Lorado Taft (1860-1936) was Illinois born and bred, and that state rightly claims him. Indeed, my first encounter with his work was during my years in Chicago, when I discovered his disturbing bronze “Eternal Silence” (1909) in Graceland Cemetery, also home to his “Crusader,” a work of solid granite completed in 1931. Lorado Taft was among the earliest major American sculptors from the Midwest.
Indiana, however, claims Taft’s earliest large commissioned works, both completed in 1887: the fountain statue of the Marquis de Lafayette in, appropriately, the courthouse square in Lafayette, and the statue of Schuyler Colfax (vice-president under Grant), less appropriately, in University Park in downtown Indianapolis. (Colfax actually grew up in New Carlisle–where I went to school and where the house in which he grew up still stands. Colfax is most associated with nearby South Bend, where he is buried.) The bronze statue of Colfax, which originally stood in the middle of University Park, is resplendent with symbols of the International Order of Oddfellows.
In the city’s Crown Hill Cemetery, Mary Ella McGinnis is forever five years old, captured in marble atop her grave. At the time I completed my book on Indiana’s outdoor sculptures (Remembrance, Faith, and Fancy – www.indianahistory.org), I had not verified that this was Taft’s work, but I am now persuaded that it is. The statue was completed in 1888; the child had died in 1875. An article on this piece will be out soon.
In Winchester, the seat of Randolph County, is a large Soldiers and Sailors Monument (1892) in the courthouse square. Taft did all the bronze figures.
On the south side of Marion, in the National Cemetery on the grounds of the former Soldiers Home (now a VA facility) is a bronze copy of Taft’s heroic commemorative piece that was dedicated on the Chickamauga Battlefield in 1895. Smaller than the original, but still most impressive, the piece in Marion was placed in the cemetery in 1915.
Hammond boasts two relief works by Taft. One is at 649 Conkey Street, a terra cotta high relief featuring a Pegasus over the doors to an administrative office building for the City of Hammond. (The building itself was once part of the plant site of W. B. Conkey, a huge printing and publishing concern once touted as the world’s largest.)
A much larger work is the frieze that was done about 1927 for a building called Daly Hall, part of American Maize, another defunct company (actually, absorbed by Cargill). The building was demolished in the late 1990s, but happily the frieze was removed and stored until it could be installed inside a recent adaptive reuse in downtown Hammond, the Towle Community Theater. I was in that building last December and saw these pieces (they are mounted inside the lobby): Deco-influenced figures of workers and men engaged in sports. The entire work is thirteen feet long and is now displayed in two sections.
Although the focus here is on outdoor sculpture, since the Daly Hall piece has moved inside, Indiana has another Lorado Taft work that I should mention. In the rotunda of the Statehouse is a bronze plaque commemorating Frances Elizabeth Willard on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of her election as President of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.