Saturday, May 21, 2011

Lambert Tree's Gifts

Count Jacques de Lalaing's "LaSalle"
Corner of Stockton & LaSalle (JWB, 2011)

On October 12, 1889 a group of dignitaries and onlookers gathered at the corner of what is now LaSalle and Stockton to dedicate the statue of Robert Cavelier de LaSalle.   The group included Edward G. Mason, the President of the Chicago Historical Society; William C. Goudy, the President of the Lincoln Park Board, along with the Lincoln Park commissioners; Mr. Edmond Bruwaert, the French Consul in Chicago; and Senator C. B. Farwell.

It was a distinguished group that came together to honor the accomplishments of the French explorer and to express gratitude to the man who had donated the statue. That man, Lambert Tree, was not in attendance.

The secretary of the Lincoln Park Board, Mr. Taylor, began the formalities by reading a letter from Lambert Tree, explaining the reasons for his donation of the statue of LaSalle.

“Gentlemen,” the letter began.  “Recently while residing abroad in an official capacity, I caused to be executed in bronze a statue of Robert Cavelier de La Salle, and my purpose in doing so was that I might on my return home offer it as a gift to Lincoln Park.”

The letter went on to detail the accomplishments of La Salle.  “He unquestionably discovered the Ohio and Illinois rivers, and . . . I think it is beyond controversy that he was the first white man who ever descended [the Mississippi] to its mouth.”

The first view of the great river (JWB, 2011)
Also mentioned was the reason for Lambert Tree’s gift.  “With his [La Salle’s] explorations of the interior of the North American continent the history of the Mississippi valley really begins . . . La Salle therefore belongs as much to our history as to that of France, and it seems appropriate that a monument should be erected to his memory in this proud city of a million people, which stands in the center of the superb country with which his name is so inseparably associated, and on the site of which he camped as early as 1682, when there was not a white man outside of his own small party within a thousand miles of the place.”

Next, the letter reveals the name of the sculptor, Count Jacques de Lalaing, “a Belgian sculptor of distinction.” (President Grover Cleveland had appointed Lambert Tree minister to Belgium in 1885.)  Lalaing depicted La Salle “at a point at which he is supposed to have the first view of one of the rivers which he has the credit of having discovered.”

A second letter was read in which Mr. Goudy, on behalf of the Lincoln Park Board, accepted the statue.  At that point the statue, which had been draped with an American flag, was unveiled “and its appearance was greeted with an enthusiasm which indicated full appreciation.” [Ceremonies Attending the Unveiling of the Statue of Robert Cavelier de La Salle at Lincoln Park, Chicago.  Chicago: Knight & Leonard Co., Printers, 1889.]

The benefactor, Lambert Tree, was quite a guy.  That’s pretty obvious, right?  Not many of us know someone who could say, “Oh, yeah, I just happened to be in Belgium on government business and thought it might be a good idea to commission a piece of sculpture for the city.”

Next week I’ll be writing more about Judge Tree, his life and another of his gifts to the city, Lambert Tree Studios down on State Street.

Before I close this, though, how about taking a nice walk east from the LaSalle statue, under the Lake Shore Drive bridge, and out to the Lakefront path?  Walk north for a mile and a half, and just past the Diversey Harbor inlet, looking to your right, you will find another sculpture that Lambert Tree gave to the people of Chicago.

"A Signal of Peace," another Lambert Tree
gift at Diversey Harbor inlet (JWB, 2011)
“A Signal of Peace” was inspired by Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, which the sculptor, Cyrus E. Dallin, saw when it came to Paris in 1890.  With the show and its depiciton of the American frontier fresh in his mind, Dallin created the work for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.  After the fair Lambert Tree purchased the sculpture and donated it to the people of Chicago.

In a letter concerning the sculpture and the Native Americans it memorializes, Judge Tree wrote, “It is evident there is no future for them, except that they may exist as memory in a sculptor’s bronze or stone or a painter’s canvas.” [Bach, Ira J. and Mary Lackritz Gray.  A Guide to Chicago’s Public Sculpture]

So there you are, two sculptures twelve blocks removed from one another, the man who began the process that would sweep the young warrior at Diversey from the Great Plains forever and that young warrior himself, gifts of a modest man who wanted to give something back to the city he loved.  

No comments: