Illinois town awards last Lorado Taft sculpture place of honor

Lorado Taft is pictured working on the 'Fountain of Time' at his Woodlawn studio. The 126-foot-long fountain was installed in Chicago's Washington Park in 1920. Image courtesy Chicago Daily News Collection at the Chicago History Museum.

Lorado Taft is pictured working on the ‘Fountain of Time’ at his Woodlawn studio. The 126-foot-long fountain was installed in Chicago’s Washington Park in 1920. Image courtesy Chicago Daily News Collection at the Chicago History Museum.

OREGON, Ill. (AP) – Perhaps it was fitting that when he died in his studio home in Chicago, sculptor Lorado Taft was creating a memorial piece commissioned to be placed on a grave. It was to depict a man young, with face and arms upraised and be called Aspiration.

But that final piece was never finished. All that was thought to remain of Aspiration was an old photograph that shows a working plaster model in the center of Taft’s studio at the time of his death, in 1936.

That is, until now.

Before he embarked on the full-size version of Aspiration, Taft created a 14 1/2-inch version. Unlike the plaster model that is thought to have since disintegrated, his minor version was cast permanently in bronze. Now, after changing hands several times, a pair of keen eyes and a winning online bid on eBay have ensured that his final bronze piece will become a permanent part of the Taft legacy in the town of Oregon.

Aspiration, the miniature, arrived in town recently and will probably be on display soon in the Eagle’s Nest Colony Art Collection of the Oregon Public Library. The collection is named for he colony that Taft created and mentored in the woods of what is now the Lorado Taft Field Campus of Northern Illinois University on the western banks of the Rock River north of Oregon.

Lynn Allyn Young, the founder of Chicago-based Artistic License Limited, found Aspiration for auction on eBay. Young, who once presented a photo lecture on Taft and is writing a book on his work, contacted Betty Croft of Oregon, who helped to buy the statue.

The final bid, according to the Web site, was $2,275.

“It is truly a rare find and a treasure,” Croft said.

It was made to be a sketch model for a 10-foot marble memorial statue for the grave of Emmons McCormick Blaine Jr., who died of pneumonia in 1918 at the age of 28.

Blaine was the grandson of Cyrus McCormick, who founded a company in Chicago that would become International Harvester Co.

Taft historians assume that the larger piece was destroyed, but the small statue probably was given to Blaine’s mother and disposed of by trustees of her estate after she died in 1954.

The statue showed up in 1955 in a Chicago antique shop, where it was bought by Thomas McDonough and his wife. They made inquiries to art experts and people who had known Taft to confirm that it was an original piece.

Mary Webster, who had been Taft’s assistant and secretary, knew of the piece and that it had been cast in bronze by Gorham Foundries, but she had not seen it again.

Oregon Library Board President Terry Schuster said he was pleased with the addition to the library’s collection.

“It’s a perfect fit for this community,” he said. “With our ties to art and to Lorado Taft, to actually have the last piece he worked on is priceless.”

With his Eternal Indian towering down over the Rock River valley, his stony vision of Civil War soldiers gracing the lawn of the Ogle County Courthouse, and playful fountains still delighting children in Mix Park, Taft made a mark on Oregon that has endured more than 70 years after his death.

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