Studies to begin this summer on how to repair Black Hawk

Funds secured to repair 102-year-old Taft artwork

By Vinde Wells, Editor, Oregon Republican Reporter (online)

June 13, 2013, Volume 163, Number 26

Studies will be done this summer on how best to repair Oregon’s best known landmark.

Chris McCloud, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) said Tuesday that IDNR officials have selected an architectural firm to examine and document the damage and needed repairs to the 102-year-old Black Hawk statue.

“The architectural firm chosen has expertise in artistic projects,” McCloud said.

He said the firm will submit a report of its findings to the IDNR by fall, and repair work is slated to begin in the spring of 2014.

The statue is located at Lowden State Park and is under the jurisdiction of the IDNR.

McCloud said all of the funding has been secured for the project.  Although he did not have an exact amount, the cost of the restoration has been previously estimated at $625,000.

The ravages of time and weather have caused the statue to crack, and large pieces of its concrete surface have dislodged.  The folded arms of the 50-foot-monolith have been especially affected.

More than half the money for the project came from a $350,000 grant the IDNR received from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

The rest came from donations, as well as some funds raised during the annual Oregon Trail Days festival held at Lowden State Park since 2010.

A large contributor was the Jeffris Family Foundation, Janesville, Wis., which gave a $150,000 matching grant.

Frank Rausa, a member of The Friends of the Blackhawk Statue Committee, said in January that the architectural firm will conduct extensive physical testing and examination of the statue.

A laser scanning will provide a permanent record of the statue and include drawings, plans, and elevations of the statue for use in the current restoration and in future years, Rausa said.

Physical testing and concrete samples will be taken from the statue to determine the extent of deterioration since the statue was last examined five years ago.

These concrete samples will be subjected to a petrographic examination and materials testing in order to develop repair materials that are historically compatible, Rausa said.

Created by sculptor Lorado Taft in 1911 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the statue is located on a 125-foot bluff overlooking the Rock River north of Oregon.  It draws 400,000 visitors a year, tourism officials say.

Lorado Taft’s mystery ship

I pride myself on my sleuthing abilities.  I’ve had a blast hunting down Lorado Taft sculptures around the country and uncovering details.  But there’s one Lorado Taft mystery I probably won’t be able to solve.

In my research, I learned a little bit about Liberty Ships, called the “ugly ducklings” of World War II.


The Libertys were built to carry cargo, but their simple design made them adaptable for many uses by both the Army and the Navy: troop transports, hospital ships, repair ships, net tenders, even mule carriers.  Later, some performed radar picket duty during cold war operations.  The Navy’s last Liberty ship hauled down her flag early in 1972.  By the time the Liberty program was completed, more than 2700 ships were built.  They were designated an EC2 in the Maritime Commission’s nomenclature of vessel types (E for Emergency, C for Cargo, 2 for large capacity).  The EC2 design was selected because of its simplicity and adaptability to mass-production methods.  And to speed things up even more, the Maritime Commission replaced the traditional riveted construction with welding – a fairly new process and still unaccepted by many naval architects, shipbuilders and shipowners in 1941.  Considering the hazards of wartime operations, losses were not excessive.  A total of 195 Libertys were lost to torpedoes, mines, explosions, collisions, strandings, or other hazards of the sea.  The US Post Office even created a stamp commemorating these little workhorses.


But, you may ask, what does this have to do with Lorado Taft?  This isn’t even in my book, because I discovered it after the book was published.  But one of those 2700-some Liberty Ships was named the SS Lorado Taft!  How did this happen?  Somewhere in the Maritime Commission a committee was set up to organize a naming system.  It established categories and selected names from them – authors, college presidents, Indians, senators and congressmen, prominent African-Americans, and doctors, among others … and artists.  The idea was to name ships for people who were dead, and Taft had died in 1936.  So who nominated Taft’s name for this honor?  That’s what I want to know.

I tried to dig deeper into this question.  I learned that the SS Lorado Taft was built by the Todd-Houston Shipbuilding Corporation in Houston, Texas, in 1944.  I can tell you its tonnage, and its dimensions.  I can tell you when it was laid down; when it was launched, and how many times it shipped to foreign ports.  I know that it was scrapped in Philadelphia in 1966.  But I can’t tell you who suggested Taft’s name.  I know that the nominating party had to contribute $2 million in war bonds for the naming opportunity.  But I also read that school children who took part in a national scrap-metal salvage campaign were invited to suggest names.  And that’s as far as I can get.  Until someone invents a time machine, I guess I’ll have to leave it there.

Taft’s Michigan-Gettysburg Connection

In 1889 Taft designed several monuments for Gettysburg, and they have a direct connection to Michigan.  Below is the monument to the 5th Michigan Infantry, on Sickles Avenue.

Next is the monument to the 3rd Michigan Infantry (located in the Peach Orchard). Look at the low-relief detail Taft incorporated into this design.

Following is the 4th Michigan Infantry monument (on DeTrobriand Avenue). I believe this soldier is a likeness of Colonel Harrison Jeffords, who was killed by a bayonet while trying to save the regimental colors from falling to the ground as the troops were forced into retreat.  And here’s the interesting Michigan connection.

I recently discovered another Civil War monument designed by Taft and located on the Hillsdale College campus in Hillsdale, about 30 miles southwest of Jackson, Michigan.  It was sculpted in 1895 and commissioned by the Alpha Kappa Phi Literary Society to honor the 4th Michigan Infantry!

I’m assuming that the low-relief panel on the front depicts General Lee surrendering to General Grant.

Hillsdale was widely known as an abolitionist college, and its record of sending young men to fight in the Union army was truly remarkable. Over the course of the war, Hillsdale sent as many men into the ranks of the Union army as did the undergraduate programs at the much larger University of Michigan. Hillsdale can claim having sent more than 500 students into the Union armies; among this group were three generals, three colonels, five lieutenant colonels, and three Congressional Medal of Honor winners. In the 1880s, the college newspaper estimated that more than 200 of Hillsdale’s student soldiers died during the conflict.

One unit that contained an especially significant number of Hillsdale students was the 4th Michigan Volunteer Infantry – the same group Taft commemorated in his monument at Gettysburg!  Company E of that regiment was comprised solely of volunteers from Hillsdale, Michigan, many of them coming from the college. The 4th Michigan was in the 5th Corps of the Army of the Potomac, and saw action in many of the most devastating battles in the Eastern Theater. Of the many battles in which they participated, the men of the 4th Michigan saw perhaps their greatest test of courage on July 2, 1863, in the Wheatfield at Gettysburg – where they are commemorated by Taft’s other monument.

The Hillsdale dedication reads, “to the memory of our heroic dead who fell in defense of the Union.”  Also attached is a list of the hundreds of members of the AKP Literary Society who served in that bloody conflict.

