Home -> John J. Newbegin -> The Jewel City -> Chapter X. The Fountains

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The Fountains

A characteristic and fitting feature of the Exposition - Fountain of Energy - The Mermaids - Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney's "El Dorado" and Mrs. Burroughs' "Youth" - Rising and Setting Sun - Piccirilli's "Seasons" - Aitken's masterpiece, the Fountain of Earth - "Beauty and the Beast."

The fountain, the spring, the well, is a characteristic note in the life and art of all lands in the Sun. The Arabians, the Moors, the Spaniards, the Italians and the Greeks loved fountains. It is less so in the North, in the regions of much rain, where water flows naturally everywhere. But nothing is so welcome in a thirsty land as a fountain. Hence there is appropriateness in the many fountains of this Exposition, which reflects in its plan the walled cities of the Orient of the Mediterranean, where fountains play in the courts of palaces, in public squares and niches in the walls; and pools lie by the mosques, and in the gardens.

Here are many kinds of fountains, from huge masses of sculpture spouting forth many powerful streams in the sun to terraced basins where water murmurs in quiet alcoves, and simple jets tinkling in summery courts. Of those fountains that have especially been dignified and adorned by sculpture there are fourteen, some single, some in pairs, with one quartet in the Court of Seasons. Their sequence from the chief gate of the Exposition follows in a way the symbolic significance of all the sculpture.

The Fountain of Energy, by A. Stirling Calder, in the center of the South Gardens before the Tower of Jewels, as a figure of aquatic triumph, celebrates the completion of the Panama Canal. (See p. 47.) Resting on a pedestal in the center of the pool, and supported by a circle of figures representing the dance of the oceans, is the Earth, surmounted by a figure of Energy, the force that dug the canal. Fame and Victory blow their bugles from his shoulders. When all the jets are playing, Energy, horsed, rides through the waters on either hand.

The band around the Earth, decorated with sea horses and fanciful aquatic figures, represents the seaway now completed around the globe. On one side a bull-man, a rather weak-chinned minotaur, stands for the strength of Western civilization; on the other, a cat-woman represents the civilization of the Eastern hemisphere. Surrounding the central figure in the pool are the four Oceans, - the Atlantic with corraled tresses and sea horses in her hand, riding a helmeted fish; the Northern Ocean as a Triton mounted on a rearing walrus; the Southern Ocean as a negro backing a sea elephant and playing with an octopus; and the Pacific as a female on a creature that might be a sea lion, but is not. Dolphins backed by nymphs of the sea serve a double purpose as decoration and as spouts for the waters.

The central figure of this fountain has been severely criticized, and with reason. The design is a beautiful one, but unfortunately not well adapted to reproduction on so large a scale. Symbolism is here carried to an extreme that spoils the simplicity which alone makes a really great work imposing. Calder had a fine idea of a figure of joyous triumph to stand as the opening symbol of the festival side of the Exposition. He deserves credit for the real beauty of his design. It is a pity that a thing so charming as a model should not have worked out well in heroic proportions.

As a fountain, though, it is splendid. The pool and its spouting figures are glorious. The play of the waters when all the jets are spouting is not only magnificent but unique. This veil of water shooting out and falling in a half sphere about the globe has not been seen before. There is a real expression of energy in the force of the leaping streams.

Mermaid Fountains, by Arthur Putnam. - At the far end of each of the lovely pools in the South Gardens is an ornamental fountain of ample basins topped by a graceful mermaid, behind whose back a fish spouts up a single jet of water. These are formal fountains, but exceedingly harmonious. Without trying to be pretentious, they achieve an effect of simple beauty. (p. 99.)

"El Dorado" and "Youth." - Within the colonnaded wings of the Tower of Jewels are two fountains which carry' out the symbolism of the days of the Spanish explorers in their themes, the Aztec myth of El Dorado, and the fabled Fountain of Youth, sought by Ponce de Leon. In their way, these are the loveliest fountains on the Exposition grounds, though they differ so from all the rest that comparison is not easy. The naive conception of the Fountain of Youth and the realistic strength of that of El Dorado lead visitors back to them again and again. They are hidden fountains, as their prototypes were hidden. Each terminates one of the two open colonnades with a central niche composition flanked on either hand by a sculptured frieze. Each is the work of a woman sculptor, and both, though very different, are far from the conventional or the commonplace.

The Fountain of El Dorado, by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, tells the story of an Aztec myth of a god whose brilliance is so dazzling that the sun is his veil, and who lives in a darkened temple lest his light destroy humanity. (p. 54.) At the center of the recessed wall are doors of the deity's shaded abode, a guardian on either side. In the friezes naked humanity moves ever onward, striving to reach the home of the god. The figures, in full relief, are splendid in their grace and vigor. Here are men and women whom nothing can hold back; here are those who must be pushed along, some who linger for love, others for worldly goods; but all, the strong and the faint, the eager and the tardy, move forward irresistibly to their destiny.

