Monday, June 14, 2010

The Lily Pool

If there is an intersection in the city where there are more cars running red lights than the intersection of Fullerton and Cannon Drive at the north entrance to Lincoln Park Zoo, I'd like to hear about it.  On a sunny weekend, the place is jammed with joggers, bikers, roller bladers, families headed for the zoo, and impatient motorists.  

More than once, I've watched the crossing guards simply give up and return to the sidewalk with their hands on their hips, watching chaos beyond their control.  It's a good case study for those who have Palinized themselves into believing that the less government intervention in our daily lives, the better we all will be.

Steps away from the mayhem, though, there is a half-hidden entrance to a place of quiet and meditative peacefulness.  Once you pass into the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool, all the noise fades away and you are alone in the quiet of your own thoughts.

The north entrance to the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool (Bartholomew Photo)


Sally A. Kitt Chappell describes the entrance to the Lily Pool in Chicago's Urban Nature, writing "Handsome as the pool's Prairie School gateway is, it scarcely prepares you for the vista that opens beyond.  The clear waters of the lagoon sparkle, golden light filters through the leafy canopy overhead; the reflections and shadows of the trees dapple surfaces everywhere -- especially enlivening the stratified limestone of the edges, pathways, and the cascade."

The Lily Pool, looking south from Fullerton entrance (Bartholomew Photo)


Alfred Caldwell's design for the garden is as much geology lesson as it is nature walk.  Limestone ledges throughout the space speak of a time when an inland sea covered the midwest.  When it receded, great layers of limestone were left behind.

The Lily Pond's limestone strata with flowering crab (Bartholomew Photo)


Then the glaciers came and went, scouring the landscape, piling rock upon rock, their meltwaters cutting through the limestone and forming pools.  The "river" that flows through the garden mimics the glacial waters that cut their way through the limestone remnants of the ancient seas.  A "waterfall" on the northwestern end of the site serves as the river's source.

The headwaters (Bartholomew Photo)

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in Self-Reliance, "It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude."  The Prairie style pavilion reminds me of that observation.

The pavilion is both apart and a part of its surroundings.  A city of nearly three million people lies only yards away.  Yet, here, in a natural environment that denies that fact, civilization exists in the form of the low pavilion which hugs the limestone outcropping on which it stands and makes the tall birch tree behind it seem even more grand.  

 Alfred Caldwell's pavilion with white birch (Bartholomew Photo)

In the midst of the crowded city the pavilion allows the individual to become a part of nature and keep the independence of solitude.  

Toward the south end of the Lily Pool, there is the council ring, homage to Caldwell's mentor, Jens Jensen, one of those larger-than-life figures who designed Lincoln, Columbus and Douglas Parks in Chicago, helped to preserve the Indiana Dunes and almost single-handedly changed the focus of landscape design in the United States to a more naturalistic approach.

In his interview as part of the Oral Histories Project at the Art Institute of Chicago, Caldwell told of the origin of the council ring.  "Jensen invented it," Caldwell said. "This is how. He stayed over in one of his very wealthy client’s mansions. In the morning the servants led him to a table and he had his breakfast. He looked and he said they had wine glasses and a tray up above. It was part of the equipment at the dining room table. He looked at them, and the wine glasses were arranged around in a circle. He thought that was a fantastic form, the circle of water glasses. You’d see the bottom of it and then the top like this. He said, 'That goes around, and around, and around like that. I thought we could make that in a garden, that would be a wonderful place for people to gather, sit around and have a fire in the middle. Finally I got firmly in my mind the idea of making the council rings. I just loved it, I love to make them.'" 

Alfred Caldwell's tribute to Jens Jensen, the council ring (Bartholomew Photo)


At various times in his long career Alfred Caldwell worked with and for the great names in twentieth century architecture and design -- Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, Jens Jensen, Ludwig Hilberseimer, and Craig Ellwood.  

Dennis Domer in Alfred Caldwell:  The Life and Work of a Prairie School Landscape Architect has appraised these relationships, both personal and professional, writing, ". . . all of them recognized his great understanding of nature, his superb drawing ability, knowledge of construction, experience in building, and capacity to envision vast open spaces.  At one time or another, they all sought to bring him into their employ or under their influence, and they fought to keep him. . . Caldwell was the hidden glue that sustained modern design, and he has never gotten his due."

 The Pavilion, Looking North (Bartholomew Photo)

Head on over to the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond sometime soon.  Leave the city behind.  And find one of those rare places that contains the hidden glue that will ultimately sustain us.




1 comment:

Jill said...

Just love this beautiful spot in the big city. Great Pictures.