I found much of my information from a speech given by Hans Zeiger in 2005, on “Hillsdale and the American Republic” (  He points out that, “at Gettysburg, 174 out of the 300 soldiers of the Fourth Infantry were killed, wounded, or captured.”  He cites a June 1864 editorial in the Detroit Advertiser and Tribune that commended Hillsdale College for its courageous representation in the Union cause.  The young men of Hillsdale, it said, “have watered with their blood every battlefield of the Republic,” and their patriotic service earned them an honor high above any honor that a college can grant.  The American Republic was at stake, and Hillsdale College mustered its deepest reserves of valor to defend it.”

For more information about these brave soldiers, read Arlan K. Gilbert’s Hillsdale Honor: The Civil War Experience (Hillsdale, MI: Hillsdale College Press, 1994).

Near East Side resident’s goal: Salvage sculpture or bust

By  Allison Ward 
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH Friday March 29, 2013 10:52 AM

This article was copied directly from the Columbus Dispatch website:

Amid pallets of smashed beer and soft-drink cans at an East Side scrap yard, the bronze bust looked out of place.
Daryl Traylor knew neither the subject nor the sculptor, but the part-time waiter and antiques “ picker” thought the piece would fit nicely with the antiques displayed in his Near East Side apartment.
So he bought it for $125.

“I felt it had more historical significance than scrap bronze,” said Traylor, 43.

He has learned that the patina-covered sculpture depicts vaudeville comic Ralph Bingham and was made in 1929 by Chicago artist Lorado Taft.

Taft, according to Melissa Wolfe of the Columbus Museum of Art, was “a pre-eminent American sculptor” known for large civic pieces.

He was born in 1860, studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and at the University of Illinois, and rose to prominence during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

That city’s Washington Park is home to his Fountain of Time, a 110-foot-long grouping of statues. Taft died in 1936.

“He was central to the Chicago art world,” said Wolfe, museum curator of American art. “He was really well-thought-of as a teacher. He still has a national reputation, but he is thought of as conservative.”

Anyone who has walked through a big memorial park, she said, has probably seen a Taft work — perhaps without knowing who made it.

Indeed, Traylor has photos of himself outside the Art Institute of Chicago, in front of Fountain of the Great Lakes. Only recently did he discover that Taft designed the fountain.

Robert La France, curator of pre-modern art at the Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois, knew of the Bingham bust but thought it was lost. He was heartened when Traylor called about it.“We were about to lose this piece of art,” he said. “I’m glad he saved it.”

La France, who inspected the 27-inch-tall sculpture during a recent visit to Columbus, was pleasantly surprised.

“It looks 100 percent right; it’s in very good condition.”

A friend of Traylor’s, Ryan Williams, found the sculpture at the scrap yard as he dropped off building materials.

“It was curious,” Williams said, “just the juxtaposition of it.”

He took photos and showed them to Traylor, who bought the sculpture from the person who had taken it to Sims Brothers Recycling and Processing. The scrap-yard manager declined to comment about the sculpture.

Traylor said the previous owner told him that the bust had been found in a crawlspace of an old house in Westerville.

“(He said) it was his drinking buddy — he put a cowboy hat on it,” Traylor recalled with a laugh. “He had it for years. His wife just got tired of looking at it.”

A plaque on the front of the sculpture reads: “Ralph Bingham, 1870-1925, Founder of the International Lyceum and Chautauqua Association.”

During the early 1900s, the association sponsored lectures, theater shows and other educational programs at which Bingham performed.

According to the Krannert Museum, the last known whereabouts of the bust was the International Platform Association in Westerville, a descendant of the Lyceum and Chautauqua Association.

Although she doesn’t recall the piece, Emily Warner — who now lives in Colorado Springs, Colo. — said it could have been in her father’s office at the Platform Association when he was the group’s executive secretary in the 1950s. The Westerville association disbanded about 1960. Traylor said he doesn’t know the value of the bust because Taft’s pieces are usually in public places and don’t often come up for auction.

La France said the Krannert Musuem has several Taft busts but that other museums might be interested in acquiring it.

If not, Traylor said, he’ll keep it on a pedestal in a corner of his living room.

“I just love it,” he said. “It makes me feel good I saved it.”


The long and the short of Taft’s Longfellow bust

For fans of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, this is a busy time of year.  They can commemorate his birthday (February 27, 1807) or his death (March 24, 1882).  Or both!

That’s what the UI Class of 1907 did when they hired Lorado Taft to create a marble bust of Longfellow as their class gift to the University of Illinois.  Although it’s been moved around a few times within the university library, it’s still in the building, now in the Literature and Languages Library, Room 225.

W.P. Trent, who wrote an address for the dedication ceremony (printed in the July 1907 Alumni Quarterly), said:  “…no one will dispute the propriety of the presentation of this bust of Longfellow to an institution of learning. There are people who pretend that Longfellow is not a great poet, but I know of no one who contends that he is not in many ways a true and eminent representative of the culture a university exists to spread. Not only was he a teacher in two colleges for a period covering almost a quarter of a century, but was probably the most important link for two generations between the culture of the old world and that of the new. Merely, then, as a teacher, lecturer, critic, and translator, whose home was in New England from which emigrated so many of the pioneers of the Northwest that is honoring him today, Longfellow would be worthy of this bust which a distinguished sculptor, an alumnus of this University has fashioned, and which the class of 1907 is presenting as a tribute of its affection to its alma mater.”

This 29-inch-tall bust was probably begun early in Taft’s career, perhaps while he was studying at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts or while a student in Urbana.  The finished marble piece was exhibited at the Art Institute in 1908 and then, many years later, at the 1983 retrospective exhibition at the Krannert Art Museum.  According to Allen Weller (who wrote the catalog for this show): “Taft exhibited a plaster portrait bust of Longfellow in the so-called First Champaign Salon of 1884, which he organized on his return from Paris….  It is not known whether [the finished bust] is a reworking of the portrait made 24 years earlier, but the broad style and simple surfaces make this seem unlikely….  Taft never saw the American poet and obviously worked from photographs, but the turn of the head, the largeness of treatment, and the vividness of the expression give it a vital quality” (page 18).

For some reason, Muriel Scheinman, who assembled a guide to art at the University of Illinois, omitted this bust from her book.  However, in her dissertation she wrote: “Longfellow, self-confident, with a piercing and perhaps visionary gaze, is rendered in a dry, generalized manner…” (page 51).

I’m more inclined to agree with Scheinman than with Weller.  For me, Taft’s bust of Thomas Gilbert from 1895 shows much more personality and energy.  But then, Longfellow was described as a “gentle, placid, poetic soul: an image perpetuated by his brother Samuel Longfellow, who wrote an early biography that specifically emphasized these points. As James Russell Lowell said, Longfellow had an “absolute sweetness, simplicity, and modesty” (Wikipedia biography,

Here is an amazing albumen print of Longfellow by British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.  No image could have captured his spirit more vividly, and he certainly doesn’t look gentle and placid to me!

