Friday, November 15, 2013

Fountain of Time Dedicated -- November 15, 1922

The Fountain of Time by Lorado Taft (JWB Photo)
On this date in 1922 Lorado Taft’s monumental sculptural piece The Fountain of Time was presented to the public in a formal ceremony at the west end of the Midway plaisance at Cottage Grove Avenue.  Charles L. Hutchinson, the president of the B. F. Ferguson fund, made the principal speech of the day.  John Burton Payne, the president of the fund’s board also spoke as did the sculptor and the president of the University of Chicago, Dr. Harry Pratt Judson.

The sculptural group consists of a 120-foot long fountain with a figure of Time in human form, watching from the east side of the fountain as a procession of humans parades before him to the west.  Explaining his inspiration for the work, Lorado Taft said:

A vagrant line or two of Austin Dobson’s once made a great impression on me –

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

The words brought before me a picture which speedily transformed fancy into a colossal work of sculpture.  I saw the mighty crag-like figure of 
time . . . leaning on his staff, his chin upon his hand, and watching with cynical, inscrutable gaze the endless march of humanity – a majestic relief of marble I saw it, swinging in a wide circle around the form of the lone sentinel and made up of the shapes of hurrying men and women and children in endless procession, ever impelled by the winds of destiny in the inexorable lock-step of the ages.  Theirs the fateful forward movement which has not ceased since time began.  But in that crowded concourse, how few detach themselves from the greyness of the dusky caravan!  How few there are who even lift their heads!  Here an over-taxed body falls – and a place is vacant for a moment; there a strong man turns to the silent, shrouded reviewer and with lifted arms utters the cry of the old-time gladiators:  “Hail Caesar, we who go to our death sault thee” – and presses forward.  [Lorado Taft’s “Fountain of Time Done in Concrete by John J. Earley: A Triumph in Application of Concrete to the Uses of Art.  Concrete, Vol. 21.  December, 1922.

Time stays; we go . . . (JWB Photo)
As the sculptor indicated in the above explanation the plan originally was to execute the huge work in marble, but the $300,000 price tag proved formidable and kept the project from moving beyond a small plaster model for years.  Discovery of a relatively new process involving the use of a specially prepared concrete reduced the cost of the project to $45,000.

Named the Earley method for its originator, John Joseph Earley, himself a sculptor, the process uses aggregate in the concrete mix that is no larger than three-eights of an inch and requires the percentage of cement in the mix to be at an absolute minimum on the final surface of the piece.  The process saved a whole bunch of money, but Chicago winters have their way with concrete and the most recent renovation of the piece in 1999 required over a million-and-a-half dollars.

The Fountain of Time was just the beginning of a massive sculptural continuum that would have swept along the Midway plaisance from east to west.  The Fountain of Creation was originally supposed to have faced toward the Fountain of Time, standing just west of the Illinois Central viaduct on the plaisance.  That sculpture would have used the myth of Deucalion and his wife, Pyrrha, as they stepped out of their boat on the top of Mount Parnassus, the only mortals saved by Zeus after the flood that destroyed humanity.  The sculpture would have depicted the moment when the stones that the two survivors were directed to throw behind them began to turn into men and women.

Just The Fountain of Time saw completion, though, and it is a most impressive piece of work as it assays the value of human life on the edge of Washington Park.

The concrete aggregate from the Potomac River lends texture
to the surface of the sculpture (JWB Photo)

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