6000 S Cottage Grove Ave, Chicago, IL 60637
Image Courtesy of TripAdvisor
Constructed as part of the 1905 Chicago arts grant, the Fountain of Time has wowed onlookers ever since. Seated in the western portion of Washington Park in the Midway Plaisance, the sculpture features people marching toward a common monument across the way.
From across the pool, the monument of time stays watchful. The sculpture represents the inevitable march of time and echoes Henry Austin Dobson's quote, "time goes, you say? Ah, no! Time stays; we go."
Lorado Taft first had plans for the monument in 1907. Since its completion in 1922, it has been one of the most recognizable works of art in Chicago.
Taft won funding for the project in 1913 from the Ferguson Fund at the Art Institute of Chicago.
They funded the project with the idea that the monument would pair well with the "Fountain of Creation," which stands at the east end of Jackson Park.
But by the end of World War I, the foundation's interest waned, and critics labeled the project anti-modern. Ferguson officially withdrew its funding from Midway Beautiful and devoted its resources to Taft's Fountain of Time.
Though Taft had the original idea, much of what viewers can see today resulted from years of conservation efforts.
Fountain of Time is the largest of Taft's work. It is 120 feet long, and its highest point is 20 feet. Taft reportedly constructed some of his figures' faces in his daughters' likeness and even placed his portrait near the westward elevation center.
Taft was a women's rights activist and frequently invited women artists, to collaborate on his Midway Beautiful project. It is not clear, however, whether any women artists contributed to the Fountain of Time.
Despite his women's activism and collaboration, the sculpture's portraits exclusively feature prominent historical men. The portrayal of only men cloaks the political motivation behind the statue. It could be that though Taft believed passionately in women's rights activism, it conflicted with the artistic concepts in vogue at the time.
Taft worked with concrete contractor John J Earley for the final version, and notable Chicago architect Howard Van Doren designed the massive base that supports the figures. Even though Taft and Earley had to abandon their vision for a marble composition, they were pleased with the outcome.
As a result of the sculpture, Taft began to see the concrete's utility as a sculpting material. Its affordable price made him believe he could accomplish similar projects to the Midway in smaller American towns.
The monument has seen its share of trials over the years. The city made several small-scale restoration attempts during the mid-20th century to recover the sculpture as it deteriorated.
By the late 20th century, however, the monument needed a large-scale rebuilding project. Supervised by a team of experts, The Art Institute of Chicago undertook the first attempt to stabilize the structure and return it to its original state.
They determined the structure needed a massive overhaul, and they finished the project in 2007. Because The Fountain of Time is outdoors, it will need continuing restoration efforts.
Fountain of Time is an intriguing piece of art history because of what it foreshadowed. The work symbolizes the inevitable march toward the future and lamented the changing trends that come with it. But in the years that followed, concrete became the principle molding material for modern artists.
The Fountain of Time also represents a critical point in Chicago's history and identity. Taft envisioned the monument embodying Chicago's meteoric rise from trading outpost to global metropolis. He created it, hoping Chicago would one day become the cultural and artistic beacon of America, a vision that at least somewhat came to fruition.
Today, Fountain of Time serves as a reminder of Chicago's rich history and pride. One look and you see a piece of art that captures the human plight – the neverending race against the clock. On the one hand, you can also see humanity's struggle with modernity, forever innovating, but always asking ourselves why we innovate when we are powerless against time.
But suppose you look deeper into the history and its creator. In that case, you see an artist struggling to marry his activism with his modern career.
And so too, does Chicago still struggle with the same predicaments as Taft, trying to promote fundamental human rights while living in an increasingly fast-paced society.
Visit the Fountain of Time To Absorb Chicago History
The Fountain of Time is an essential piece of Chicago history to visit during the summer or fall. It is enjoyable regardless of whether you're with family, friends, or on a solo venture.
With its location in the western portion of Midway Park, the sculpture is an easy way to experience South Chicago's rich past.