In Wait's "The Stories of El Dorado," the following account is given of this aboriginal myth of an expected Indian Messiah, El Hombre Dorado, the Gilded Man, as the Spaniards interpreted the native words, - which played a fateful part in the history of the primitive races of Spanish America:
"No words incorporated into the English language have been fraught with such stupendous consequences as El Dorado. When the padres attempted to tell the story of the Christ, the natives exclaimed 'El Dorado' - the golden. The ignorant sailors and adventurers seized upon the literal meaning, instead of the spiritual one. The time, being that of Don Quixote and of the Inquisition, accounts for the childish credulity on one side and the unparalleled ferocity on the other. The search for El Dorado, whether it was believed to be a fabulous country of gold, or an inaccessible mountain, or a lake, or a city, or a priest who anointed himself with a fragrant oil and sprinkled his body with fine gold dust, must always remain one of the blackest pages in the history of the white race. The great heart of humanity will ever ache with sympathy for the melancholy and pitiful end of the natives, who at the time of the conquest of Mexico were confidently expecting the return of the mild and gentle Quetzalcoatl, - the Mexican variant of this universal myth. * * * The Golden Hearted came from an island in the East, and to this he returned, in the legend. In all variants, he gave a distinct promise of return. This accounts for the awe inspired by Europeans in the minds of the natives, causing them everywhere to fall easy victims of the unscrupulous adventurers swarming into their country. Fate never played a more cruel prank than to have one race of men speak and act constantly from the standpoint of tradition, while the other thought solely of material gain."

Interesting, too, is Mrs. Edith Woodman Burroughs' conception of the Fountain of Youth. (p. 53.) The beautiful central figure is a girl child standing without self-consciousness by blooming primroses. Modeled faintly on the pedestal are the parents, from whose upturned faces and uplifted hands the primroses seem to spring. In the friezes, wistful old people are borne onward to Destiny in boats manned by joyous chubby children, unconscious of their priceless gift of youth to which their elders look back with so much longing.

Fountains in the Court of the Universe. - Passing through the Tower of Jewels into the great court where themes become universal under the circle of stars above the surrounding colonnade, we come to the Fountains of the Rising and the Setting Sun, by A. A. Weinmann, one at either focus of the elliptical sunken garden. In the East, the Sun, in the strength of the morning, his wings spread for flight, is springing upward from the top of the tall column rising out of the fountain. Walk toward him from the west and you get the effect of his rising. (p. 69.)

At his feet a garland of children is woven in the form of a ring at the top of the column. At the base of the shaft, just above the basin, is a cylindrical frieze in low relief, symbolizing Day Triumphant. Weinmann interprets this as the Spirit of Time, hour-glass in hand, followed by the Spirit of Light with flaming torch, while Energy trumpets the approaching day. Interwoven with these figures is an allegory of Truth with mirror and sword, escaping from the sinister power of Darkness, Falsehood shrinking from its image in the mirror of Truth, and Vice struggling in the coils of a serpent. It is not easy to read either series, or to disentangle one from the other.

In the West the Setting Sun is just alighting, with folding wings. The luminary, which in the morning was male, to represent the essentially masculine spirit, the upwardness and onwardness of opening day, has now become female in its quality of brooding evening. In fact, this same figure, which the sculptor shows in the Palace of Fine Arts, is there called by him "Descending Night."

The frieze at the base of the shaft of the Setting Sun is as difficult to interpret as the other. On it are shown the Gentle Powers of Night. Dusk folds in her cloak Love, Labor and Peace. Next are Illusions borne on the wings of Sleep, then the Evening Mists, followed by the Star Dance, and lastly, Luna, the goddess of the Silver Crescent. Luna may be recognized, for the Silver Crescent is in her hand; and, with the sequence I have just given, you may recognize the others.

The figures supporting the basins and the creatures in the pools of each fountain are merely decorative. The play of water in these fountains is joyous and delightful. The purpose of a fountain is well and adequately fulfilled.

There now remain the seven fountains of the lesser courts, connected more or less intimately in theme with their immediate surroundings.

In the Court of Seasons. - Four are in the Court of Seasons, where Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, by Furio Piccirilli, have each its own alcove in the wall and its own play of water. These are pleasant fountains, simple and quiet. There is some feeling of lonely mountain cliffs in the plain walls behind them, hung with streamers of the maidenhair vine.

In the first alcove stands Spring with her flowers; on one side the man, in whom love awakens, on the other fresh young Flora, bringing the first offerings of the year. Next comes the alcove of Summer, the time of fruition. The mother brings her babe to its father, the laborer bears the first fruits of the harvest. (p. 94.)

Autumn follows, the time of harvest. The central figure of the fountain group is Providence. The fruits of the year are brought in, and the vintage is in progress. Last of all comes Winter, the melancholy time when the trees are bare and the bark splits with the frost. The central figure is naked Nature resting in the period of conception. On one side is bowed an old man, after preparing the ground for the seed; on the other is a strong man sowing. This is perhaps the best of the four fountain groups it expresses admirably the bleakness and sadness of the season. There is a wintry chill about it, the gloom of a dark December day. Of the others, Spring is most likable, with its conception of the seasonal impulse to love; and Autumn, for the strength of its figures and the beauty of their modeling.

