Taft’s bust of William Sherwood on display at Columbia College Chicago

In 1915 Lorado Taft crafted a bust of pianist William H. Sherwood.   Sherwood had died in 1911, so Taft was once again faced with the challenge of recreating a person’s character without having that person sitting in front of him as a model.  (In my book I reprinted an article Taft wrote in 1899 — “Dreams and Death Masks” — in which he vented his frustration at having to sculpt busts and other depictions of deceased people.)


Taft didn’t have to fly completely blind on this project, however.  Sherwood had founded the Chicago Piano School on the 7th floor of the Fine Arts Building in 1897; Taft moved into a 10th floor studio there in 1898.  They must have seen each other on numerous occasions before Taft moved to Hyde Park in 1906.

Sherwood would have fit well into the Fine Arts Building’s stable of interesting personalities.  He was born in Lyons, N.Y., in 1854.  His father was an accomplished musician and teacher who founded the Lyons Musical Academy.  William studied with his father and other musicians in America, and then went to Europe where he studied for five years and was taught by Franz Liszt, among others.  After playing numerous concerts in Europe, he made many concert tours in the United States and Canada beginning in 1876 and won the enthusiastic praise of many great musicians, including Edvard Grieg.  He was one of the founding fathers of the American College of Musicians, and he belonged to a number of musical societies. After teaching in New York and Boston, he moved to Chicago.

Following the Columbian Exposition in 1893, Taft had chosen to remain in Chicago.  “I believe I am needed here,” he explained.  “I want my work to come out of the west, and if there is any glory in it, I want to share it with my own home people.”   Despite numerous challenges, Sherwood stayed in Chicago as well.  They must have had interesting conversations.

Sherwood’s relocation to Chicago may have had something to do with a dispute with his Boston-based ex-wife over child support.  In 1886 she filed a petition asking that he continue support of her and their two children in the amount of $166.66 per month.  “For a time Mr. Sherwood paid on time,” reported The New York Times (April 13, 1886), “but in February it is alleged he defaulted all above $80, and in March and the present month paid nothing….”

The Etude magazine published his obituary.  It was clear that Sherwood had the same passion for American art that Taft did.  Taft had to compete with European sculptors for commissions; Sherwood competed with European music teachers.  “He never disparaged the abilities of the able teachers of Europe,” the obituary wrote, “but he left no word unsaid to condemn those pupils who deserted fine teachers in America to enter the classes of mediocre and unknown teachers in European capitals.  In all this The Etude endorsed Mr. Sherwood to the fullest extent.”  One of his great legacies was the Sherwood Piano Course, the first standardized text for teaching and learning piano.

It isn’t clear why Sherwood died at the early age of 57 (we’re pretty sure his wife didn’t kill him).  His name, however, has continued on to the present.  The Sherwood Conservatory of Music was relocated to a building at 1014 South Michigan in 1941, where the bust continued to be displayed.  In 1986 the school changed its mission and began a community focus, “committed to meeting the diverse music education needs of Chicago’s urban population.”  Because Columbia College Chicago was also serving the Chicago community, Sherwood merged with Columbia in July 2007 and now is called the Sherwood Community Music School.  Taft’s bust of Sherwood sits right inside the front door at 1312 South Michigan Avenue.