Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Lorado Taft's "Ferguson Fountain" aka Fountain of the Great Lakes, at the Art Institute of Chicago.

The Ferguson Fountain, commonly known as the "Fountain of the Great Lakes," depicts five female figures grouped together so that water flows from their shells 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 to Erie. Ontario receives water and gazes off as it flows into the ocean. Completed in 1913, the fountain now sits inside the south wing of the Art Institute of Chicago.
The Ferguson Fountain at Chicago's Art Institute was never officially renamed to "Fountain of the Great Lakes." The fountain was commissioned by the Benjamin Ferguson Fund, and one surface of the fountain references the title "B.F. Ferguson Fountain of the Great Lakes." However, the fountain has been commonly referred to as the "Fountain of the Great Lakes" since its installation in 1913. The name "Ferguson Fountain" is still used sometimes but is less common.
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.


  1. As a past member of the Art Institute, for all the times, I have been there, and lived in Chicago for the first 52 years of my life, I have never heard of or seen this "Fountain of the Great Lakes". If I did happen to see it, I can't imagine not remembering. The photos above are exquisite and I will hope to visit Chicago again very soon. Just to see this enchanting fountain. Thank you, Mr. Gale, for sharing this.

  2. Never heard of this fountain, grew up in Chicago . Is it still there or taken down,

    1. The fountain now sits inside the south wing of the Art Institute of Chicago as noted in the article.


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