By Jeff Huebner
Scott Elliott opened an old wound in November 1995 when he penned a front-page editorial for the Cliff Dwellers Newsletter. He wrote that trustees of the Art Institute of Chicago had once been accused of abusing the B.F. Ferguson Monument Fund, a million-dollar bequest established in 1905 that was intended to beautify Chicago with public sculptures. By the 1930s the fund had helped finance 12 statues, but for the next several decades the museum allowed the trust's income to accumulate instead. Then in the mid-50s the Art Institute claimed $1.6 million of this nest egg for its own use--legally--so it could finance a new wing to house its administrative offices. In his editorial Elliott called the action a "devious plan to actually steal money from the people of Chicago."
Elliott, the owner of Kelmscott Gallery, was then editor of the Cliff Dwellers Club's quarterly publication. His editorial also questioned the museum's recent handling of the fund: "There is little evidence that any of the money has been used for its original purpose in the last thirty years." At the time Elliott wasn't aware that seven Ferguson sculptures had been created or commissioned since the 1960s. Still, he would later complain that the modern works didn't live up to the spirit of the bequest; to him these pieces--many by art world stars--seem like part of the Art Institute's collection. And he contends the fund would have a lot more money for new sculpture if so much weren't needed to maintain earlier works that were neglected for decades.
"I think that the essence, the meaning and real purpose, of that money has been completely lost," Elliott says. "They continue to act as if it's their money, to be used at their discretion and for their own purposes." He believes that the Ferguson Committee--currently composed of six Art Institute trustees who meet, on average, once a year--ought to be held more publicly accountable for its decisions.
Elliott's ten-paragraph editorial, titled "Cultural Vandalism: The Tradition Continues," concluded: "The men and women who created Chicago built a great city, but the greed and indifference of so-called 'corporate mentality' has all but destroyed it. There is little likelihood that the mindless cultural demolition of Chicago will not be complete by the end of the century."
The Art Institute saw those as fighting words. When officials there read the editorial, they came out swinging: Elliott's piece was "inaccurate" and "offensive." In the end, more than a year later, the Cliff Dwellers' board voted to knock Elliott out of his editor's job. He was stung, he says, because the editorial was "approved word for word" by John McDermott, then president of the club. (McDermott, a journalist who founded the Chicago Reporter, died in August 1996, eight months before the board's action.)
"The reason given me by the club's new president, Karl Zerfoss, is that I picked a fight with the Art Institute and that it wasn't appropriate to do that in the newsletter," Elliott says. "But I can't think of many subjects more pertinent to the Cliff Dwellers Club than the Ferguson Fund. All of the people involved with the beginning of the trust--Charles Hutchinson, Daniel Burnham, Lorado Taft--were involved in the founding of the club in 1907. If Ferguson had lived, he would've been involved, too. Practically every Chicago artist who figures prominently in the history of the fund was an early Cliff Dweller. If the newsletter of the oldest arts club in the city isn't an appropriate forum for the Ferguson Fund, then what is?
"People said I should've kept my mouth shut, but someone has to speak out. It just amazes me that nobody is looking into this thing."
Born in Pennsylvania in 1839, Benjamin Franklin Ferguson moved to Chicago after the Great Fire in 1871 and made a fortune running a planing mill and a lumber company, both on the south side. Beginning in the 1890s Ferguson toured the major capitals of Europe and was awed by their abundance of civic statuary and fountains; he became acutely aware of his city's lack of impressive monuments. He consulted with Art Institute officials and, encouraged by his longtime friends Hutchinson (the museum's founder and president) and Burnham (the architect and city planner), decided to use most of his wealth to enrich the urban landscape.
When Ferguson died in 1905 his will established a permanent trust fund of $1 million whose interest income was to be used "entirely and exclusively" for public art in Chicago. The income from the B.F. Ferguson Monument Fund would accumulate under the direction of the Northern Trust Company until the principal equaled the amount of the bequest (which was to remain intact). At that point the fund's annual net income would be allocated to the Art Institute to be expended, under the administration of its trustees, for the "erection and maintenance of enduring statuary and monuments" memorializing prominent American figures or events.
In April 1905 the Chicago Daily Tribune stated, "No other city in the world has such a fund available as that left by Mr. Ferguson, and officials of the Art Institute, artists, and devotees of municipal art freely predicted that the bequest would in another generation make Chicago the richest city in the world in sculpture and the Mecca for artists." Four years later Burnham and coauthor Edward Bennett touted the bequest as an important element of their Chicago Plan of 1909. To date, 19 sculptural works have been underwritten in whole or in part by the Ferguson Fund, from Taft's 1913 Fountain of the Great Lakes, located on the Art Institute grounds, to Louise Bourgeois' Jane Addams Memorial, dedicated last August near the Navy Pier Park complex.
In the years following Ferguson's death Hutchinson and the fund's trustees used the trust income to erect 11 major sculptures, including Daniel Chester French's Statue of the Republic in Jackson Park and Bela Lyon Pratt's Alexander Hamilton in Grant Park between Madison and Monroe.
"It was very clear what that money was to be used for and how," says Elliott. "Only after Hutchinson's death in 1924 did things start to stray." The last works of note for nearly 40 years were dedicated in 1928: Defense and Regeneration, Henry Hering's sculptured reliefs on the two south pylons of the Michigan Avenue bridge, and Indians (also known as The Bowman and the Spearman), Ivan Mestrovic's monumental horsemen-warriors located at Michigan Avenue and Congress Parkway.
But as the fund's benefactor began to fade from memory, so did his original intent. In the early 30s the Art Institute began planning a major expansion program. Fund-raising from private individuals had declined with the onset of the Depression, so the museum began looking for new sources of cash. In 1933 its lawyers--without public notice and encountering no resistance from the Northern Trust Company--filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Cook County asking whether the Ferguson will's reference to "enduring monuments" could be interpreted to include other structures, such as buildings. The court decreed that the museum could use the bequest's future income to finance a building addition, ostensibly to house sculptures. The court's decision made the Art Institute the beneficiary, rather than the administrator, of the trust.
