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Lorado Taft to William R. Harper, December 21, 1898.

Lorado Taft to William R. Harper, December 21, 1898.

Taft's approach to business matters reflected a personality similar to that of the Italian marble cutters he described to Harper.

 

Lorado Taft and party, Midway Studios.

Lorado Taft and party, Midway Studios.

Beneath the full-size plaster model of the Fountain of the Great Lakes, Taft enjoyed presiding over meals at a large table in the main room of the Midway Studios complex. Artists, students, friends, and the occasional pet were among those who gathered on these convivial occasions.

 

Lorado Taft | Art

1860-1936
At a university heavily committed to scientific research, it was not surprising to find little solid support for including art within the curriculum. To some, the creative arts seemed out of place amidst empirical research. But to others, Lorado Taft and his Midway Studios provided a breadth of emphasis that enhanced the University's educational mission.

While Taft held a regular teaching post at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, his appointment at the University of Chicago was to the vaguely defined (and nontenured) position of "Professorial Lecturer on the History of Art." Taft declared that he considered himself "in some sort 'Sculptor to the University of Chicago.'"

While at Midway Studios, Taft was commissioned by the University to sculpt busts of George W. Northrup, Thomas C. Chamberlin, Silas Cobb, Sidney Kent, and Joseph Bond, and he also completed a marble bust of John Crerar that is now in the John Crerar Library. Much better known are his larger works, including Blackhawk at Oregon, Illinois, the Columbus Fountain, which stands in front of Washington's Union Station, and two Chicago commissions - The Fountain of the Great Lakes at the Art Institute of Chicago and The Fountain of Time at the west end of the Midway Plaisance. Completed in 1922, The Fountain of Time was intended as one in a series of bridges, monuments, and figures to stretch between Washington Park and Jackson Park. Taft derived inspiration for the sculpture, with its flowing line of humanity passing before a solid unmoving figure, from the sobering words of Austin Dobson's couplet: Time goes, you say? Ah no, alas, time stays. We go.

Taft conceived of himself as an "art missionary," and his conviction that art should support traditional social values helped foster his dislike for the modernist work he saw in Europe. He once said, "I cannot think of art as mere adornment of life, a frill on human existence, but as life itself."

At Midway Studios, the carriage house and connected buildings that he converted into a studio, dormitory, and cultural enclave, Taft gathered around him aspiring young artists who shared his cultural idealism. Living, working, and eating together at the studio, they created what was called a closer approximation "to the Renaissance bottega than anything else in our times." At the geographic periphery of the University, Lorado Taft's conviction and example made a unique contribution to its communal life.


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