The Wikipedia biography also points out that, although Longfellow was the most popular poet of his day and is generally regarded as the most distinguished poet the country had produced, his popularity rapidly declined, beginning shortly after his death and into the 20th century as academics began to appreciate poets like Walt Whitman, Edwin Arlington Robinson, and Robert Frost. In the 20th century, literary scholar Kermit Vanderbilt noted, “Increasingly rare is the scholar who braves ridicule to justify the art of Longfellow’s popular rhymings.”  20th century poet Lewis Putnam Turco concluded “Longfellow was minor and derivative in every way throughout his career… nothing more than a hack imitator of the English Romantics.” Could it be that Taft was one of those people who was not that impressed with Longfellow and gave the project only cursory focus?

Following Longfellow’s death, numerous statues emerged.  Here’s a stunning one by Sir Thomas Brock, K.C.B., R.A., that sits in the Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey (1884). (Photograph by Jacqueline Banerjee, 2011)

Here’s one by Edmonia Lewis from when Longfellow was still alive, 1872, from the National Museum in Liverpool.  She not only designed it but sculpted it herself. Another version, also by Lewis, is in the collection of Harvard University.  (Harvard has another bust of Longfellow, by Hiram Powers, from 1869.)

Portland, Maine, which is Longfellow’s birthplace, has a full-sized piece that stands in Longfellow Square.  This is much more the quality I would have expected from Taft.  (But then, the Class of 1907 commissioned only a bust, and probably had very little money to pay, at that.)  The Portland piece was designed by Maine sculptor Franklin Simmons (1839-1913) shortly after the poet’s death and was installed in September of 1888.  Here we see an academically robed and bearded Longfellow seated and facing the downtown with his right arm resting on the back of the chair and a scroll in his left.  Three bronze books are placed under his chair.  The sculpture was funded by pennies, nickels, and dimes donated by New England children.  Every year as the holidays approach, Longfellow can be found wearing a long red scarf and holding a wrapped present.

Interestingly, Taft included Simmons in his History of American Sculpture, Supplementary Chapter: 1923.  He wrote: “New men have appeared, men of just as convincing talent and ever-increasing skill.  The world grows old and grows young again!”  He went on to refer to Simmons’ “almost legendary career.”  (page 538)

My visit to the Taft archives to read correspondence regarding the Class of 1907 commission was not successful.  The file contains only a bill in the amount of $300 from the Piccirilli Brothers of New York “for the carving in Italian statuary marble of the Longfellow bust.”  I hope you can visit the bust yourselves and make your own impression.  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Black Hawk restoration could begin by 2014!!

Good news!!  An article from the online edition of the January 31 Oregon Republican Reporter, written by editor Vinde Wells, reports that $580,000 has been collected toward the restoration of Lorado Taft’s “Eternal Indian” statue.  The text of her article is provided below.

The 102-year-old Black Hawk statue may soon be getting a much-needed facelift.

Frank Rausa, a member of the Friends of the Black Hawk Statue committee, announced January 27 that the organization has reached 92.8 percent of the estimated $625,000 needed to restore the statue.

“The Jeffris Family Foundation, Janesville, Wis., awarded our group a $150,000 matching grant and the grant provides a 50 percent match for all contributions received since July 2012,” said Rausa in a press release.

With the grants, donations, and pledges received in the past five years since 2008, Rausa said “there is light at the end of the tunnel and we’re hopeful to collect the remaining $45,000 within the next six months!”

The statue is located in Lowden State Park and under the jurisdiction of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Robert Appleman, operations officer for the IDNR’s Office of Architecture, Engineering and Grants, said more than half of the money will come from a $350,000 grant the IDNR received from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

“We are working to put together a project that uses state and local funding,” he said Tuesday.

The money will come from local donations received as well as funds raised during the annual Oregon Trail Days festival held at Lowden Park since 2010.

Appleman said that the statue is currently in the “Design and Engineering” stage of the restoration process and the IDNR is in the process of selecting an architectural and engineering firm to oversee the restoration.

Once a firm is selected, extensive physical testing and examination will occur on the statue.  A laser scanning will provide a permanent record of the statue and include drawings, plans, and elevations of the statue for use in the current restoration and in future years.

Physical testing and concrete samples will be taken from the statue to determine the extent of deterioration since the statue was last examined five years ago.

These concrete samples will be subjected to a petrographic examination and materials testing in order to develop repair materials that are historically compatible, Rausa said.

“And lastly, mockups of the statue will be constructed until an acceptable concrete mix has been developed that matches, as closely as possible, the type, color, and texture of the concrete used when the statue was constructed in 1911,” Rausa said.  “Hopefully, restoration can begin in the summer of 2014 or sooner.”

Appleman said the materials and process used in the restoration are temperature sensitive, which means the work will need to be done during the warmer months of the year.

Rausa said donations are still needed.

“Anyone wishing to make a donation to help us obtain the $45,000 needed to realize our final goal of $625,000, can make a tax deductible donation to the Illinois Conservation Foundation, One Natural Resources Way, Springfield, IL 62702 and be sure to write in the memo field of your check ‘Black Hawk Statue’.”

Created by sculptor Lorado Taft in 1911 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the statue needs the repairs due to the ravages of weather and time.  The 48-foot-tall landmark is located on a 125-foot bluff overlooking the Rock River north of Oregon.  It draws 400,000 visitors a year, tourism officials say.

Here is the link to Vinde Wells’ article:

Taft’s “cheat sheet” – the portrait of Stephen Moulton Babcock

This week I finally got to Madison to locate the bronze plaque of Dr. Stephen Moulton Babcock that Taft sculpted in 1934.  It is located in the east entryway to the original Biochemistry Building on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

Who was Dr. Babcock?  I certainly have to ask after looking at his charming portrait.  One thing that is common among all of Taft’s portrait busts and plaques is the absence of any clue to the person’s profession (apart from the descriptive words, of course — and in this case, the words aren’t that much help).  There are never any props!  So to the internet I went, and what a story I found!  Most of the information that follows is taken pretty much verbatim from a 2007 website celebrating the 75-year history of Babcock House on the UW-M campus,

Babcock graduated from Tufts College in 1866 and received a Ph.D. from the University of Göttingen, Germany, in 1879.  After working as a teacher and chemist in New York, he joined the staff of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he was professor of agricultural chemistry from 1887 to 1913 and remained for the next 43 years. He was also chief chemist of the Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station.

Upon his arrival Babcock immediately began experimenting with what would become his most famous work, measuring the butterfat content of milk.  (Milk production in the U.S. increased 900% in 30 years in large part because of the Babcock Test and the stock breeding data it gave for establishing the development of the five major dairy breeds.) But his work didn’t end after his invention of the butterfat test. In 1903, he developed and perfected the “cold storage” method of curing cheese. Later, his “hidden hunger” experiments on the nutritional needs of cattle, or simply, feeding cattle solely one type of grain, paved the way for the science of nutrition and the discoveries of Vitamins A and D by McCollum and Steenbock, respectively. Finally, Babcock perfected an apparatus using Pasteur’s procedures for a complete pasteurization of milk.