The Art Institute then postponed its expansion, allowing the fund--invested conservatively in fixed-rate securities such as government bonds--to accumulate income. In fact, from 1928 to 1967 no public sculptures were commissioned or purchased by the Ferguson Fund. (Carl Milles's Triton Fountain isn't quite "public": though it was donated to the Art Institute in 1931, Ferguson money funded its installation inside the museum 20 years later.) Several groups and institutions, most notably the Museum of Science and Industry, requested financial help in erecting new sculptures throughout the 1930s and '40s; the Ferguson Committee turned them down, stating plainly that they were saving the money for a building wing.
"In the 30s, 40s, and 50s, sculptors were looking desperately for any work they could find," says Elliott. "Just think what [the Ferguson Committee] could have done with that money, and what this city could have had if they'd only done what they were supposed to do. No city in the world could have come close." He points out that in 1927 the Arts Club paid $1,200 for a Brancusi, which it recently sold to the Art Institute for $12 million. "If the Ferguson trustees were going to screw around with our money back then, why couldn't they at least [purchase art] instead of squirreling it away for a building? What kind of vision is that?"
The Art Institute's use of the Ferguson Fund didn't become widely known until 1955, when local papers reported on a subsequent court case. By then museum trustees had decided that they needed an office annex more than a statuary hall, so Art Institute lawyers asked the court if the 1933 interpretation could permit the construction and maintenance of a five-story administration wing. Several parties, including the Artists Equity Association and the city of Chicago, appealed to Illinois attorney general Latham Castle to defend the original terms of the will, but he declined. The local AEA chapter then filed suit to recover the Ferguson Fund for sculpture; when the court ruled against it, in June, the controversy made the pages of Time. The National Sculpture Society and the city of Chicago brought suits a year later, but those too were thrown out. The court ruled in the Art Institute's favor in June 1956.
But the battle wasn't over. In April 1957 Chicago attorney Luis Kutner filed suit against the Art Institute on behalf of noted film distributor and archivist Wesley Greene and the citizens of Illinois, charging that the museum had failed to enforce the terms of the Ferguson will. Judge Abraham Lincoln Marovitz dismissed the suit, finding that only the state's attorney general, and not a private citizen, could bring action against a charitable trust. But Marovitz told the museum's lawyers, "I have read the entire case of 1933 and all the papers and articles related to the matter, as well as Mr. Ferguson's will...and I cannot agree that Ferguson intended for the income to be used to erect an administration building." After the hearing in the judge's chambers, Marovitz told the assistant attorney general, the assistant state's attorney, and the city of Chicago's corporation counsel that the Illinois law regarding charitable trusts needed a drastic overhaul.
By the fall of 1958 the Art Institute had its new $2.3 million administration wing on the north end of the museum--$1.6 million had come from the Ferguson Fund (according to writer Elinor Richey, at the time the Ferguson Committee claimed to have spent $794,000 on sculpture since its inception). The Benjamin F. Ferguson Memorial Building, as it's still called, houses offices, shipping rooms, repair shops, archives, a loading dock, and a members-only lounge. "Thus," wrote Kutner in a 1963 issue of the DePaul Law Review, "the perversion of the Ferguson Monument Fund was complete. Not only had the administrators channeled the funds from a public to a private use, but the premeditated fraud had indeed been given judicial sanction." (Kutner died in the early 90s.)
Prompted by Marovitz's concerns, the state legislature in July 1961 enacted the Charitable Trust Act, which permitted any taxpayer to challenge an institution's use of a charitable trust fund if the state's attorney general refused to act. As a result the Chicago Heritage Committee (the nonprofit forerunner to the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois) and the local chapter of the Artists Equity Association mounted a vigorous campaign to regain the Ferguson Fund for public sculpture. In October the art groups' members (some of them Cliff Dwellers, according to Elliott) and other citizens demonstrated on the sidewalk in front of the Art Institute, passing out handbills and forming a picket line. Signs read: "Is an office building a statue?," "Return sculpture to the people," and "We demand our inheritance." The arts groups also petitioned the state's attorney general to enforce the terms of the will, if necessary by carrying litigation to the higher courts.
The campaign continued into the following year. In October 1962 Martha King, public relations director for the Art Institute, asked Chicago Daily News columnist Jack Mabley, "What do they want? More Alexander Hamiltons for the pigeons to enjoy? Where is this great public which enjoys the statues? Flat on their backs in the parks. The great public happens to be coming into this institution at the rate of 1,300,000 a year. I think it's better to educate children to art here than to let them tear up statues outside."
Late that year Illinois attorney general William Clark reinvestigated the case and held a series of conferences with the Art Institute's trustees and lawyers. The trustees then announced that the Ferguson Fund's "present accumulated revenues," said to be $130,000, would be devoted to public sculpture. (Newspaper reports in 1962 and '63 quote CHC members who said the trust fund would have accrued nearly $10 million had funds not been diverted. But Robert Mars, the Art Institute's executive vice president for administrative affairs, told me that was impossible; due to restrictions on the fund, payouts to the Ferguson Committee were made annually, so these earnings were never allowed to compound.)
The Ferguson Fund entered the modernist era in 1967 when Nuclear Energy, by British sculptor Henry Moore, was dedicated on South Ellis Avenue. The work commemorated the 25th anniversary of the first self-sustaining controlled nuclear reaction, achieved on that University of Chicago site. Six more works have followed in the last three decades, including another by Moore, Man Enters the Cosmos. This large sundial is currently in storage, but it will be reinstalled near the Adler Planetarium in the spring of 1998; however, in its new location it will be in shadow until mid-morning November through January.
The terms of the trust were once clearly visible to the "great public." Fountain of the Great Lakes, the first work financed by the Ferguson Fund, was initially sited on the south yard of the Art Institute. The fountain's five female figures represent the Great Lakes; on its back appears a bronze relief portrait of the man for whom the fountain was dedicated, along with an inscribed portion of his will. But in 1963 the museum moved the statue up against the west facade of its new Morton wing--over the objections of the CHC, which would have preferred that a new work be created for the site. As a result of the relocation, Ferguson's portrait and the inscription are hidden: viewers have to climb over a fence or break through a padlocked gate and wedge themselves into a narrow passageway in order to read the words:
"Benjamin Franklin Ferguson bequeathed in trust to the trustees of the Art Institute of Chicago a fund of one million dollars to be known as the B.F. Ferguson Monument Fund--the income derived from the fund must be used for the erection and maintenance of enduring statuary and monuments in the parks, along the boulevards or in other public places within the city of Chicago commemorating worthy men or women of America or important events of her history . . . "
Below Ferguson's relief, another inscription says: "There will be memory of us yet in the days to come."
