Lorado Taft (1860–1936) founded SAIC's Sculpture department and gained renown for his monumental and largely allegorical sculptures.
Lorado Taft (1860–1936) taught at SAIC from 1886–1929 and gained renown for his monumental and largely allegorical sculptures, such as Fountain of the Great Lakes and Fountain of Time.
Taft graduated from the University of Illinois in Champaign and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. The art programs at both schools were conservative and traditional, and he focused his study on mythological and literary subjects.
Post–graduation, Taft began a long career as teacher, public lecturer, and writer. He began teaching at SAIC in 1886 as part of the first group of educators after the school had changed hands from the former Chicago Academy of Design. He was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1911 and planned programs for public education in art, serving from 1914 to 1917 as Director of the American Federation of Arts.
Taft founded SAIC’s Sculpture department, instructing his students to model busts in clay and plaster and even carve them out of marble. He advocated for live models as the source for composition, and in a 1905 Chicago Post article, he says, "I have always found it difficult to teach students to work away from a model....When they are faithfully following the lines of a posed model the ideal conception vanishes and they see only the commonplace before them, and when the imaginative picture is in their minds and they have no model, they lack the courage to create it from the clay."
In the late 1890s, Taft began envisioning a monumental fountain of nymphs and flowing water. In 1899 he had his female students create a temporary plaster model of a nymph fountain on the lawn outside of the Art Institute of Chicago to elicit responses from the public. Some took issue with the content of the piece—a scene featuring nude nymphs—and the fact that women had executed it. Others responded favorably. Mayor Carter Harrison said, “It is not in any sense objectionable. It is beautiful and artistic.”
Taft wrote two comprehensive books on the subject of sculpture—his first, The History of American Sculpture, was published in 1903 and his Modern Tendencies in Sculpture was published in 1921. Taft’s former home called Midway Studios, on what is now the University of Chicago campus, is an established national monument.