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Depew Memorial Fountain

Foundations of America

QU201 Prof. Scott Leone

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Depew Memorial Fountain

Depew Memorial Fountain Depew Memorial Fountain is a freestanding fountain located in the center of University Park in Indianapolis, Indiana. It was built between 1913 and 1919 in memory of Richard J. Depew. After Depew’s death in 1887, his wife Emma Ely commissioned the fountain in memory of him.  When Mrs. Depew died in 1913, she left $50,000 from her estate to the city of Indianapolis for the construction of the fountain “in some park or public place where all classes of people may enjoy it.”

Dr. Richard J. Depew was a well-known physician in the Indianapolis area. He was born in 1915 and practiced medicine in St. Omer, and later in St. Paul, Decatur County for years. He made professional trips on horseback and was a bachelor until late in life. He married Emma Ely Depew and moved to Indianapolis where he later died in 1879.

University Park 1920University Park is a one block square, bordered by Vermont, Pennsylvania, New York, and Meridian Streets. It was originally designated as property for a state university in 1827. However, this idea was never actually executed. About twenty-five years later, campus buildings were constructed for the city’s first high school. After the school was vacated in 1860, the site was used to prepare Union troops for a confrontation with the Morgan’s Raiders during the Civil War. The southeast corner of the park once contained a lumberyard, while the north side contained a cow pasture and a children’s playground.  J.B. Perrine leased the east side in 1850 for an exhibition ground. Band concerts, balloon ascensions, and fireworks were held here. “The finest exhibition of fireworks ever given in the city was made there on the 4th of July, 1860.” Many plans were made for this property, but none were completed. After the war was over, the people of Indianapolis raised money to transform the land into a park and laid out naturalistic series of curvilinear, radiating paths.

George Edward KesslerGeorge Edward Kessler redesigned University Park in 1914 for a park and boulevard system. His design called for a central circle with diagonal concrete walkways and heavy plantings at the corners and intersections of the park. Kessler was a German American pioneer city planner and landscape architect. Over the course of his career, he completed over 200 projects and prepared plans for 26 communities, 26 park and boulevard systems, 49 parks, 46 estates and residents, and 26 schools. Some of these include his first work, Merriam Park in 1880, The Paseo in the early 1890’s, and The Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904. Kessler was a founder of the American Institute of Planners as well as an original member of the United Sates Commission of Fine Arts. After his death in 1923, the Indianapolis road he was supervising was named Kessler Boulevard in his honor.

According to Art World Volume 1, there is no detail of the Depew Memorial Fountain that forces a viewer to ask questions. “The mind glides from each figure and detail easily and quickly to another and therefore takes in the whole composition one glance and so, easily and quickly seizes the intent of the work.”

Statues of the Children dancingThe fountain has five levels and is made up of bronze figures arranged on a Stony Creek granite base with three basins. There are also three tiers. The lowest is plain, while the second contains carved granite half-clam shells, which have water flowing from them. Eight children draped in leaves, seaweed, water lily pads, and netting are holding hands in a ring and frolicking around the fountain. The third tier contains 16 jumping fish, 8 carp and 8 catfish, which seem to be dancing with the children. “The frieze of jumping fish was introduced and the upper figure was designed which, with the element of music, furnishes the motif for the dancing children” (Art World Volume 1). Rising from the tier is a pedestal base spreading into a water basin.

The upper basin is the fourth level of the fountain, which cascades water over the edge. This basin is carved with frog faces. In an article from Art World Volume 1, Calder states, “I have been concerned to embody the mysterious loveliness of unsophisticated nature- its wild frankness and vigor-…”.  On top of the column is the fifth level of the statue, which holds a woman in a toga with a cymbal in each hand. Her left foot is raised as if she is doing a dance. A memorial plaque is located on the large granite basin. It reads: “Depew Memorial Fountain.  A gift to Indianapolis from Emma Ely Depew in memory of her husband Richard Johnson Depew M.D. whose long and honorable life was spent in untiring service to his fellow men.”

Henry BaconHenry Bacon designed the plaza for the Depew Fountain. Bacon was an American Beaux-Arts architect best remembered for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. He studied at the University of Illinois, Urbana in 1884, but left to begin his architectural career as a draftsman. He eventually served in the office of McKim, Mead & White in New York City. Here, he worked on projects including the Rhode Island State House and served as McKim’s personal representative in Chicago during the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. In 1897, Bacon left McKim, Meade, & White and founded Brite and Bacon Architects with James Brite. Bacon was in charge of architectural design and construction while Brite was in charge of financial administrative and contracting aspects.

Karl BitterThe original design of the fountain was by Karl Bitter, a Viennese native, who became well known under the patronage of Richard Morris Hunt.  He was born and trained in Vienna and in 1889 while on leave from the army immigrated to the United States out of protest regarding military service during peacetime. After arriving in America, Bitter was discovered by the architect of choice of New York’s rich and famous, Richard Morris Hunt. Bitter’s extraordinary organizational skills led him to be named head of the sculpture programs in the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition held in San Francisco, California. Bitter worked on Pennsylvania Station in Philadelphia, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the doors of Trinity Church in New York. He died in 1915 and had only completed a small model of the Depew Memorial Fountain.

Bitter's Design of the Depew Memorial Fountain

A. Stirling Calder finished Bitter’s design of the Depew Memorial Fountain. Bitter left an incomplete plastic sketch, but Calder set it aside. He said, “I believe that it is impossible for one artist to develop freely another’s work.” Although the general model was thrown away, the theme of youthful joy was retained. “The ideal Mr. Calder has sought to give expression to was one of joyous, vigorous, innocent youth seeking and outlet for energy and the natural pursuit of pleasure, hence the dance” (Architectures volume 37-38).  The granite for the fountain was cut and set by George Brown & Co.

Leif Ericsson Memorial in IcelandCalder is best known for his Ericsson Memorial, a gift to Iceland from the American people, but he considers the Depew Fountain to be his best. Calder was an American sculptor and teacher. At the age of 16 in 1885, Stirling attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and studied under Thomas Eakins. The following year he apprenticed as a sculptor and worked on his father’s extensive sculpture program for Philadelphia City Hall. He modeled the arm of one of the figures. In 1890 he moved to Paris where he studied at the Academie Julian under Henri Michel Chapu. In 1892, he returned to Philadelphia to begin his career as a sculptor. He taught sculpture and anatomy at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art, the National Academy of Design in NYC and the Art Students League of New York. In 1912, he was named acting-chief under Karl Bitter of the sculpture program for the Panama-Pacific Exposition.  For this exposition he completed three massive sculpture groups, The Nations of the East and The Nations of the West, and a fountain group.

Women dancing around fountain celebratingThere have been events in the news about the fountain over the years. On April 21, 1926, young women did interpretive dancing around the Depew Memorial Fountain, marking the 10th anniversary of the fountain. These women were from the Albertina Rasch ballet and mimicked the bronze sculptures of the fountain.

Depew Memorial Plaque Most recently, an article from June 1, 2011 discussed the fountain. The dedication plaque from 1919 was stolen from the Depew Memorial Fountain. According to the executive director of the Indiana War Memorial, “this is a priceless artifact that belongs to every citizen of Indiana.” This fountain has history dating back to the 1900’s, making it a historical landmark. It is evident that the Depew Memorial Fountain is an important object to the city of Indianapolis.

Placemark: http://maps.google.com/maps?ll=39.771963,-86.156991&z=18&t=h&hl=en

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Last Updated on Sunday, 23 October 2011 11:31  


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