Portly, gray-bearded, 55-year-old Scott Elliott has the discerning mien of an art connoisseur. In his year-end review of the 1996 art scene Tribune critic Alan Artner wrote that Elliott had the "best eye" of any Chicago dealer. Elliott's Kelmscott Gallery is located at 4611 N. Lincoln in the former Krause Music Store, whose 1922 facade was Louis Sullivan's final work; it's less a traditional art gallery than a living repository of drawings, furniture, and decorative objects by Frank Lloyd Wright and other Chicago and Prairie School architects and designers. "We specialize in the decorative and applied arts from the Industrial Revolution to World War II," says Elliott. "But Wright has almost always been the centerpiece and focal point of everything we've done."
Born in Chicago, Elliott attended the Art Institute and later New York's Art Students League; he also studied scenic design at the Yale School of Drama. He worked as a bookseller and art dealer in New York, running the Helios Arts Gallery there in the 1970s. He moved back to Chicago in 1980, establishing Kelmscott--named for the manor of William Morris, the English designer who helped start the Arts and Crafts Movement--in the Fine Arts Building. Meanwhile, Elliott had been buying Wright objects from collectors "at any price and beyond." In 1981 the gallery staged what Elliott calls the "first commercial retrospective in the world" of Wright's works: drawings, furniture, sculptures, glass and textile objects, documents, photographs, letters. Elliott sold everything. The event, he admits, drew criticism from local preservationists who felt that Wright's Chicago legacy was being dispersed. "I was vilified from the beginning," he says with a chuckle.
Yet Elliott adds that he has "brought ten times as much [Wright material] back to Chicago, and anything I've made I've put back into another architectural project." In the late 80s he bought a 1949 Wright house in Benton Harbor, Michigan, where he lives with his wife Eileen Cropley, a dance professor at Barat College in Lake Forest and a former soloist with the Paul Taylor Dance Company in New York. In 1990 Elliott auctioned off his private art collection and much of Kelmscott's inventory to buy and restore the Louis Sullivan building in Lincoln Square. He's curated three Wright exhibits in the last 15 years, including those at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York and the Design Museum in London, and has lent "innumerable pieces" to Wright exhibits around the world.
Elliott first became aware of the Ferguson Fund controversy in the early 80s, when he acquired part of the estate of architectural sculptor Alfonso Iannelli, who'd died in 1965. Iannelli worked with Wright on Midway Gardens (razed in 1929) and with many other Chicago architects; he also headed the Art Institute's design department in the 1920s. In Iannelli's papers Elliott found a file on the Chicago Heritage Committee, to which Iannelli belonged; the file contained clippings and letters concerning the group's battles with the museum in the 1960s. Elliott read the papers and put them aside.
He was reminded of the Ferguson affair a decade later when he befriended fellow Cliff Dweller Wesley Greene, whose lawsuit against the Art Institute Elliott had read about in Iannelli's CHC file. Elliott recalls coming to the club, then located atop Orchestra Hall, and seeing prominent architects and arts professionals at the members' table; Greene, with his grizzled beard and long white hair, would be sitting alone by the fire with a glass of Chivas Regal. "No one knew much about him or what he'd done, except maybe some of the older staff members," says Elliott. He'd sit with the elderly gent, who often reminisced about his days fighting the Ferguson Fund.
According to Elliott, Greene told him about a letter he and his wife, sculptor Marie Zoe Greene-Mercier, had received in 1957 from European sculptor Jacques Lipchitz; the letter urged them as Chicago artists to see that Ferguson's "farseeing will is carried out according to his intentions." Greene also steered Elliott to Kutner's paper in the DePaul Law Review, which provided an overview of the Ferguson Fund up to 1963, analyzing the 1950s court cases and the 1961 Charitable Trust Act.
"I think what appealed to me most about [Greene] was that he had done something really important," Elliott says, "really courageous, with no self-interest, just because it was right, and no one knew it. He was an unsung hero, a forgotten treasure. Chicago has a lot of them. Maybe I am a traditionalist--I see more of value in where we came from than in where we seem to be headed. Or maybe it's just because I like digging things up. Urban archaeology is, after all, my business."
Elliott's curiosity was piqued again several years later when he talked to a Chicago Park District conservator who was applying a protective brown coating to the bronze surface of one of Mestrovic's Indians. "It was as if they'd said, 'What the hell can we stick on these statues so it'll cost us less money [to conserve] in the long run?' It wasn't a matter of aesthetics, but a matter of abandoning aesthetics. It was like putting aluminum siding on a Frank Lloyd Wright house."
Elliott says the conservator told him the sculptures' $300,000 restoration cost had depleted the Ferguson Fund. Elliott wondered why there wasn't more in the fund. It got him to thinking: Where's the money? He made inquiries to the Art Institute's archives department to obtain materials related to the Ferguson Fund but says he was told the archives were either in storage or being moved, and temporarily unavailable.
Elliott's 1995 editorial--which glossed over historical and judicial details--sparked a mini furor in the normally staid pages of the Cliff Dwellers Newsletter. Club president John McDermott received letters from James Wood, director of the Art Institute, and Robert Mars, the executive vice president for administrative affairs. Wood's letter, Elliott says, only asked that a couple of historical inaccuracies be corrected. But Mars, who oversees the Ferguson Fund, demanded that his reply be printed on the front page of the next issue.
In the April 1996 newsletter, Mars offered a point-by-point rebuttal to Elliott's "substantially inaccurate...highly outrageous and offensive remarks." Defending the court cases, he pointed out that the Art Institute did have the law on its side and that the 1958 wing "was a sincere effort to use the funds to build a public monument to the man who created the fund." Mars branded as "pure nonsense" Elliott's assertion that the trust had been misused in the last three decades, citing all the Ferguson works erected in that time. Mars added that the Art Institute had also "initiated and directed a significant conservation effort necessary to preserve all of the monuments into the future."
Elliott had also called the Mestrovic restoration "highly questionable" because the coating gave the bronzes a rubbery, dime-store look and wouldn't allow them to patinate naturally. Mars responded that the $375,000 Mestrovic restoration project was based on the conservators' thorough research of the work's original appearance. The statues were repatinated and then coated with the lacquerlike substance to prevent a repeat of the major surface damage caused by the natural patination. And, Mars added, the cost of the restoration did not deplete the fund, though he did allow that Ferguson's will "prohibited the use of equities" and other more liberal investment opportunities. (According to a fund analysis, the available balance at the end of fiscal year 1995 stood at just under $700,000.)
