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 tremendous 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 educated at the University of Illinois and later at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
There was some controversy over the female nudity depicted in Lorado Taft's "Ferguson Fountain." The fountain features five allegorical female figures representing the Great Lakes. Three figures have bare upper torsos, which was considered controversial at the time. Some critics argued that the nudity was inappropriate for a public space, while others defended the fountain as a work of art.The controversy over the nudity in "Ferguson Fountain" was part of a larger debate about the role of public art in the early 20th century. In the years leading up to the fountain's dedication, there was a growing movement to censor public art considered too sexually suggestive. This movement was led by groups like the National League of Women Voters, who argued that public art should be uplifting and educational, not titillating.In the end, "Ferguson Fountain" was not censored. However, the controversy over its nudity did highlight the changing standards of public decency in the early 20th century.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.