In other words, Babcock’s discoveries essentially allowed for the modernization of Wisconsin’s dairy industry.  As of the 2007 article, the Wisconsin dairy industry contributed $20.6 billion dollars to the state economy and directly employed 160,000 people, in large part allowing a recent 7th place ranking nationwide for Wisconsin’s state economy.

Interestingly, Babcock felt that he should derive no personal gain from his butterfat testing device — his most famous invention — and no patent was taken out. He also refused to take a cent for anything else he did that might benefit humanity.

(Online articles tantalizingly mentioned the “Babcock hollyhock” – at one point named as Madison’s official flower.  According to the following image, I’m assuming that he obtained seeds in Israel, brought them to Madison, propagated them, and gave them to his friends.  An incomplete story still waiting for a conclusion!)

 The website article went on to describe Babcock’s personality.  He was an avid fan of UW sports and attended every home football, basketball, and baseball game during his tenure at Madison, armed with bags of peanuts or popcorn. He hated the newly invented telephone and refused to have one in his home or office.  When the university demanded he install one in his office, he left it off the hook until reprimanded.  After that, he just didn’t hear it when it rang….

His nickname was “The Laughing Saint of Science.”  His obituary in the Milwaukee Journal (July 2, 1931) read:  “When he first came to Wisconsin his laboratory was on the fourth floor of old South hall, and Dean Henry of the college of agriculture had his office on the first floor. Babcock’s laugh so disturbed Henry on the first floor that the latter sought to have Babcock hold his mirth within bounds. But Henry found that could not be done and, like a sensible man, he soon learned to enjoy himself by entering into the true spirit of Babcock’s jovial nature.”

In my book I reprinted an article Taft wrote in 1899 entitled “Dreams and Death Masks,” in which he complains of having to recreate a person’s personality in his sculpture after the person is dead.  “A ghastly [death] mask, a retouched photograph or two and a necktie may be all that is left, but a ‘speaking likeness’ is required,” he said. (p.14)

Taft was commissioned to sculpt a plaque to honor Babcock in 1934, but Babcock had died in 1931 (at the age of 87).  So to create Babcock’s plaque Taft was faced with the same old challenge – creating a likeness without a living model.  To Taft’s advantage was the fact that Babcock’s discoveries had generated a great deal of publicity.  The University of Wisconsin archives (now online and called the “Wisconsin Electronic Reader” – have posted several photos that Taft could have referred to. Here are a couple:

I doubt Taft would have had many excuses to visit Madison.  Is it possible that Babcock might have visited the Eagle’s Nest Art Colony, being only 80 miles straight south?  Babcock had finally purchased a car at the age of 78, and he and his wife loved to explore country roads.  We’ll never know.
One possible connection could have been Thomas Chamberlin, who was president of the university in the late 1880s.  He had been influential in convincing Babcock to come to Madison in 1887.  Taft also crafted a bust of Chamberlin, but this was done in 1915, after Chamberlin had left his post as president in 1892 and taken the job of head of the Dept. of Geology at the University of Chicago.  Chamberlin was very much alive when Taft created his bust; it is located in Rosenwald Hall on the University of Chicago campus.  Here’s a picture of Chamberlin with Babcock and Dean Henry, plus a photo of Chamberlin’s bust.  Could Chamberlin have introduced Taft to Babcock at some point?

But then online I found a copy of Stephen Moulton Babcock, man of science: a memorial to him in observance of the centenary of his birth, published by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation in 1943 (  The frontispiece photo of Babcock is identical to Taft’s image, except that it has been flipped horizontally!

Thanks to the nameless photographer who captured such a thoughtful and sensitive image – it must have made Taft’s assignment a great deal easier!

Frozen solid!

5:00 p.m., December 20, 1910: Pouring the “Eternal Indian” in freezing temperatures

On this date in 1910, 28 men from Oregon began the process of pouring cement into the mold that formed the “Eternal Indian” statue we know today.  A 1962 article from the Oregon Reporter listed “Charles Marriner, Charles Bullard, Rudolph Mammen and Lukie Mammen, and others” as being on the crew as the temperature dropped to 2 below zero.  (I met Rudolph Mammen’s grandson Glen Holtapp at the Oregon Candlelight Walk; he remembers his granddad talking about the experience.)  There have been variations to the many reports I’ve read of the story, so I’ve tried to sort out exactly what happened.


Everyone knows the start and end of the story.  Taft and his Eagle’s Nest colleagues frequently stood on the Rock River bluff and watched the sunset, arms akimbo, and compared themselves to Native Americans of old.  Taft observed men erecting a reinforced concrete chimney at the Art Institute in Chicago and wondered whether he could make a “reinforced concrete Indian” using the same principle.  He then talked with John Prasuhn, a student at the Art Institute with experience in concrete construction, and an engineer named Leland Summers.  (According to Ada Bartlett Taft’s book1, it was Summers who supplied such facts as that “the total movement of resistance to wind pressure through the center of gravity on an 18-foot base would be 4,830,930 pounds.”)

Envisioning a statue the height of that chimney, Taft started out by creating a sketch and then crafting an eight-inch plaster model early in the summer of 1908.  Prasuhn took the model and created a 24-inch clay mockup and two plaster casts from that.  Then Prasuhn enlarged the model to 6 feet tall.

Meanwhile, Taft and his fellow artists were trying to determine how they could display such a mighty statue to best advantage.  A 24-foot “wigwam” of tent flys and tree branches was assembled on a hay wagon and moved back and forth on the bluff, but it turned out to be too small to be seen from a distance.  Then they ran the test again with a 48‑foot-tall structure on the wagon as observers watched from the ground across the river. “This was satisfactory from a distance,” Taft said.  “We could see it from downtown.”

Taft had many projects on his plate at this time, and he himself admitted he was “happily ignorant” of all things engineering, so, beginning in the summer of 1909, Prasuhn did the lion’s share of the statue’s construction (and later wrote an extensive article for Scientific American2), detailing the entire experience). First he built a wooden central tower 38 feet tall and, using Taft’s enlargement system, began transferring the dimensions from the model.  A severe storm blew through and destroyed the structure, but the wooden pieces had been numbered, so Prasuhn was able to reassemble everything and continue.  Chicken wire netting was used to create the curves; then 200 yards of burlap was nailed over the wire for a surface.  The final shaping was done and the surface was then sprayed with a thin coat of plaster to stiffen the burlap and then a slurry of clay-water to ensure its release from the mold later on.

Prasuhn also had to locate all the items on his shopping list.  He spent much of his time locating construction materials and keeping Taft posted every step of the way.  He made a deal with the Universal Atlas Cement Company of Chicago: They would end up donating 412 barrels of cement in exchange for using the Indian’s image in their advertising.  When money got tight, Frank Lowden and Wallace Heckman also chipped in.