In the ensuing months, at the Art Institute's urging, Elliott delved deeper into the history of the Ferguson Fund. Mars sent him copies of Ferguson's will, conservation status and expenditure reports, project reports, Ferguson Committee meeting minutes dating back to 1985, and other papers. After making copies of other documents at the museum's Burnham Library Elliott wrote his own history of the fund, which he'd planned to include in the April 1996 newsletter as a response to Mars's rebuttal. But the chronological article ended up at 5,000 words, too long to be published in the newsletter.
After talking with Mars on the phone, Elliott acknowledged his errors in the April issue and wrote that "frank and open discussion of such matters was both constructive and healthy." Yet he had the last word, stating that the materials he'd perused "reveal a far more extensive history of mismanagement than was previously indicated." He also wrote: "The future of the administration of the Ferguson Trust is a matter of concern to all Chicagoans. Mr. Mars's contention that the alleged misuse of the funds was 'found proper in two separate court decisions' does not bode well for the future. The legislation of the Charitable Trust Act in 1961 refutes his claim."
Elliott says that while McDermott supported the initial article, he changed his mind after receiving the Art Institute's complaints. Elliott claims that McDermott tried to "dump" him as editor earlier last year but that the Cliff Dwellers board voted to retain him. "When I said I'd be interested in taking on the newsletter some years ago, I told McDermott that I wasn't interested in running stories about how we spent our summer vacation," says Elliott. "There are few voices in the city that tell it like it is. Both McDermott and I wanted [the newsletter] to become a defender of art in Chicago, but without going out of our way to alienate people.
"This club used to be a place--the only one, I might add--where an artist could have lunch or a drink with a museum big shot and say exactly what he thought. People in the arts were actually in touch with each other. It was a community. It was supposed to be an arts club, a very special one, not just a place to have lunch. But instead of fostering higher standards in the arts--that's in our articles of incorporation--we're worried about offending the corporate world."
The controversy seemed to have blown over until the April 1997 newsletter appeared. In it Elliott penned an obituary for Wesley Greene, who'd died in January. Elliott wrote that the "heroic efforts" of Greene and his wife enabled Illinois citizens to challenge abuses by public trusts; he then reprised the Ferguson affair, very briefly and without editorial comment. "The Charitable Trust Act was one of the most significant accomplishments of Greene's life, and I thought it would be an omission if I didn't mention it in eulogizing him."
On April 14 the board voted to ask for Elliott's "immediate resignation" from his unpaid position as editor, saying that he was unable to avoid controversy. He's still chairman of their art committee, which stages exhibits in the club's year-old quarters on the 22nd floor of the Borg-Warner Building. "I'd spent an enormous amount of time and energy making the newsletter worthwhile, often at my own expense, without anybody ever criticizing any aspect of it," he says, pointing out that the Ferguson to-do "has had no adverse effect" on the club's relationship with the Art Institute. In fact, he says, the club has welcomed a number of museum employees as new members in the last two years.
When informed later of Elliott's ouster, Mars wasn't sympathetic. "Right on," he says. "It was a terrible piece of journalism."
Though Elliott characterizes his conflict with the Cliff Dwellers board as a "tempest in a teapot," it hasn't quelled his interest in the Ferguson Fund. He'll continue to research the trust and to flesh out his 5,000-word article, hoping to include his investigation in a book he's writing about his art experiences in New York and Chicago. He believes the fund is worthy of more in-depth scholarship because its embattled history has scarcely been recounted in books (one notable exception being a five-page treatment in Chicago Sculpture by James L. Riedy, published in 1981). Elliott also feels it's important that someone carry on the work of the citizen watchdogs who tussled with the Art Institute in the 1950s and '60s. After the Charitable Trust Act became law, he says, "the people who fought went away, or they tired of it. Nobody had to pay any money or go to jail. Basically it's all been forgotten about until 30 years later."
Elliott insists he has nothing against the Art Institute. "I don't want to be perceived as attacking them," he says. "I've been a great supporter of the museum all of my life. I have loved the Art Institute since I first visited there at the age of 15" while attending Downers Grove High School. Elliott says that he spent most Saturdays examining the museum's collection of prints and that Hugh Edwards, then the curator of prints and drawings, became a mentor to him. Last year Elliott even donated to the Burnham Library the earliest known sketchbook of Daniel Burnham, a work later appraised at $40,000.
I ask Elliott why we should care about how the fund is used. He replies, "Aside from the fact that millions of dollars were involved, and they cheated the public, it represents a cynical attitude that is pervasive in Chicago. It's part of the same philosophy, the same sensibility, the same mindless knee-jerk greed that causes a lot of the other bad things to happen in this town--the neglect and abuse of what was built in this city, the destruction of buildings, the destruction of parks...It's all tied up, it's all part of the same arrogant, cynical mentality. It's the same mentality that brings down great skyscrapers and replaces them with parking lots. But these people have no excuse. They're not developers. They're supposed to be promoting art.
"Whenever the Art Institute gets caught with their pants down, they remind you that they're a private institution. They want the luxury and privileges of being a public institution, but with none of the responsibilities."
But has the Art Institute been caught with its pants down? Elliott concedes that some of his charges may have been off the mark, but he stands by his claim that the Ferguson Fund has had problems since the 1960s. "The question of whether they've done the right thing in the last 30 years is a more subtle argument, though that doesn't make it any less serious," he says. Elliott contends that the trust has been run like a private endowment, with all decisions made by a revolving pool of Art Institute trustees unaccountable to the public. He also believes that some of the Ferguson Committee's recent commissions fall short of the donor's standards of civic beautification. He says the sculptures fail to commemorate their subjects in a worthy manner or aren't accessibly sited "in the parks, along the boulevards or in other public places," as the 1905 bequest required. And Ferguson trustees are now spending prohibitive amounts of cash to restore sculptures (such as Lorado Taft's crumbling Fountain of Time) that were virtually ignored during the decades when the Art Institute hoarded the fund's income.
