Taft, Lorado(American, 1860-1936)
Born in Elmwood, Illinois in 1860, Lorado Taft, a prolific sculptor and a tireless supporter of fellow artists, declared that people have the right to “All the beauty around us which most of us never perceive… All the inheritance of the past, which we Americans are particularly unconscious, and the talent which springs up perennially but which America’s rushing life is wont to extinguish before it takes root.” Lorado Taft identified the defining moments of his initial inspiration to sculpt; in his fourteenth year, he endeavored to aid in establishing the University of Illinois’ primary sculpture collection, through transporting, unpacking, restoring, and arranging the sculptures. He studied at University of Illinois and Ecole des Beaux Arts with Dumont, Bonnassieux and Thomas. Taft later instructed at the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago, and countless sculptors identify him as their mentor. His monumental surveys History of American Sculpture and Recent Tendencies in Sculpture were published in 1903 and 1921, respectively.
A thematic/organizational motif in Taft’s work includes arrangements of multiple figures reacting individually to a common dramatic experience. In homage to Taft, his disciples created the sculptural grouping The Mourners. Taft’s work The Blind embodies his typical large-scale sculptural grouping approach, and its conceptual origin begins with an unlikely source—an assortment of donated costumes from the Art Institute of Chicago. The Eagle’s Nest Art Colony’s intimate, idyllic setting promoted creative cross-pollination between artists working in various genres. The members utilized costumes for various performance or for creative inspiration itself; “Depending on their whimsy, they dressed as nymphs, ghosts, gypsies, fauns, fairies, or Greeks.” Fellow Eagle’s Nest member Maeterlinck used these costumes for pageant-like performances, eventually conceptualizing his tragic drama Les Aveugles (The Blind). Maeterlinck’s play inspired Taft’s sculptural grouping The Blind, in which a group of people find salvation in the child among them. The Blind was Taft’s allegorical treatment of the figure of a child as the visionary; he wrote, “This is the artist’s moment… it is the symbol of hope that is worthy of perpetuation.”
The working plaster cast for The Blind, on permanent display in the Oregon Public Library’s art gallery, was instrumental in aiding in the restoration of the large-scale title piece. The Blind underwent massive restoration before it was ultimately cast in bronze; the working plaster cast served as a priceless model, aiding in determining proper reconstruction arrangements for the grand work; the restored large-scale sculptural grouping is now permanently installed at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana campus in the Krannert Art Museum.
Works Cited:
Call, Keith. Oregon, Illinois. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2005.
Falk, Peter, ed. Who Was Who in American Art 1564-1975: 400 Years of Art in America. Madison: Sound View Press, 1999.

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