At the same time, Taft was building the huge – but hollow — head for his Indian next to his Eagle’s Nest cabin.  “It was an astounding thing, reaching up to the eaves,” Ada recalled.  She wrote that children at the art colony helped “butter” it – spread the clay over the framework of wood and wire.  Then Prasuhn made a plaster mold of it.By the summer of 1910, the body’s structure was ready, and Prasuhn made molds all the way to shoulder level.  He built an exterior wooden framework with “strutting, cross bracing, and hoops around the barrel-like structure, tending to equalize the outward strains that would be imposed by the cement.”  A specially constructed derrick was built to hoist and set the head, which had been hauled to the site by a horse-drawn wagon.Once the head was in position, Taft and the crew decided that it needed to be turned slightly to the right to present a clearer profile from the bluff road.  No problem!  They just jacked up the entire head from the shoulders and rotated it 15 degrees to the right. The head was hauled back down and the mold for the head was connected to the shoulders.

To make things more complicated, excavating for the base and pedestal was carried on at the same time that the body mold was being made.  The interior of the mold was patched and cleaned and then given two coatings of wall sizing and paraffin grease.  (The sizing would keep the plaster from absorbing water from the concrete, and the grease would serve as a release agent.)

When all this preparation was finished, Prasuhn removed the remaining wooden structure from the inside.  Then he built a steel reinforcing tower, 8 feet in diameter, that ran the entire height of the interior and ended in a dome just below the neck.  It was designed to support the head and shoulders, which would be filled completely with cement when done.  Thirty-eight one-inch twisted steel rods were anchored two feet into the solid bedrock with molten brimstone and red hot sand to steady the steel tower; 14 anchor rods passed up through the folds of the drapery, joined the dome structure, and then passed up into the head.  All this would serve as the scaffold from then on and retain the mold’s form.

November 10, 1910: The base was cast.  Water had to be pumped up from the Rock River, 200 feet below the site, to a 5000-gallon storage tank in the ground so the concrete could be mixed nearby.

November 14-15: The pedestal was cast.  Roughly five feet of the pedestal was above ground.

November 29: Workmen began pouring the concrete for the figure, but it was so cold, the concrete froze before it could set up, so they stopped.  Prasuhn defended his timing in the Scientific American article:

“It has frequently been asked why the final and most important work was not done sooner and in more favorable weather, or left until the following spring.  It must be remembered that the whole operation of building a heroic statue in cement was an experiment, and could progress only as each new difficulty, which arose in connection with it, could be overcome.  Delay in the material first used was perhaps the main reason for retarding work.  Taking into consideration the action of freezing weather on water-soaked plaster, the prominence of the location of the statue, and the terrific wind storms which would sweep around it during the rest of the winter, it was imperative that the building be completed, to avoid a repetition of the first year’s work.”

Taft and Prasuhn came up with the idea of heating the mold they had made: They borrowed a 16‑horsepower steam engine from the Case Threshing Company and another from the local Schiller piano factory and improvised a heating system made up of four large tubular radiators and one 26-foot steam coil, also loaned from Schiller.  A 30-foot bin, five feet high, was made to hold the gravel for mixing with the cement, and the steam coil placed inside it, on edge, to keep the gravel warm.  The radiators were placed around the outside of the mold.  The whole construction was enclosed by canvas and sheet tin, all holes plastered shut, and after a final tryout the work began again. A system was also devised for warming the 65,000 gallons of water that were being pumped up from the river at a rate of 720 gallons per hour.  (According to a 1937 Ogle County Republican article, the ice on the river at that time was 21 inches thick.  In Jan Stilson’s book on the Eagle’s Nest Colony3, she writes that a single man was stationed at the edge of the river in a small tent to watch that no delays occurred in the pumping of a steady stream of water.  When he was caught sleeping, he was immediately fired.)  Tuesday, December 20, 1910, 5:00 p.m.: The temperature on that exposed bluff dropped to two below zero.  Two crews of 14 men began pouring the concrete; they worked day and night for ten days in this sub-zero weather.  Prasuhn described the scene in his article:

“After all the preparation and trials it was a sight never to be forgotten – the two steam engines belching forth thick smoke and flame; the frozen chunks of gravel and solid bags of granite screenings being thrown into the bin and shoveled out piping hot below; the water boiling, a full steady stream being pumped from the river; the hoisting signals; a typical western blizzard blowing; and above all, the men, contented and happy, working away with clocklike regularity, each at his assigned task.” December 29, 1910:  The only breakdown of the entire project happened at 3:00 in the morning.  With the temperature still below zero, both engines suffered a temporary breakdown for half an hour and all but froze the cement that was then on a level with the eyes.  At this stage the cement was passed up to the head in pails.

December 30, 1910:  By 2:45 in the afternoon, the huge mold was full, from the body shell to the top of the enormous, now-solid head.  Heat was applied for two more days, and then the borrowed equipment was returned to its original owners.

Waiting… The statue was allowed to cure through the rest of the winter and into spring.  In early May the temperatures rose into the 90s, so the Tafts and Prasuhn rushed to Oregon and prepared to remove the Indian from his “shroud.”  Prasuhn climbed up the scaffolding and pried the piece mold off the left eye.  Ada wrote:

“It was an ominous moment.  But look!  It is the eye as perfect as in the original clay.  One can imagine the relief and joy with which my husband saw this.  If the eye, the most carefully molded part, was perfectly cast, he was reassured as to the large planes of the blanket.”Two weeks later Prasuhn and a small crew carefully removed the entire plaster mold and the scaffolding.  The effect was exactly as Taft had envisioned. Prasuhn calculated that 65,000 gallons of water, approximately 238 cubic yards of concrete, two tons of twisted steel rods of varying widths, 200 yards of burlap, and ten tons of plaster went into the creation of the “Eternal Indian” statue.  They also used 20 tons of pink granite chips for the outside covering.  Its final weight is calculated at 536,770 pounds; its final height is 43 feet 4 inches (from the end of the steel reinforcing rods, two feet in solid rock, to the top of the head it measures an even 60 feet); and it is said to be the second-tallest monolithic concrete statue in the world.

The “Eternal Indian” was dedicated in July of 1911.  It was struck by lightning in 1939.  Prasuhn was still around to supervise a repair of the damage.  (A Northern Illinois University article quotes him as recommending that “at some future time, Black Hawk might sport feathers on his head as a way of disguising lightning rods for protection of the statue.  Fortunately, this was never carried out.)

As weather and an earthquake weakened the structure, restoration efforts took place in 1945 and 1973.  On the statue’s 75th anniversary, a crew from Washington University in St. Louis repaired the surface with epoxy.  (It has since been periodically treated with water repellants in an effort to further protect its surface.)  On November 5, 2009, the National Park Service listed the statue on the National Register of Historic Places.  On February 10, 2010, another earthquake caused further damage.   As of this date, grass-roots fund-raising campaigns are trying to collect the $400,000 needed for a massive restoration.