"The Ferguson Committee ought to be a real committee," Elliott says. "There ought to be art professors [on it] who aren't beholden to anybody. There ought to be artists above the fray, who don't have to lick somebody's shoes and who have enough stature to speak out. It shouldn't be packed with socialites who have no concept of [the fund's] mission." (The current trustees, all board members of the Art Institute, are chair John D. Nichols, the retired CEO of Illinois Tool Works; John H. Bryan, chairman of the board and CEO of the Sara Lee Corporation; Stanley M. Freehling, a partner of the Freehling Division of Cowen & Company; John H. Johnson, president and publisher of Johnson Publishing Company; Jetta Jones, an attorney with JDS Mediation Services; and James O. Silliman, a partner in the law firm Eckhart, McSwain, Silliman & Sears.)
"Instead of being public sculptures erected to enhance Chicago," Elliott argues, "some appear to me to be an extension of the Art Institute's private collection, stuck around in semipublic areas like university campuses, in other obscure odds-and-ends places, or outside the museum." For example, Isamu Noguchi's In Celebration of the 200th Anniversary of the Founding of the Republic was commissioned to coincide with the U.S. bicentennial; its completion also coincided with the opening of the Art Institute's east wing, outside of which the sculpture was installed in 1976. Like much contemporary sculpture, Noguchi's granite and stainless-steel fountain celebrates a significant historic event without telling us anything about it. As art historian Franz Schulze writes of the Ferguson Fund in his introduction to Ira J. Bach and Mary Lackritz Gray's A Guide to Chicago's Public Sculpture, "In view of its recent application to palpably abstract works, by the likes of Henry Moore and Richard Hunt, it is clear that the donor's insistence on themes relating to 'important events in American history' has been winked at as surely, if not as audaciously, as it was in the construction of the Art Institute's Ferguson Wing."
The 1905 bequest stipulated that the fund be used for "commemorating" worthy American figures or events, not necessarily for "representing" them; indeed, less than half of the Ferguson memorials to notable people actually portray them. By the time Ferguson sculptures began reappearing in 1967 after a 39-year hiatus, the role of commemorative public art in American parks and plazas had changed. With the mid-60s onset of federal programs to install art in public places, outdoor urban areas began to be viewed as exhibition spaces for the kind of works usually found in museums and galleries; as a result, classical, heroic "man on a horse" statues began to give way to abstract, modernist art that often scrapped the figural representation of historic personalities (or ideals) altogether.
Elliott, a self-described "abashed modernist," denies that he has an ax to grind against contemporary sculpture. For example, he thinks Chicagoan Hunt's Slabs of the Sunburnt West, a welded-bronze abstract work the Ferguson Committee installed at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1975, meaningfully evokes the prairie-bred legacy of its honoree, poet and historian Carl Sandburg. "My criticism is not whether a sculpture is representational or symbolic," he says. "What matters is whether it actually attempts to accomplish its purpose."
He's most disdainful of the last two Ferguson works: Louise Bourgeois' Jane Addams Memorial and George Segal's Man on a Bench, pieces by two of today's leading sculptors. Segal's $150,000 painted bronze-and-aluminum piece was erected in 1985 at the Illinois Institute of Technology to commemorate the centennial of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who designed the campus in the 1950s. But that's not Mies seated on the bench; it's an old black man, meant to represent the people who'd been displaced from the south-side site to make way for Mies's buildings.
"You don't instantly recognize it as a tribute to Mies and the principles he stood for," says Elliott. "How do you make that leap with this George Segal sculpture? Many artists could've done a better tribute. Marie Zoe Greene-Mercier could've done the most magnificent sculpture to Mies. She trained at the IIT. She's a monumental sculptor who specializes in constructivist work. It would've been a great marriage of sculpture and architecture. Martin Puryear also would've been an excellent choice. Don't they think Chicago artists are capable of producing a sculpture that speaks to its audience as a public work?"
In fact, Puryear--the internationally recognized African-American sculptor who left Chicago for Accord, New York, in 1990--was discussed for the IIT job, along with Willem de Kooning and Segal. In a 1985 memo James Speyer, then the Art Institute's curator of 20th-century painting and sculpture, told James Wood how he and Heather Bilandic, then chair of the Ferguson Committee and a trustee of IIT, chose Segal to create the Mies memorial. De Kooning was too expensive, and as Speyer succinctly wrote, "Mrs. Bilandic did not wish to consider Martin Puryear."
Jane Addams Memorial, located in a "secret garden" (as a project report calls it) near Ohio Street Beach, features a series of human-sized hands carved directly out of six black granite columns. The hands, differently configured and representing people of different ages, symbolize the many poor immigrants served and nurtured by the pioneering social worker at Hull House. The Jane Addams Memorial Park's $1 million cost was shared by the Park District, the state of Illinois, the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, and the city of Chicago circulator project. The Ferguson Fund contributed $300,000 for the artwork.
The memorial doesn't make its point, Elliott says. "It has nothing whatsoever to do with Jane Addams. It could just as easily be a monument to Mahatma Gandhi, Louis Farrakhan, or Mother Cabrini. Or to John D. Rockefeller, who put shiny dimes into the waiting hands of kids....When you think of how unbelievably rich [Addams's] contributions were to Chicago, the idea of those dinky little hands is preposterous. Anybody looking at it would not make the connection with what she actually stood for. And why is it by the lakeshore? She dealt with people from the inner city, the ghetto--that's where [a memorial] would mean something. Why didn't they really do their research, stop and say, 'What would be the best way in the world to memorialize her, and what sculptor is the best qualified to work on the project?' and perhaps get a Chicago artist to come up with an extraordinary thing, an absolutely wonderful sculpture that means something to everybody. Why did they pick this totally irrelevant, has-been artist to do a monument to Jane Addams, who is relevant? It looks like they picked whatever [Bourgeois] happened to be working on out of her studio."
The project consultant, independent public-art curator Mary Jane Jacob, says Elliott's statements are "so far off the mark that they're hardly the beginning of a serious conversation. And they're offensive to an accomplished artistic figure."
Yet there may be some validity to Elliott's claims. Though Bourgeois designed the sculpture expressly for the park, it was based on a series she'd already been developing. According to Ferguson Committee meeting minutes and project reports, the Jane Addams Memorial Committee, a citizens group, approached the Ferguson trustees in 1989, the 100th anniversary of Hull House, to request funds for a commemorative sculpture. A year later the trustees approved a monument in principle. The initial list of five proposed sculptors included Maya Lin, Jenny Holzer, and Puryear. In 1991 the JAMC voted for Lin, the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The Ferguson Committee--which has the final say--approved the proposal. The south end of Grant Park was deemed the most appealing site, and Jacob was brought in as curator in 1992.
