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Under the Tower of Jewels
When we entered the arch we looked up at the magnificent ceiling used by McKim, Mead & White, in panels, with a pictorial design beautifully colored by Guerin. "The blue up there blends into the deeper blue of the Dodge murals just beneath. Those murals are in exactly the right tone. They give strength to the arch. But they are weakened by being in the midst of so much heavy architecture. Their subjects, however, are in harmony with the meaning of the tower. Guerin was right when he told the mural decorators that a good subject was an asset. By studying these murals you can get a glimpse of all the history associated with California and with the Panama Canal. Dodge has made drama out of Balboa's discovery of Panama and out of the union of the two oceans, a theme worthy of a great poet. And Dodge is one of the few men represented in the art on the grounds who have made pictorial use of machinery. There's the discovery by Balboa, the purchase by the United States, the presentation of the problem of uniting the two oceans, very imaginative and pictorial, the completion of the Canal, and the crowning of labor, with the symbolic representation of the resulting feats of commerce suggested by the want of the winged Mercury. Dodge is dramatic without being too individual. His murals don't call the attention away from their surroundings to themselves. They are a part of the architecture, as murals always should be."
On either side we found the columned niches designed by McKim, Mead and White, each ornamented with a fountain. The back wall made a splendid effect as it reached up toward the tower.
To the right we turned to view Mrs. Edith Woodman Burroughs' "Fountain of Youth," lovely in the girlish beauty of the central figure, and in the simplicity and the sincerity of the design as a whole. In some ways the figure reminded us of the celebrated painting by Ingres in the Louvre, "The Source," the nude girl bearing a jug on her shoulder, sending out a stream of water. There was no suggestion of imitation, however.
"The symbolism in the design," said the architect, "does not thrust itself on you, and yet it is plain enough. That woman and man pushing up flowers at the feet of the girl make a beautiful conception. The whole fountain has an ingenuousness that is in key with the subject. Across the way," he went on, turning to view the Fountain of El Dorado, by Mrs. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, "there's a piece of work much more sophisticated and dramatic, fine in its conception and strong in handling. No one would say offhand that it was the work of a woman; and yet it shows none of the overstrain that sometimes characterizes a woman artist when she wishes her work to seem masculine."
In approaching the "El Dorado" we noted the skill shown in the details of the conception. "This fountain might have been called 'The Land of Gold,' in plain English, or 'The Struggle for Happiness,' or by any other name that suggested competition for what people valued as the prizes of life. When Mrs. Whitney was asked to explain whether those trees in the background represented the tree of life, she said she didn't have any such idea in her mind. What she probably wanted to do was to present an imaginative scene that each observer could interpret for himself. These two Egyptian-looking guardians at the doors, with the figures kneeling by them, suggest plainly enough the futility that goes with so much of our struggling in the world. So often people reach the edge of their goal without really getting what they want."