July 29, 2010
Washington Park is one of the most beautiful parks in the Chicago Park District system. Enhanced with lily ponds, streams, lagoons and a series of bridges, it is no wonder that four-legged creatures and birds of all kinds (including Monk parakeets) call this park their home. What you might not know about Washington Park is that is also home to some of the most beautiful sculptures.
Lorado Taft was a sculptor and writer and is best known for his large scale public works, many of which are in Chicago. But at the start of the 20th century when art was pretty much classical and dull, Taft made art romantic and special. He believed that public monuments can reflect the ideas of their time.
Taft was born in Peoria County, Illinois and taught at the University of Chicago. He first worked as a sculptor for the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 and there envisioned his own sculpture as the centerpiece of an elegant park. One of his greatest works is the Fountain of Time, which is located at the southeast corner of Washington Park.
Many of you might remember when water flowed in the reflecting pool of the Fountain of Time. Some of you might have paid attention to the 126 ft long sculpture carved out of cement. Regrettably, most of you barely gave the sculpture a second thought. You more than likely passed by it every day without asking why 100 figures in the sculpture were marching? I suppose it is the human way to take for granted beautiful things we did not create.
Unfortunately for the sculpture, the neighborhood surrounding Washington Park changed with time and the area deteriorated even more than the sculpture. Weather, air pollution, and vandalism meant that hundreds of thousands of dollars were now needed for restoration. The sculpture became overgrown with weeds, and since there were no funds for sculpture repairs in a neighborhood largely indifferent to works of art, the Fountain of Time lay unappreciated for years.
The Fountain of Time was constructed from a new type of molded, steel-reinforced concrete that was claimed to be more durable and cheaper than alternatives. It was said in 1920 to be the first of any kind of finished work of art made of concrete. Before the completion of Millennium Park in 2004, the fountain was considered the most important installation in the Chicago Park District. The work was created as a monument to the first 100 years of peace between the United States and Great Britain, resulting from the Treaty of Ghent in 1814. (The peace treaty ended the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain and Ireland.)
During the late 1990s and the first few years of this century the fountain underwent repairs that corrected many of the problems caused by earlier restorations. Extensive renovation of the sculpture was completed as recently as 2009. Water is now flowing again in the reflecting pool.
“Time goes, you say? Alas, time stays; we go!”
Henry Austin Dobson
(By the way, the 100 figures are said to be passing in front of Father Time as they rush through the stages of life.)