But things didn't work out as planned. Lin turned down the commission. Jacob then approached Bourgeois--not an original candidate--whose work often explores the theme of woman as nurturer of children and of humanity. The 81-year-old artist accepted, and Ferguson trustees approved. Jacob says she visited Bourgeois several times in her New York studio, giving her materials to read. Bourgeois' initial idea was to create an "abstracted portrait" of Addams, surrounded by a circular, stepped seating area. But when the proposed Grant Park site was changed, the artist agreed to design a sculpture that would be erected as part of the Park District's planned Navy Pier Park complex.
The focus of the memorial then shifted from Addams to the people she served. Jacob says that Bourgeois "worked intuitively" to arrive at the hand as an image for Addams's ideals, yet in the early 90s Bourgeois was working on a series of sculptures called "Cells" that, according to a memorial status report, "combine a human, organic presence within an architectural setting"; a few pieces featured images of disembodied hands, the earliest dating to 1991. Jacob says it "became a wonderful coincidence" that Bourgeois' hands suggested a "fantastic quote" from Addams's book Twenty Years at Hull-House: visiting London in 1883, Addams saw the poor beg for food with "myriads of hands, empty, pathetic, nerveless and workworn....Perhaps nothing is so fraught with significance as the human hand."
The Addams tribute, says Jacob, is a "monumental antimonument" with "a significant feminist and enlightened point of view" in that it departs from the usual heroic male bronzes scattered along the lakefront. "This was a selfless person who dedicated her life to other people," she says. "The sculpture is not a history lesson. It's not about being Ulysses S. Grant on a horse, or Lincoln sitting or standing, but about other people and about representing her through her people. 'Do not honor me, but honor yourselves'--that's the way that Jane Addams would've thought. It represents the one by the many."
What about Elliott's argument that the sculpture should have been located where Addams's people lived--in the community? Some thought was given to that, she says, but the memorial committee considered Navy Pier Park a "fantastic site" because a monument to Addams, arguably the greatest woman in Chicago history, belonged with "all those guys who claim our communal spaces" in lakefront parklands. "Lincoln wasn't in Grant Park," Jacob says. "You can't ignore that the lakefront is our image, the view we give to the world. This is where we strut our stuff. Of course Jane Addams wasn't there, but she doesn't have to stay home."
Jane Addams Memorial Park was dedicated last August. Signage surrounding the sculpture explains how it relates to its honoree; Ferguson trustees had discussed the need for signage, but Jacob says many of the city's public sculptures could benefit from explanatory text. And despite the representational nature of Bourgeois' work, one of the four bronze plaques does include a photo-etched portrait of Jane Addams.
Interviewed in a B.F. Ferguson Memorial Building conference room, Robert Mars disputes Elliott's criticism that the Ferguson Committee isn't publicly accountable. "We do receive community input," says Mars, who has administered the sculpture trust for 22 years. He points out, for example, that the Jane Addams Memorial Committee was a diverse group of Chicagoans that came together, presented a plan, rallied local support, and helped see the seven-year project through to completion. "We felt it was important that it be done, and we were influenced by the strong desire they expressed," Mars says. "[Our] committee was very much involved in trying to move in the direction that the Jane Addams Committee would be supportive of. When you're approached by a committee of the community, it makes the project more compelling. The final decisions rest with the [Ferguson] trustees, but that doesn't mean they're not interested in receiving outside input."
Yet, Mars adds, "not very many" community groups approach the Ferguson trustees with proposals for public sculptures. "We might get two or three a year, and then none for a while. There's no consistency in the amount of requests." One recent request came from the Jefferson Park Advisory Council, which wanted to erect a traditional bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson in front of the park field house. But the proposal was declined in 1994 because, according to Ferguson Committee minutes, the fund "is involved already in other projects, and because it is committed to seeking innovative and challenging sculpture by outstanding artists." Jefferson Park still lacks a memorial to its namesake.
Last year the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum requested Ferguson funding to help pay for a Mexican-American veterans memorial on Park District land that the museum recently acquired as part of its expansion program. Whether it receives a grant or not, museum director Carlos Tortolero is confident that a work by New Mexican sculptor Luis Jimenez will be erected as part of a proposed plaza in Harrison Park on or after the year 2000. Jimenez was here in May to scope out the site; the museum is forming a memorial committee that will formally apply to the Ferguson Committee later this year, according to Tortolero. "It's our way to give something back to the community," he says.
Has the Art Institute ever considered appointing arts professionals and community members to the committee? "Ferguson vested full authority to make decisions with the trustees of the Art Institute," Mars replies. "I think one could argue that in today's politically charged environment, if you tried to approach this by committee, you could never get anything done. Maybe he was wise enough to foresee that."
And while seven of the nineteen Ferguson works are by sculptors who made (or make) Chicago their primary home, Mars says there is no "buy-local mandate" spelled out in the bequest. "I think it's more the issue of bringing the best possible sculptors to Chicago," he says. "If the best person for the project happens to be in Chicago, then that's great. The identity of the person or event commemorated needs to be of the highest standard, the site needs to be highly visible, and hopefully the monument itself will be the work of an internationally renowned sculptor."
But the work of renowned sculptors has never come cheap. According to a 1905 edition of the Tribune, a "fine equestrian statue" could cost between $40,000 and $50,000--about the same amount as the Ferguson Fund earned annually, at least through the 1920s. While the cost of sculptures has increased dramatically in recent decades, the fund's annual income hasn't risen appreciably. Since 1990 the trust's fiscal year-end figure has ranged between $686,000 and $898,000, throwing off between about $66,000 and $83,600 a year in interest. Not including sums spent for the Jane Addams Memorial, annual conservation and maintenance alone have cost between $52,000 and $123,000. Because there was less confidence in the stock market when the Ferguson will was probated in 1904, the bequest clearly required that the sculpture fund's principal be invested in fixed-income securities. The fund's conservative yield wasn't an obstacle back in the 1910s and '20s, when a Ferguson statue was erected every few years. But by 1990--the halfway point between the Segal and the Bourgeois--the committee realized that the conditions of the bequest could become a financial liability. Unless the principal was invested in vehicles that could keep pace with inflation, the fund couldn't cover the costs of future projects and sorely needed maintenance.