In the forecourt, appropriately placed between the Palaces of Agriculture and Food Products, stands the Fountain of Ceres. (p. 79.) It is an odd fountain, with the water gushing from the mouths of satyrs set barely above the level of the ground, as though for the watering of small animals. Ceres stands above, with a wreath of cereals and a scepter of corn. The frieze pictures the dance of joyous nature.

Fountain of Earth. - In Mullgardt's Court of Ages is the Fountain of Earth, by Robert Aitken, the most magnificently virile of all the Exposition fountains, conceived of a powerful imagination and executed in strength and beauty. (p. 70, 73.)

The sculpture of the fountain must be described in three parts. Aitken's own interpretation is condensed in the following account. On the wall of the parapet at the foot of the pool, sixty feet from the central structure, is a colossal figure symbolizing Helios, in his arms the great globe of the setting sun after it has thrown off the nebulous mass that subsequently became the earth. The whole expresses primitive man's idea of the splashing of the sun into the water as it sets.

On the side of the central structure toward the figure of Helios, and leading up to the Earth, are two groups, each of five crouching figures, and divided by a conventional plane. At the outer extremity, Destiny, in the shape of two enormous hands and arms, gives life with one and takes it with the other. The five figures on the left side represent the Dawn of Life, those on the right, the Fullness and End of Existence. The first group begins with a woman asleep, just from the hand of Destiny; while the succeeding figures symbolize the Awakening, the Joy of Being, finally, the Kiss of Life, with the human pair offering their children, representing the beginnings of fecundity.

On the east side, a figure of Greed looks back on the earth, the mass in his hands suggesting the futility of worldly possessions. Next is a group of Faith, wherein a patriarch holds forth to the woman the hope of immortality, with a scarab, ancient symbol of renewed life. Then comes a man of Sorrow, as the woman with him falls into her last Slumber. These are about to be drawn into oblivion by the relentless hand of Destiny. The gap between these groups and the main structure of the fountain typifies the unknown time between the beginning of things and the dawn of history.

Each of the four panels in pierced relief surrounding the globe of the Earth tells a single story, with the exception of the first, which tells three. Traveling to the left around the globe, we begin with the figure of Vanity, mirror in hand, in the center of the first panel, as the symbol of worldly motive. Here, too, are primitive man and woman, bearing their burdens, symbolized by their progeny, into the unknown future, ready to meet whatever be the call of earth. The woman suggests the overwhelming instincts of motherhood.

Passing into the next panel, we see their children, now grown, finding themselves, with Natural Selection. The man in the center, splendid in physical and intellectual perfection, attracts the women on either hand, while two other men, deserted for this finer type, display anger and despair. One tries to hold the woman by force, the other, unable to comprehend, turns hopelessly away.

The succeeding panel symbolizes the Survival of the Fittest. Here physical strength begins to play its part, and the war spirit awakens, with woman as its cause. The chiefs struggle for supremacy, while their women try in vain to separate them.

The last panel portrays the Lesson of Life. The elders offer to hotheaded youth the benefit of their experience. The beautiful woman in the center draws to her side the splendid warrior, whose mother on his left gives her affectionate advice. On the right of the panel, a father restrains a wayward and jealous youth who has been rejected by the female.

Passing again into the first panel we find a representation of Lust, - a man struggling to embrace a woman, who shrinks from his caresses. Thus the circle is complete; these last two figures, though in the first panel, are separated from those first described by decorations on the upper and lower borders.

Framing the panels, while also indicating the separation in time of their stories, stand archaic figures of Hermes, such as the ancients employed to mark distances on the roads. Their outstretched hands hold up the beginnings of life in the form of rude primeval beasts, from whose mouths issue the jets of the fountain.

At night this fountain glows deep red, from lamps concealed within the panels, while clouds of rosy steam rising around the globe create an illusion of a world in the making.

The Fountain of Beauty and the Beast was originally intended for the Court of Palms, which was conceived as the Court of Occidental Fairy Tales, just as the Court of Flowers was to have been that of Oriental Fairy Tales. Mrs. Whitney's fountain of the Arabian Nights, a creation of whimsical beauty, was to have stood in the latter court. It was modeled, but was never enlarged; and its place was taken by Beauty and the Beast, the work of Edgar Walter. (p. 100.)

This is another harmonious fountain, rightly conceived, so that its sculpture does not overbalance its use in the play of water, and admirably in tune with the flowery grace of the court. Beauty, pouring water from a Greek amphora, sits lightly upon the ugly Beast. Why she wears a smart Paris hat no one has discovered. Four cheery pipers, lively as crickets in the sun, support the upper bowl. Around the lower basin is a frieze in low relief, figuring Hanuman, the King of Monkeys, leading a bear with one hand and prodding a lion with the other. All this is part of the original fairy-tale significance of the court.

The fountains are of the glories of the Exposition. There is always charm in the movement of the waters, rest in their music. The appeal is elemental, and therefore, universal. Artificial jets can never equal the play of water in Nature, but when adorned with harmonious sculpture, as here, they become that significant and satisfying imitation which is Art.

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