In the last few weeks, one gem of the Hyde Park landscape has returned to view. The 1922 monument "The Fountain of Time" by Lorado Taft, a well-known American artist and former Hyde Park resident, has been unveiled at the west end of the Midway Plaisance after an extensive restoration.
The process was led by chief restorer Andrzej Dajnowski and involved a team of up to ten members working from April 1999 until November 2001. They removed previous repair jobs, cleaned the blackened surface, improved structural supports inside the statue, and reconstructed missing pieces and details of the sculpture. Using old photographs of the monument, Dajnowski and his team recreated the eagles on top of the Roman standards as well as draperies and other elements. In addition, a protective coating was applied that will help preserve the monument for approximately 50 years.
Dajnowski, a private consultant for sculptural restoration who maintains a studio in Forest Park, Illinois, called the work "tedious and slow," since the team did everything by hand and used no power tools. "Andrzej really needs to have a medal for taking initiative and overcoming all the obstacles in his way," said Herbert George, associate professor in the Committee on Visual Arts and the College. "He did a thoughtful, sensitive and knowledgeable job. He saved it from obliteration."
"It feels as if a piece of history has been unearthed," said Megan Chapman, a third-year in the College and sculpture enthusiast. "It was surprising to discover this sculpture in Washington Park, partly because of its location and partly because it seems to have just appeared."
"The Fountain of Time" is inspired from a line in "The Paradox of Time" by Henry Austin Dobson, "Time goes, you say? Ah, no, alas, time stays; we go." A plaque in front of the monument quotes Taft as saying, "The words brought before me a picture. I saw the mighty crag-like figure of time leaning upon his staff, his chin upon his hand and watching the endless march of humanity."
The large mass of figures resembles a wave that crests from right to left, showing youth being churned up out of the waters, cresting with a scene of military force, and subsuming the dying back into the surf. "The figures are constantly moving from solid to more fluid states. The work as a whole tells us who we are as human beings and what we can expect out of a life," George said.
He also noted that it was to have a companion monument at the east end of the Midway which was to be called the Fountain of Creation. While models were made for this work, Taft died before it could be completed. Taft's home and studio, where the Fountain of Time was conceived and created, is currently the home to the Committee on the Visual Arts at the University, Midway Studios.
Planning and minor improvements for the monument began in the late 1980s and funding was eventually procured for the sculptural restoration through the Ferguson Fund at the Art Institute, the Chicago Park District, and a grant from the Washington D.C.-based Save Outdoor Sculptures (SOS). Restoration costs were $845,000, paid for primarily by the Art Institute.
According to Art Institute representative Robert Jones, a final phase is planned which will restore the reflecting pool that lies in the middle of the work as well as improve landscaping and lighting. Because of the highly structural nature of this phase and the need for utility improvements such as water and sewer to the site, costs are expected to be approximately one million dollars. While funding has not yet been found for this phase, once started, it should last no longer than a year.
The University has been asked to contribute funding throughout the several phases of the project, but as Dajnowski notes, "They have refused many times." Jones added, however, that the University provided security services during the restoration.
"I feel saddened that the University has contributed nothing to the restoration of the piece," George said. He called the neglect of the Fountain of Time as tantamount to "letting 2000 first editions rot in the Regenstein."