Though the trustees cannot reinvest the principal without a court ruling, the income can be disbursed at their discretion. In 1990 the Ferguson Committee took $100,000 from the fund's income and, as a partial hedge against inflation, used it to establish a second principal fund invested solely in equities. Earlier this year the Northern Trust Company permitted the Art Institute's lawyers to file a complaint in Cook County Circuit Court, asking for what Mars calls a "deviation of the donor's terms." In March the court granted a decree allowing the museum to invest the fund's principal in a balanced portfolio including stocks.
"By investing in stocks, there will be a short-term loss in the current income because dividends are typically paid at lower rates than income on bonds and the like," Mars explains. "But over time, we hope this trust fund now worth $1.2 million will grow to $5 million, $6 million, and that we'll be able to do more than if it had simply been invested in fixed-income securities forever."
The Ferguson Committee has two major projects on its drawing boards. One is a monument to Chicago founder Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, which will be part of a new park in DuSable's name at the mouth of the Chicago River. While Mars isn't at liberty to discuss proposed sculptors, he reports "a lot of momentum" on the joint Park District-Ferguson Fund endeavor, and says that the memorial--approved in principle in 1988--will be completed "hopefully soon." The other project has been dogging the Ferguson trustees for years: the ongoing conservation of the Fountain of Time, often cited as Lorado Taft's masterpiece. Mars hopes to close the books on the projected $630,000 restoration ($430,000 of it Ferguson money) by the fall of 1998. But after these two projects are done, he says, "the fund's going to be temporarily tapped out."
While the Art Institute was tapping the trust's income to build its administration wing, the care of the dozen Ferguson statues (all but two of them bronzes, and most on granite bases) had been left in the hands of Park District or city of Chicago workers, "much to the detriment of the public monuments," charged a Chicago Heritage Committee spokesperson in a 1963 Tribune article. By the 1970s most of the works had fallen into disrepair.
Elliott contends the Ferguson Commit-tee is now paying for past oversights. "They grossly neglected the care and maintenance of works in their charge," he says. "Had they fulfilled their responsibilities early on, there wouldn't be staggering amounts of money needed to restore or repair those statues now. They wouldn't be trying to get all the maintenance off their back, and pawning the work onto the Chicago Park District. The will said the money was to be used for 'erection and maintenance.' . . . It's totally negligent."
Mars doesn't deny that the Ferguson Fund has been playing financial catch-up with delayed conservation and maintenance projects. However, he explains, it wasn't until the early to mid-70s that outdoor sculpture conservators developed the tools to treat "bronze disease"--the corrosive green patination that builds up on urban statuary due to environmental exposure and acid rain--without damaging the bronze itself. Prior to that, Mars says, "many efforts to clean and conserve outdoor sculptures involved the use of too abrasive a material to remove patination, resulting in a loss of detail, a loss of bronze surface." Edward McCartan's 1922 Eugene Field Memorial, located near the small animal house of the Lincoln Park Zoo, underwent a full-scale restoration in 1979, the first Ferguson work to receive such a treatment.
Through the 1980s the Park District and the Ferguson Committee used outside contractors such as the Washington University Technology Associates in Saint Louis to rehabilitate their sculptures. But in 1991, concerned that the fund would have to commit an increasing portion of its income toward maintenance in future years, the Ferguson trustees joined forces with the Park District to hire a full-time outdoor sculpture conservator, plus two laborer assistants. By sharing repair costs with the Park District (and, when possible, other entities) and providing an annual subsidy for salaries and supplies, the committee spends less than if it were contracting out on its own--saving money that could pay for new commissions.
One hundred twenty outdoor sculptures stand on park land; every year Andrzej Dajnowski and his staff treat about 30, at least 6 of them Ferguson pieces. Work includes cleaning, corrosion removal, patination, stabilization, and the application of protective coatings (relacquering and waxing). Dajnowski says that seven Ferguson works have been or are being routinely maintained this year: the Jacques Marquette Memorial in Douglas Park and Henry Bacon and Evelyn Longman's Illinois Centennial Memorial Column in Logan Square, for example, need to be cleaned of graffiti every year.
The conservation program has made it easier for the Ferguson Committee to track repair costs. Every year it prepares a report on the condition of the sculptures, detailing recent and proposed work, and specifying how much funding, if any, is to be allocated for specific treatments.
The two early Ferguson works that have required the most money and attention in the 1990s are Taft's Fountain of Time and Albin Polasek's The Spirit of Music, and the battle to preserve each of these Chicago icons constitutes a saga in itself.
Chicago writer Hamlin Garland called Fountain of Time "one of the most colossal undertakings in the history of American sculpture." Sited at the west end of the Midway Plaisance in Washington Park, it features a 16-foot-high figure of Father Time standing beside a pool of water (it's not a fountain per se); on the opposite side is a 120-foot-long "march of humanity"--100 figures, in front and in back, "all hurrying and crowding toward a goal they cannot see," as Taft wrote. The sculptor rejected stone carving and bronze casting in favor of a new and untested material: steel-reinforced, hollow-cast architectural concrete. The fountain's figures were cast in a mold composed of 4,500 pieces, said to be the largest plaster piece mold ever made. The work was dedicated in 1922, 14 years after it was commissioned by the Ferguson trustees; it commemorated the century of peace between England and the U.S. that began with the Treaty of Ghent in 1814.
But the piece has been undermined from harsh weather and air pollution, and by the 1980s it was in the worst condition of any of the city's outdoor sculptures: the pebble-finish concrete had begun to crack, sculptural elements had come loose or been lost altogether, and the interior structure had deteriorated due to moisture buildup, among other problems. Though Park District repair crews had patched cracks in the 1950s and '60s, they failed to allow for the concrete's natural expansion and contraction. In short, this "enduring monument" to Time Eternal was rapidly succumbing to the vagaries of passing time itself.
For nearly a decade the Ferguson Committee lost valuable time, searching for a "feasible" restoration plan while the sculpture deteriorated and costs soared. In 1983 it hired Washington University Technology Associates to study the work and prepare a report on its condition and on the repair cost. A year later, according to the minutes, the trustees rejected a full-scale conservation program; the projected $376,000 cost exceeded available funds. By 1989, based on WUTA's ongoing tests and recommendations, the price tag had risen to $450,000. Because of the high cost and the fact that WUTA specialized in outdoor bronze, the Ferguson Committee asked a local concrete consultant to survey the concrete's condition, test materials, and develop a proposal, which was completed in 1992. Bids were solicited from contractors, and repair estimates climbed above $500,000. Concerned by the proposals, the committee brought in a concrete preservation expert to evaluate the sculpture and the studies and reports of past consultants.
Bauer Latoza Studio was chosen as Fountain of Time project manager in 1993. The small Chicago architecture and conservation firm conducted a complete evaluation of the statue's condition and, working with Dajnowski, developed a restoration plan to proceed in three phases over five years. The first phase, which has nearly been completed by a construction firm, included cleaning and drying out the sculpture's cavity and installing a drainage system to minimize moisture damage. The second phase, beginning this summer, is focusing on structural repairs as well as restoration of the fountain's surface and missing pieces. The final phase, repairing the pool, is scheduled for 1998. The total projected cost is $631,128. Of that, the Ferguson Fund is contributing $431,128; the Park District is kicking in $150,000, with $50,000 coming from an as-yet-unnamed source. "Obviously, the Fountain of Time has occupied a great deal of our time and thought, and it will be a relief to have this major effort successfully behind us," says Mars.
Chicagoans have always known where to look for the Fountain of Time, but the same can't be said of The Spirit of Music, a Ferguson tribute to Theodore Thomas, who founded the Chicago Orchestra (later the CSO). Over the years the work, also called the "Theodore Thomas Memorial," has been shunted from one end of Grant Park to the other, its various components vanishing, reappearing, and even being used once for lakefill. Though the saga of the wandering sculpture has a moderately happy ending, Elliott doesn't let the Ferguson trustees off the hook so easily. "They ought to have been tarred and feathered," he says.
The 15-foot goddess of music figure was created by Chicago sculptor Albin Polasek and dedicated with great fanfare in 1924. Originally erected in the Art Institute's south garden across Michigan Avenue from Orchestra Hall, the granite-based, gilded "bronze lady" stood in front of a low granite seating area on which Polasek had carved relief figures of symphony musicians. The backdrop had been designed by Howard Van Doren Shaw, the architect for the Fountain of Time project. (Polasek, head of the Art Institute's sculpture department from 1917 to 1943, and Shaw were also Cliff Dwellers.)
In 1941, on the recommendation of a citizens committee, the sculpture was moved to a semicircular, Greco-Roman peristyle at the north end of Grant Park, while the backdrop's granite slabs went to the Park District's Ninth Street storage yard. In 1953 the bronze itself was put into storage to make way for an underground parking garage; the peristyle, designed by Edward Bennett, was demolished. The statue surfaced, alone, in Grant Park near Buckingham Fountain in 1958.
In January 1983 a jogger reportedly spotted blocks of carved granite sitting in Lake Michigan off 39th Street. As it turned out, a Park District employee, thinking them dross, had taken the blocks from the yard and dumped them on the shoreline along with some large rocks to help control erosion. Friends of the Parks was alerted, and the Park District removed the badly chipped frieze pieces from the lake, storing them again in the Ninth Street yard. In the late 80s, after the Ferguson Fund had restored the bronze to its original brown patina (without regilding it), Valerie Solti and members of the Orchestral Association began a fund-raising campaign to rebuild the entire monument and move it to a better site. In addition, funding for the restoration project, estimated at $325,000, was to come from the Park District, the state of Illinois, and the Ferguson Fund, which kicked in $60,000. In fall 1991, to mark the centennial of the CSO's first concert, The Spirit of Music was relocated in Grant Park at the northeast corner of Michigan and Balbo. Exactly 50 years after they were separated, the bronze lady and the granite frieze were reunited and given a new foundation, terrace, and stepped area. The South Music Garden, as the lighted, landscaped area is called, was dedicated the morning of October 18, prior to Sir Georg Solti's last concert. Repairs weren't completed until the following summer, the restoration cost finally totaling $365,000. The Orchestral Association never raised enough cash for its share of the project; most of the shortfall was eaten by the Park District, and the Ferguson Fund had to chip in extra money too.
Elliott blames the Ferguson Committee. "They were essentially shamed into [restoring] it," he says. "It was a begrudging, half-assed attempt to put Humpty Dumpty back together again." Despite the committee's efforts, Elliott feels the sculpture should never have left the vicinity of Orchestra Hall. "The new site is pointless," he says. "The spirit of the piece is not there. A monument, in order to have meaning, needs to be married to its site. Moving a monument is a dangerous and reckless thing to do because you risk destroying its meaning."
And he still hates that brown patina.
Though the board of the Cliff Dwellers Club had asked Elliott to resign as editor of the newsletter in April of this year, what he describes as a "rather Byzantine chain of events" led to his reinstatement by the board at its next meeting on May 12. But this was only for the official record: he was removed by Karl Zerfoss, the club's president, several days later. Elliott says that Zerfoss repeatedly cited the Ferguson matter as the sole reason for his removal--even though Elliott maintains everything he wrote in the newsletter had been approved by John McDermott, Zerfoss's predecessor.
Reached at his office, Zerfoss called Elliott's ouster an "internal thing. We prefer to keep it as club business." He does concede that Elliott's complaints about the Ferguson Fund led to his removal. "He wanted to argue about it," Zerfoss says, "and the club does not want to argue about it. It's not our concern." But how could he be asked to resign from a post, then be reinstated, and then be removed? "It's our business," he says. "Logic will not tell you."
Logic isn't telling Elliott much these days either. "My argument with the Cliff Dwellers board is just a miniature version of my argument with the Ferguson trustees," he says. "Maybe I'm naive, but I like to think that one of these days [Art Institute director] Jim Wood will come up to me and thank me for waking them up. As far as the Cliff Dwellers Club is concerned--I don't know. I'll probably be kicked off of the art committee before long, for saying what I think. Maybe, as compensation, I'd be given a position on the Ferguson Committee. Do you think I'd have a chance?" o
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): "The Bowman" by Ivan Mestrovic; "Fountain of Time" by Lorado Taft; Scott Elliott photo--all photographed by Paul L. Merideth.