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by Lorado Taft
The Fountain of the Great Lakes depicts five female figures grouped together so that water flows from their shells in the same way it passes through the Great Lake system. Superior, at the top, and Michigan empty their water into the basin held by Huron, who sends her stream on to Erie. Ontario receives water and gazes off as it flows into the ocean. Completed in 1913, the fountain sits in the south wing of the Art Institute of Chicago.
The idea for a Great Lakes fountain came from a remark made by architect Daniel Burnham at the Columbian Exposition in 1893. Burnham chided the sculptors assembled to ornament the fairgrounds for not "making anything" of the great natural resources in the west, especially the Great Lakes.
The Fountain of the Great Lakes is one of the best known works of Lorado Taft, an Illinois native who was educated at the University of Illinois and later at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Among his other noted sculptures are the Fountain of Time at the University of Chicago and a statue of Chief Black Hawk, which reaches a height of 50 feet and sits on a promontory overlooking the Rock River near Oregon, Illinois.
Graphic: The Fountain of the Great Lakes, south wing of the Art Institute of Chicago; Lorado Taft's home in Elmwood, Illinois.