200 Years of Illinois: The Artful Pose

wellerToday marks the birthday of famed sculptor Lorado Taft, born in 1860 in Elmwood, Illinois.

A graduate of the Illinois Industrial University—forerunner of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign—Taft studied in France before returning to Chicago to make his reputation and fortune. Today, Taft works dot the nation. He also remains one of the great figures in the history of the Art Institute, where he taught for over thirty years.

In the 1920s, Taft was at the height of his fame and undiminished in his powers. A bequest from Urbana resident J.O. Cunningham paid Taft $10,000—less than half his fee—to create a bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln. Cunningham and her husband had befriended the Railsplitter back in his circuit lawyering days. As Allen Stuart Weller relates in his UIP book Lorado Taft: The Chicago Years (edited by Robert G. La France and Henry Adams with Stephen P. Thomas):

In 1925 Taft signed a contract to make a statue of Lincoln for his college town of Urbana. He had long admired the Saint-Gaudens standing Lincoln in Lincoln Park, Chicago. Subsequently, it seemed impossible for him to think of the great president in any other guise or attitude. But this was followed by a hopeful thought; Taft would not depict the martyred president, but the youthful Lincoln as he appeared when he practiced law in the Illinois federal courts soon after he had been admitted to the bar.

pp_Weller_Taft-172Taft modeled him leaning slightly backward, supported by both hands on a desk, which takes the place of the thronelike chair in Saint-Gaudens statue. The modeling of Taft’s Lincoln is broad and specific. Every detail is powerfully indicated but does not detract from the keenness of the serious facial expression, which was based on the famous life mask by Leonard Volk. The statue was dedicated in 1927 and now stands proudly at the east entrance of Carle Park.