citizens were
putting out funds to build war memorials Taft was still undiscovered so he went
along for the ride for relatively low wages one of his greatest earliest Civil
War memorials is in Winchester Indiana there’s an extremely complex conical it has
reliefs and freestanding figures He wanted to show off all the skills that
he’d learned in Paris there’s a couple things he did that were
very important for his initial years in Chicago Lorado Taft became a teacher at
the Art Institute of Chicago and he gave a lot of public lectures through that he
was able to gather a following and to work with a lot of other different
artists and poets during the period we called the Chicago Renaissance Chicago in the
1880s was growing faster than every other city in the United States it was
really the World’s Columbian exhibition that brought about a kind of rebirth of
the arts in Chicago starting with the Columbian Exposition Taft started to get
famous it was his first big deal in Chicago it was a moment where Chicago
was really making its mark on the world scene they’d rebuilt the city with these
enormous buildings with sculpture the World’s Fair covered 600 acres Taft was
close friends with Daniel H Burnham who was building the fair Daniel Burnham
made Lorado Taft in charge of all the sculptural decoration of the
architecture everything had to be built very quickly the Columbian Exposition
was far behind schedule so he asked Daniel Burnham if he could possibly have women
assistants so as to make the deadline and Daniel Burnham replied you can use white
rabbits if that’s what it takes to get the job done
Lorado Taft who had been teaching at the Art Institute of Chicago had many
very talented female students He decided that he would hire a number of women
workers to work for him and they called them the white rabbits the women’s press
at the time sent reporters out immediately to report on this
the women were ordering men as assistants around and telling them what
to do he was someone who did make opportunities for women at a time where
other people didn’t women were being encouraged to be an art but in their
right place if you could do the work he would hire you so he hired Italian
Americans German Americans French African Americans and lots of women Taft’s home and studio on Chicago’s South Side was a gathering place for artists from
across the city There Taft connected two barns to create a large work space that
was known as the Midway Studios he was able to produce dozens of monuments
within a fairly short period of time when the project to do Mount Rushmore
came up Lorado Taft was the first person called
he declined the commission he was just very big on getting an art community
going in Chicago Chicago has a proud history in public sculpture and I think
Solitude of the Soul is my favorite Lorado Taft sculpture it shows two
women and two men coming out of the rock backs to each other holding hands but
they’re very independent Lorado Taft really wanted to get at some basic ideas
about no matter how connected we think we are in the end we are separate souls
by that point Taft realized that he didn’t want the kind of detail that was
in Bozarth sculpture and that’s true of The Blind a stunning
sculpture that stops you who have this child who is leading this group of blind
people and child’s eyes see whereas everyone else is clearly blind so Taft
moved away from more traditional sculpture and he realized the expressive
possibilities of abstraction in 1922 Taft created his most ambitious
sculpture to date The Fountain of Time stretches a 126 feet across and
includes over a hundred figures including one of the artist. To keep
costs down he explored the use of new materials The Fountain of Time was the
first piece of art to be created from hollow cast concrete reinforced with
steel Lorado Taft did believe that The Fountain of Time was going to be his
great legacy and one end of the fountain starts with
these figures rising up out of the earth the middle section we have young people
falling in love young men going off to war and then as you go to the far end of
the sculpture you see older ladies and gentlemen descending into the earth so
you have this mobius strip of life and then standing across from it you
have old Father Time as watching this whole thing The Fountain of Time really
is his way to get people thinking about bigger philosophical issues about life
and the passage of time can i tell you my favorite Lorado Taft quote? “One thing
which separates us from our brother animals is the fact that we can send
messages down through the generations we can send greetings to a world unborn
the means by which this is done is art”

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