Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Fountain suffers lash of time

     Chicago is a big place — 234 square miles. Not only is the city big, but there’s a lot of stuff in it: buildings, parks, statues. So nobody can be faulted for missing any one particular thing. No shame there.
     I hope.
     So I was driving aimlessly around Washington Park Saturday, and passed Lorado Taft’s Fountain of Time, a 126-foot long tableau of 100 people plodding along from birth to doom, located at the west end of the Midway Plaisance.
    I pulled over and put on my flashers.
     Maybe you live on the South Side. Maybe you have passed this sprawling display all your life. Maybe, to you, not knowing about Fountain of Time is like not knowing there is a ballpark at the corner of Addison and Clark. You feel like giving a “harrumph” in superiority — go ahead, get it out. A key pleasure of city life is mocking the newbies. That’s what the whole ketchup-on-hot-dogs thing is really about: the joy of belittlement, harder to exercise nowadays without consequences.
     The sculpture is so big it’s hard to photograph. An enormous pool of water with one figure — Father Time, obviously — contemplating the human parade. Huge, yet strangely unimpressive. Maybe I saw it before and then forgot. Parts of its facade are cracked, missing, streaked.
     Blame the Art Institute for it being there, which approved money for the work in 1913, through its administration of the Ferguson Fund.
     “Undoubtedly the largest undertaking ever attempted in sculpture” Taft said. It was supposed to be part of an even larger beautification scheme, a companion Fountain of Creation, just as big, slated for the other end of the Midway.

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  1. My wife is a big fan of fountains. I went online to look at different fountains you might be able to see across Chicago and came upon this one.
    We went to see it on my birthday in 2019 and soon after through happenstance ended up moving to the south side. I see this fountain at least once a week and unfortunately I like it. I like sitting by it. I'll have lunch next to it, but your opinion seems to be more common as I'm almost always there alone

  2. I go past this thing every once in a while. Its existence baffles me. While there's a pool of water in front of it, it's not a fountain. I fail to understand the purpose of it!
    And I remember the Park District paying money not that long ago to repair the failing concrete. So has the repair also failed?

  3. I plead guilty to not being aware of it. Thank you Neil for bringing it to my attention as it is a part of Chicago history.
    Like it or not, the theme is depressing and with its constant erosion, even more so.
    Like all art, sculptures are meant to evoke emotion. There right or wrong places for everything.
    A public park where people go to escape the challenges of everyday life, maybe this wasn’t the right location. Whoever said it was better suited for a cemetery was right.

  4. Sometimes being a tasteless philistine has its advantages. I've always appreciated (I guess "liked" might be the wrong word) that sculpture. I don't really blame Mr. Taft for the fact that it has not aged well, due to monetary considerations requiring the concrete.

    While I understand the cemetery dig, it sits in a monumental space that is more than capable of hosting a monumental sculpture. I would disagree with the notion that the only appropriate place to contemplate the march of time and the fleeting nature of a human life with regard to the big picture is in a cemetery, though.

    What I don't quite get (see: philistine) is why this interesting, impressive sculpture gets subjected to ridicule, while, by simply flipping the page in today's edition of the Sun-Times, one finds the freaking Art Institute lions treated like gods...

  5. Born and raised in Chicago and its suburbs and lived there for 36 years. I've been aware of this sculpture's existence since childhood, but I've seen it exactly once, sometime in the Eighties, on the way home from the University of Chicago Folk Festival.

    It was a Sunday in midwinter...late January or early February...and the sculpture looked pretty cool, mainly because of all the snow on it. That falling and accumulating snow probably hid the erosion, and any missing noses.

    In the years since, I've pretty much forgotten about it. Now I wish I hadn't, because I could've made a slight detour last month and showed it to my wife. She's a Cleveland native, and she's lived here all her life, except during college. She knows about many things, but not much about Taft, or his work. I think she would have liked it. Thanks for the reminder, Mister S.

  6. Somehow brings to mind Shelley's "Ozymandias." "...round the decay of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare, The lone and level sands stretch far away."
    A symbol of artistic overreaching.


  7. Neil, as a U Chgo alum and Hyde Park resident for 10 years back in the day, this massive public sculpture became a familiar site. (As a south sider, I have to admit being flummoxed when I saw the big baseball at Thillens stadium for the first time.) Now I'll tell you a little story about a big piece of public statuary own at the east end of the Midway. Just go all the way down, past Carl von Linné in front of Harper Library, and gawk at the giant representation of Thomas Garrigue Masaryk astride a bronze horse. It's quite imposing; a far superior work of art to that bizarre Confederate officer on a horse next to I-64 by Nashville that was recently removed, finally.

    In 1977 and 1978 I lived in the home of a U Chgo law school professor, up in the 3rd floor former servants' quarters, as a sort of house boy, cutting the grass, feeding the dog, and watching the place when he was at U of Coral Gables during winter semester or when they were in Wisconsin for the summer. They used to have big dinner parties with guests like Milton Freidman and George Schultz, and had marvelous stories of Hyde Park days past. Well, Mrs. B___ told me one day, after I'd mentioned the Masaryk monument: "I worked on the nose."

    So now you are 2 Kevin-Bacon degrees away from someone who helped produce a public sculpture on the Midway, whose rider stares some 4,400 feet to the west at the back of a mystic hooded figure in Taft's masterpiece.

  8. I think that, to be fair to Mr. Taft, we might want to judge the quality of his work by what it looked like originally, and not after 100 years of weathering, which at minimum has probably blurred or eliminated a lot of fine details over the past century, leaving an image that's now sort of... rounded-off all over. Without comparison to past photos, I doubt that we even know what's missing.

    Gutzon Borglum's Mount Rushmore project has had its own share of weathering and damage over the years, requiring steady maintenance since Day 1. A sizeable display in the tourist center there is devoted to showing repairs and preservation methods, and how they've evolved over the years.

    Mr. Borglum's previous project was Stone Mountain in Georgia, commemorating Confederate war heroes, and questions today are more along the lines of whether to remove it than what's needed to preserve it.

    Me, I'm always interested in seeing huge artistic works like those, regardless of the politics of the time, either past or present. I'm hoping to be around long enough to see the Crazy Horse Memorial develop into something resembling its final shape.

  9. If I might ask. why were you wandering aimlessly around Washington park? And why didn't you stop by to meet the goats. There are chickens now as well

    1. I was there. I thought I'd look around. What goats?

  10. I live at 71st and Woodlawn The neighborhoods called pockettown. It's kind of jammed in between Grand junction and the Woodlawn neighborhood. Right behind the cemetery We got goats in the yard. We've been raising them and breeding them and now we got chickens too. And if you're ever in the neighborhood and you'd like cold glass of tea or lemonade, feel free to stop by. I'm in your email. Q. From having emailed back and forth a few times I'm

    1. Did I know about the goats? I like goats. Like cats with horns. I could see a column about keeping goats in the city.

    2. Back in the 70s, I knew a guy who had a goat farm in DeKalb County. He sold the milk to mothers who needed it, and I think he made cheese. They seemed like nice creatures. The only problems I encountered were the smells and the flies. Goats do not smell all that great. It's mostly due to bad breath and elimination habits. Also, because of the nature of the beast, the farm attracted great swarms of those pesky buzzing insects. Wouldn't the odor and the flies lead to problems from the city? Just wondering.

    3. I'm sure it smells , like a farm. much like dogs or other pets , You need to keep them and the place clean. it is a lot of work but it needs to be done. I can't imagine it would be that interesting but if you want to come by the wife and I would be happy to share. the new arrival of young chicks is an exciting addition to the homestead


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