How “eternal” is Lorado Taft’s “Eternal Indian”?  Will he be able to withstand another cold and windy winter?  Please do all you can to ensure his survival.  Send your tax-deductible contributions to: Illinois Conservation Foundation, Attn: Friends of Black Hawk Statue Fund, One Natural Resources Way, Springfield, IL 62702-1270 and write “Black Hawk Statue Fund” on your check’s subject line.

1Taft, Ada Bartlett, Lorado Taft: Sculptor and Citizen (Greensboro, N.C.: published by Mary Taft Smith), 1946, pp. 53-57.

2 Prasuhn, John G., “A Novel Use of Cement in Sculpture: How the Statue to the American Indian Was Built,” Scientific American, September 7, 1912, pages 192, 205-206.

3Stilson, Jan, Art and Beauty in the Heartland: The Story of the Eagle’s Nest Art Camp at Oregon, Illinois, 1898-1942, (Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse), 2006, pp. 123-133.




A secret space, right out in the open.

In the process of my Taft research, I came across a doctoral dissertation by Muriel (“Mickey”) Scheinman, written in 1981.  Entitled Art Collecting at the University of Illinois: A History and Catalogue, this 564-page document provides details on every piece of art at the U of I, inside and out.  (Scheinman later used her research to produce A Guide to Art at the University of Illinois in 1995.)  As I was looking for references to Taft in the dissertation, I came across the mention of a plaster cast of Ghiberti’s “Gates of Paradise” in the Hall of Casts in the U of I’s Architecture Building.  Not Taft’s work, but related to Taft, so I headed down to the U of I to check it out.

Have you ever had one of those moments when something you see or hear fills your brain to capacity and you just have to stop and sort things out?  Well, this is what happened to me as I looked at this immense piece of plaster.

Everything Taft ever was or ever wanted to be is represented in this incredibly detailed creation and I am glad I’m able to write this blog to help me think.  I hope I don’t confuse you in the process!  Please bear with me – it’s going to be a long one.

Taft’s first experience with plaster casts of original artwork was when he was 14 years old.  Dr. John Milton Gregory, first regent of the University of Illinois (then called the Illinois Industrial University), wanted to install a new art museum at the institution and had ordered many crates of white plaster casts of statues to display. They arrived broken, and Taft joined the crew in helping to repair the pieces.  He loved the jigsaw-puzzle style challenge, and decided from that time on that he wanted to become a sculptor.

ITU’s new art museum

During his time at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts he was able to study the “real things” at his visits to the Louvre and then later as he traveled throughout Europe.  The Ghiberti doors are huge!  When Taft first saw them in real life – 17 feet high and 3 tons of bronze — he must have been blown away by the possibilities of creating his own scenes in a similar style.  Vertically challenged as I am, I could examine only the bottom two rows of the plaster cast.  If you go to visit, bring binoculars, or a jetpack.

He incorporated the classical details he saw into his developing work. Here is a depiction of “David and Jonathan” closely resembling Ghiberti’s style, and a closeup of one of the plaster door panels that I could actually see.

“David and Jonathan,” from 1884

Once back in Illinois, Taft continued to sculpt with classical detail, and one area in which he excelled was in the creation of commercial bas-relief panels and plaques, very similar to Ghiberti’s style.  He also included three-dimensional panels on war memorials.  Winchester, Indiana, has a war monument with a bronze frieze including life-sized, realistic depictions of soldiers in action.   Can you see the resemblance to the plaster panel I just inserted above?

Frieze on Winchester war monument

There is also a small bronze panel at the base of the Schuyler Colfax monument in downtown Indianapolis, showing the Bible story of Rebecca giving water to Abraham’s man at the well.

Rebecca at the well

While Taft worked at the Columbian Exposition of 1893, along with his storied “White Rabbit” assistants, the Fine Arts Palace (now Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry) was the place where fair visitors could see plaster casts of sculpture from all over the world.  After the fair closed, Taft approached the city to see whether he could use the building as a permanent art museum – one that would again feature artfully lit plaster casts.  Negotiations appeared to be going well.  In 1926, the city authorized $5 million to restore the building as a convention auditorium, with the east end as a museum. But then Julius Rosenwald came in and offered to contribute several million of his own dollars to create a different type of museum, and Taft was left in the dust.

Not to be deterred, Taft continued with his plans for a “Dream Museum.”  He stepped up his collection of plaster casts, which he stored at his Midway Studios. He arranged to get casts of works by many contemporary Americans and purchased famous historic pieces.  And he bought casts for the famous doors designed by Andrea Pisano and Ghiberti for the Baptistry at Florence. These huge casts must have been quite a challenge to ship!

Taft laid out a floor plan for his museum, specifically indicating where each country and each era would be displayed.  He created small models, one-quarter inch to the foot, and positioned them on a large table.

Taft and his “Dream Museum”

He published small books describing the most famous artworks from different countries, and the books included a fold-out sheet with images of the various sculptures so school children could cut them out and study them.  His plan continued to expand, and he and his associates designed a set of dioramas showing various artists in their studios – and one of those dioramas (or “peep shows,” as they came to be called) featured the huge Ghiberti doors. One of those dioramas is on display at the Kenosha Public Museum; one is also installed in the main hallway of the Oregon (Illinois) High School.

Ghiberti doors diorama

When the beautiful plaster casts of the doors arrived at the Midway Studios, Taft was inspired to write a play telling their story.  The script for the play was completed in 1930 and produced the next year.  The first show, with an amateur cast, took place at Kelvyn Park High School in February of 1931; it was given again at the Goodman Theater in March and at Mandel Hall on the University of Chicago campus in April, using one of the plaster casts as part of the set.

“Gates of Paradise” on stage

(According to Scheinman (page 128), Taft had actually began focusing on the doors as early as 1923.  He was planning motion pictures on art and suggested he might begin with one based on the doors at the Baptistry at Florence … another project that was never fulfilled.)

Taft kept up his campaign for an art museum.  Los Angeles offered him land at Griffith Park on which to build, but he couldn’t find a benefactor.  By 1934, he sought federal funding as part of a New Deal employment project, without success.  And then his health began to fail, and he died in 1936.  But that’s not the end of the story!

Scheinman details in her dissertation (pages 25-27) that architectural historian Rexford Newcomb, the first dean of the U of I’s College of Fine and Applied Arts (established in 1931), was trying to re-establish a university art collection. “He did everything he possibly could to strengthen the position of art at the University and to enrich further the still modest collection. As his actions attest, his commitment to art remained constant during the twenty-three years of his service.”  As the collection proliferated, Newcomb needed a larger space in which to display it.

