History, Spring 2004>
Not surprisingly, two of the most important artistic
additions to Chicago's public space during the 1920s were Native
American figures. As part of Daniel Burnham's 1909 plan for Chicago,
a formal entrance from the Loop commercial district to Grant Park
would be ornamented with two large sculptures. The commission for
the project went to Yugoslavian artist Ivan Mestrovic.
plan for the statues called for one Indian and one "Buffalo Bill like" depiction of the conquering
white pioneers. This triumphalist conception evolved into a
pair of Indian horsemen, known as "The Bowman" and "The Spearman".
Despite these fierce titles the figures appear anything but
warlike; they even lack the weapons for which they are named.
Standing seventeen feet high and placed on eighteen foot high
granite pedestals, the bronze Indians, in the art moderne style
of the 1920s, dwarf the downtown stream of pedestrians and
automobiles. The figures illustrate the degree to which Indians
had been appropriated as symbols of nature, and show Chicago's
isolation from its roots as a woodland Indian center.
One of Ivan
Mestrovic's horsemen at Grant Park's Michigan Avenue
Follow this outside
link to learn more abour the artist
The second great addition to the city's public space
in the 1920s was architect Edward Bennett's Michigan Avenue Bridge.
Also part of the Burnham Plan, the bridge sat amid the most impressive
architecture of 1920s Chicago: the Wrigley Building, the Chicago
Tribune's gothic tower, the Jewelers' Building, and the London
Guaranteed Insurance Building. The location was the site of the original
Dearborn, so Bennett choose a series of bas reliefs depicting the
early history of Chicago to decorate the massive Indiana limestone
pylons of the bridge.
the four sculptures documents the Indian's role in Chicago, "The Defense" by Henry Hering, captured
a violent moment in the battle of Chicago, as Captain Nathan
Heald is shown locked in combat with an Indian warrior. While
Mestrovic's Grant Park bronzes fall back on noble savage
imagery, the Michigan Avenue Bridge art presents a stylized
return to the image of the Indian as the fierce enemy. Yet
a generation separates the fury and menace of the Rohl Smith's
Fort Dearborn Massacre from the muted, almost classical vision
of the Indian threat presented on Michigan Avenue. While
the Rohl Smith monument was meant to be displayed on a battlefield,
the bas reliefs marked the gateway to what was emerging as
the city's most elite retail district, the so called "Magnificent
Mile," itself a symbol of a confident, comfortable era.
detail of "The Defense",
from the Michigan Avenue Bridge, commemorates
the Fort Dearborn Massacre and its casualties,
who "will be cherished as martyrs in our
the closing of the 1920s, Chicago muted its public dialogue with
its American Indian roots.
The statues "The Alarm", "The Signal of Peace", and the "Fort Dearborn
Massacre" all moved to new locations. The "Fort Dearborn Massacre"
suffered from vandalism after the elite Prairie Avenue neighborhood
in status and factories and warehouses replaced its mansions. In
1931, the Chicago Historical Society (CHS), to which George Pullman
had left the sculpture upon his death, moved the figures to its North
Side museum, separating the monument from its base. Rohl Smith's
bronze group became the dominant image of pioneer Chicago for schoolchildren
visiting the museum. In the 1950s and 1960s, when young television
viewers mimicked Davy Crockett by sporting mock raccoon skin hats
and brandishing cap guns, the statue was proudly and prominently
displayed. The shift in social tenor triggered by the Civil Rights
Movement and the Vietnam War brought new sensitivities to the fore.
In 1972, the Chicago Historical Society added a subtitle to the statue,
"The Potawatomi Rescue", in an attempt to mute a groundswell of criticism
of the bronze's dated imagery. The relabeling did not prevent a protest
rally at CHS in 1973 by dozens of American Indians. The protestors
lamented the overall depiction of Native Americans in the Historical
Society's exhibitions, and they singled out the "Massacre" for its
negative view. While Rohl Smith had used survivors of' Wounded Knee
to accurately depict the American Indian, eighty years later the
Native Americans invoked the memory of the event to attack the iconography
of the monument: "Why don't they show our side of it?" complained
one protestor, "Wounded Knee was a massacre too." Despite
such protests, the monument remained eon display for more than a
decade but became an increasing source of embarrassment for CHS.
In the early 1980s the museum updated its Fort Dearborn gallery
to present a more balanced picture of the pioneer era; in 1986,
the Chicago Historical Society took the Fort Dearborn Massacre
CHS gave the monument to the city of Chicago, which
returned it to Pullman's old Prairie Avenue neighborhood. A single
half block of elegant old homes remained of what was once the most
elite area in the Midwest, a historic district island in a declining
industrial belt. Pullman's old mansion had long since been replaced
with a railroad office building, so the city placed the statue group
approximately a half block away from its original location. For nearly
a decade, the monument sat forgotten in a small, unimproved green
space. In 1997, it became an embarrassment once more, as the city
sought a site to honor the First Lady of the United States. The unnamed
green space occupied by the Massacre was landscaped in preparation
for its dedication as the Hillary Clinton Women's Park. Not only
was the statue considered racist, but even more embarrassing to those
planning a women's park, it depicted a helpless woman in distress.
The city packed up the statue; it currently sits shrouded in a blue
plastic tarp at a city storage facility.
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