Newcomb took some of the pieces that Taft had originally repaired for Dr. Gregory back when he was 14 years old and displayed them at the Hall of Casts in the Architecture Building.  But this was not enough for Taft.  Scheinman provides a letter that Taft wrote to Newcomb: “The museum stock was never at so low an ebb. Your little attempt at it (the Hall of Casts) I noticed has become simply another classroom for students in drawing. Doubtless they need it, but when is the University going to offer the students a hint of ‘the greatness that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome?’ Isn’t it almost time? Training without a thrill can produce only commonplace students. If only my University would lead in this matter so dear to my heart. It is so simple and so inexpensive and would bring in such great dividends.”  And then Taft died.

Here’s a photo from the Taft Archives of students in the Hall of Casts in 1938.  This may not meet with his image of what an ideal “Dream Museum” should be, but it looks to me as if the students are interacting very successfully with the plaster casts — exactly what he would have wanted!

Scheinman details what came next:

“Newcomb needed no prodding. The following March, because of his management and everyone’s affection and respect for Taft (if not everyone’s belief in the transcendent powers of the imagination when it came to studying plaster reproductions), the University appropriated $12,000 to buy the contents of Taft’s studio from his widow. Another $3,500 was authorized for incidental expenses (it took 11 truckloads to deliver it all from Chicago that summer, 1937). Consisting mainly of Taft’s “Dream Museum” … the collection also contained a vast number of studies and models of his own works.  Almost immediately almost the entire lot was put into storage….”

Scheinman writes that some items were displayed, including Ghiberti’s “Gates of Paradise.”  Space was found for some others, including “The Pioneers” (to this day still on display in the Library hallway) and the “Lincoln-Douglas Debate” (now in the Law School).  A collection of some of the smaller places can still be viewed in the Classics Library.  But many of the others, including a large number that had been stored under the stadium, were in deplorable condition.  They tried to place some of the casts in Illinois public schools, but that project “fell short of expectations.”  She then wrote: “Finally, in the early ‘50s, with the art department agreeing to the inevitable, most of the rest of the objects were destroyed: full scale casts of Taft works executed in permanent materials, casts in poor condition, and casts of familiar or easily accessible pieces. Recounting the sorry history to President Stoddard, an obviously unhappy Newcomb noted that ‘Thus we are worse off than we were in the days of the first Regent.’”

Taft’s daughter Emily Douglas kept up hope that the University would come through with its plan for a museum.  According to Scheinman (page 268), Emily wrote a letter to then-Dean Allen Weller in 1964:

“I am going to ask a question which has greatly troubled me. When the University acquired my father’s casts for his Dream Museum, the understanding was that the museum itself would be fulfilled. The Depression had stymied various plans for the museum elsewhere, and later of course the war made it impossible to launch it at the University. Is there now no chance for such an undertaking? … Many historians have claimed that the museum would revolutionize and illuminate the teaching of history…. While it is true that contemporary art has so completely monopolized attention, that the past has been discounted in recent decades, the trend is changing, and the long perspective of man’s heritage is again appreciated,” she went on. “The first president of the University, Gregory, aroused a young man’s interest in art with the plaster casts he brought back to Urbana. I greatly hope that a hundred years later the plaster casts purchased by that former young man, arranged in the inspired manner of the Dream Museum plans, may illuminate the art of the past ages for our Illinois moderns.”

Weller replied: “I am very much afraid Lorado Taft’s Dream Museum will remain a dream,” that compelling financial pressures were just one of the reasons “which have made its realization here impossible.” He explained it was also that the “feelings and interests of the people on the staff of the Department of Art and of related fields have moved quite far away from this kind of a collection of casts that was once envisaged. This is by no means because of a lack of interest in the art of the past, but, I think, is much more closely related to the emphasis on material and technique which is of engrossing interest to artists and art historians. In other words, there is a great desire to exhibit original examples, even if of minor importance, rather than copies of the great masterpieces. I am not myself entirely in sympathy with this,” Weller continued, “and I wish that our students could see in their original and proper scale many of the great works which your father would have included in such a museum.”

But the “Gates of Paradise” continue to remain in the Hall of Casts, now called the Temple Buell Architecture Gallery, where students come and go and probably don’t even look at it.  BUT IT’S THERE!  What a story of survival, of hope and disappointment!

Taft would have been thrilled to know that Ghiberti’s “Gates of Paradise” – the real bronze ones that were designed in 1425 – underwent extensive conservation for about 25 years in at the end of the 20th century.  Three relief panels and sections of the doors’ frieze traveled to North America from 2006 to 2008, with stops at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Seattle Art Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Atlanta’s High Museum of Art (which organized the exhibition in collaboration with the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore and the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence).  At the end of the tour, the individual elements were reintegrated with the rest of the door frame and put on permanent display in a hermetically sealed room in the museum of the Florence Cathedral, never to travel again. I am curious to know how many people attended these exhibitions – as opposed to how many have taken the time to look closely at the plaster version in plain view at the U of I’s gallery.

The interesting thing is that interest in plaster casts may be picking up.  I located an interesting article in the November 2007 issue of Architect, the magazine of the American Institute of Architects.  Joseph Giovanni wrote that the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh was hosting a show in its Heinz Architectural Center, exhibiting a large collection of plaster casts that had long been in storage.  Giovanni explained:

“The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, held in Chicago, advocated the City Beautiful movement by its own architectural example.  But besides the classicized facades of the White City, the exhibition got down to detail in the Palace of Fine Arts, where cast-plaster fragments of classical and historical buildings were displayed along with cast-plaster statues after the antique.  The event inspired American institutions, including the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, to create their own cast-plaster architecture exhibitions….  But by the 1920s, plaster cast collections fell out of fashion, discredited by new museological assumptions favoring originals rather than copies.  Not long after, Modernism inflicted the coup de grace.  The collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and at the Art Institute of Chicago, among others, were dispersed, and their very existence passed out of collective awareness.”

(Scheinman writes: “When he heard that the Art Institute was disposing of its once important collection, Taft lamented that it was ‘calamitous and a crime’ and he offered to ‘ransom the victims himself.’”)

Giovanni’s article continued: “A very few collections still exist, and the Carnegie Museum, with its 140 plaster architectural casts still standing in their original position in the Beaux-Arts Hall of Architecture, has the largest in the Western hemisphere and one of the three largest in the world.”

Giovanni went on to provide details on the exhibition, and concluded: “This show may appear to address a dry subject.  But in fact it’s very daring and conceptually provocative and unexpected.  It displaces our prejudices so that we can see with more understanding eyes how an important didactic tool both instilled architecture as a collective myth and taught the lay public and the profession.  The exhibition is not revisionist in the sense of casting a new and different interpretation on a phenomenon with an accepted meaning.  The Carnegie has simply dusted off an apparently musty subject, mounting a historiographic exhibition about a rich but forgotten moment in architecture.”  (Heinz’s website states that, in 2012, “the Hall of Architecture is now one of only three architectural cast courts that remains intact in the world and the only one in North America.“ Taft would have been in seventh heaven to see all these casts in one place!)

So I hope you can see why my visit to see the plaster version of the “Gates of Paradise” resulted in a brain overload!  Is it time to reopen the subject of a gallery of plaster casts at the University of Illinois?  Or at least to look into a way to display them so we could examine their magnificent detail more closely?  I’ll bring the stilts if you bring the spotlights!

Save some pie for Lorado!

My favorite photo from the Lorado Taft biography is the shot of Taft and his associates and friends gathered around a large table in the Midway Studios.  They look like they’re having a wonderful time – even the cat in the background is well fed. 

So as I have been working up my appetite for good Thanksgiving food, I’ve been wondering what Lorado liked to eat.  I’ve read many items about parties, and gatherings, and good company, but I couldn’t recall any mentions of food!  When I look closely at this wonderful picture of the “groaning board,” all I can see is cups and saucers – no food!  So I pulled out all the books and began searching.

I began with Allen Weller’s Lorado in Paris (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press) 1985.  Surely, with all the letters Lorado wrote home, there would be descriptions of marvelous meals and other French delicacies.  And bingo!  Lorado is just about to be accepted into the Dumont studio at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and he has been invited to join about 30 students at a grand feast to celebrate the new year – an annual, much-anticipated gathering:

“I assured them that I never drank but bowed my acknowledgements when they drank to the health of the nouveau.  The first course was cigarettes, 2nd, sardines, bread, wine, 3d, wine, 4th, beefsteak and bread – also new bottles of wine, 5th, wine and cigars, 6th, coffee, 7th, wine.  Of course I patronized the sardines, steak, and bread with due interest, and I found a glass of café noir excellent.…”       (page 62)

Umm.  Not quite the spread I was imagining, but we know now that he likes sardines, bread, and steak.

Weller wrote about Lorado’s meticulous records when keeping track of his finances, and explained that he could keep food expenses to twenty-five sous a day.  Not much for a growing boy!  His letters home often asked for details of the family’s meals:

“Please never omit mentioning what you have to eat – it is so consoling to me.  I always mark the paragraph to read when I am hungry.  May I have a piece of custard pie when I come?” (page 115)

Weller is quick to point out that, while Lorado thought frequently of home and family and was a faithful correspondent, he was never really homesick.

“This morn as we boys gathered around the festive board in Madame Lenard’s little cup-board of a back room, and bouillon and beef was fast disappearing on all sides, the silence was suddenly broken by Bringhurst who remarked impressively ‘I hope you are enjoying your Thanksgiving dinner, boys!’ Our French companions inquired in startled tones ’Q’est q’il dit la?’ while we gazed with mingled emotions into each other’s stern features.  So it was actually Thanksgiving!  Strange to say however we devoted very little time to reflection on the subject for the moment at least.  Stokes looked slightly pathetic as he made his usual complaints over his beef steak and I suppose Brewster mused with secret longings on the ‘flesh pots’ and turkeys of Boston, but the majority of our little group whetted their teeth and attacked manfully the toughest concoctions that ever good, smiling Madame ever fished out of her great unwashed cauldrons.” (page 158)

Weller later writes that, when Lorado once again attended the annual gathering of the Atelier Dumont to celebrate his third year, he actually saved the carte de menu for the occasion among his papers.  Now we’re getting somewhere!  This must have been a spectacular dinner!  But wait:

“The menu itself is much more elaborate than the fare which was usual on Rue Vavin …” writes Weller,  “a clever drawing with birds and cupids arriving by air around a classic column, carrying Grand prix banners, and three figures in classic, Renaissance, and semi-nude costumes trudging forward carrying tubs of clay, pails, and shovels…” (page 205)

My research project was proving more difficult than I had expected!  Taft had met his future wife, Carrie, and her mother when they were visiting Paris.  Weller wrote that the two women soon began attending the Sketch Club, which met in Lorado’s studio, and the Fortnightly Club.  They must have dined in some interesting places and tasted some new dishes, right? In one of Lorado’s letters home, he writes that “good Mrs. Scales” brought him a half dozen doughnuts wrapped up in a paper,” a fact that seemed more important than that Carrie was there for the delivery. (page 236)

That exhausted my search in Weller’s book, and I guess I’ll have to wait until next year to find out whether there are any significant mentions of food in his new book about Lorado’s Chicago years.  But I vaguely recalled a description of a feast in Hamlin Garland’s book, A Daughter of the Middle Border (New York: Grosset & Dunlap) 1921.  The Heckmans had invited Garland to join the group at the Eagle’s Nest Artists Colony for a grand Sunday dinner:

“At last at one o’clock, Lorado, as Chief of the tribe, gave the signal for the feast by striking a huge iron bar with a hammer, a sound which brought the campers from every direction, clamoring for food, and when all were seated at the dining table beneath a strip of canvas, someone asked, ‘Where’s Zuhl?’”

Oh … this description is not about the food!  Hamlin has a gigantic crush on Lorado’s sister, Zulime, and the Heckmans have invited him to dinner to get the two of them together.  (This photo came from Jan Stilson’s book, Art and Beauty in the Heartland:The Story of the Eagle’s Nest Art Camp (Bloomington, Ind.: AuthorHouse) 2006.  It is from the personal collection of Mary Taft Smith.)

Lorado had told him that she was involved with another man, and he had backed off.  She had gone to Paris, and upon returning, appeared to once again be available.

“… Spencer Fiske the classical scholar of the camp with fervent admiration exclaimed ‘By Jove – a veritable Diana!’  Browne started the Toreador’s song, and all began to beat upon the tables with their spoons in rhythmical clamor.  Turning my head I perceived the handsome figure of a girl moving with calm and stately dignity across the little lawn toward the table.  She was bareheaded, and wore a short-sleeved, collarless gown of summer design, but she carried herself with a leisurely and careless grace which made evident the fact that she was accustomed to these moments of uproar…. This entrance so dramatic and so lovely was precisely the kind of picture to produce on my mind a deeply influencing impression….” (page 105)

Well, Hamlin and Zulime got married, but we still don’t have much of a clue of this artistic band’s eating preferences!

One last try: to Ada Bartlett Taft’s book Lorado Taft: Sculptor and Citizen (published by Mary Taft Smith, Greensboro, North Carolina) 1946. (After Lorado Taft’s first wife Carrie died in childbirth, Lorado married Ada and they lived happily ever after.  After Lorado died, she wrote about their lives together.)  Here she’s writing about the Midway Studios, and that wonderful “groaning board.”

“Lorado’s end of the table was in a constant burst of laughter.  He never missed a joke, especially if it were a play on words.  One day there was enough lemon pie to go around the table with only one luscious extra slice left beside Lorado’s plate.  To fortify his self-restraint I said: ‘No, no, Lorado. You can’t take that last piece when we all want it.  You’d be ashamed to.’  With eyes glued to the temptation Lorado exclaimed: ‘I think I’d rather be ashamed and eat the pie.” (page 29)

I’m with you, Lorado!  No need to research this any further!  And on this Thanksgiving Day, may I say that I’m thankful for Lorado Taft … and for pie!