The Sculpture Plan

Karl Bitter, Director of Sculpture

From the Official "Pan-American Art Hand-Book", 1901

In considering the problem of a scheme of sculpture for the Pan American Exposition, it seemed that a truly artistic decoration should first of all have a clear, distinct, and well defined meaning; that the ideas to be expressed and the subjects to be represented should be selected with care and regard for their appropriateness even before questions as to the manner of rendering were considered.

A study of the Exposition itself, of the various ideas which it aims to express, of the varied character of its exhibits and buildings, supplies the natural basis for a scheme of sculpture. The exhibits are housed in buildings which serve not simply as shelters, but are in themselves examples of the conditions of our people and our times. They are intended to be of an educating influence, in a measure perhaps as great as the exhibits themselves. Their artistic attributes may be considered as the phraseology of the sermon that is to be delivered, and the sculpture bears a similar relation. In order to make this sermon effective its scope and principal lines are questions of primary importance.

Happily, in our case, the grouping of the buildings suggests those principal lines. We observe that to the left, on the Esplanade, buildings are situated containing, in a measure, the examples of our natural resources. We find there buildings devoted to forestry, mining, and horticulture. We show with pride the natural wealth of our continent; we impress the visitor with the magnitude and abundance of the trees of our forests--their great varieties; we point to the unparalleled deposits of coal, iron, and other minerals. All these things Nature only can provide. This fact and the thoughts of pride and gratitude to Nature which it inspires should be crystallized in the things that clothe and cover our exhibits. The simple facts demonstrated inside of the buildings should find ideal and elevating expression not only in the architecture, but in the paintings and sculptures about the buildings. It is needless to elaborate on the field that opens before the eyes of the artist when we speak of the gratitude we owe to Nature, that has given us all those things which grow and form the fundamental conditions of life.

The other side of the Esplanade, surrounded principally by Government Buildings, invites us to speak of our people and our institutions. We know that the natural wealth of our country means comfort and wealth to the people only if they are the kind which make a right use of it and if their institutions are such as to insure a liberal and peaceable enjoyment of such wealth. The institutions of our country form a worthy parallel to our resources. Again, the expressions of the artist in color and form must give inspiration to the mind and assist the reason which has been appealed to by the contents of the buildings. Not a mere shell, beautiful and glittering but empty, is the work that the sculptor should give us here; not merely a scheme with here and there a spark of an idea: but, instead, a conception which, step by step and link by link, should lead the receptive mind to grasp one big idea and ignite a fire of true and lasting enthusiasm.

In distinct separation from the above two groups, we find another group of buildings devoted to Machinery and Transportation, Electricity, Manufacture, and the Liberal Arts. What is shown therein is neither a direct product of nature nor attributable to institutions, but solely to the genius of man, though on the basis of what material nature has given him and what freedom and liberty the institutions of his country allow him. Those buildings and the Court of Fountains, as well as the Mall, around which they are located, are therefore devoted to the allegorization of that idea. There is the wheel of progress, advancement, and civilization that is revolved and moved by the mighty brain and the sturdy arms of the nation. Our invention, industry, and ingenuity are here the motives for the painter and the sculptor.

Next in order is the group of buildings surrounding the Plaza. We find the gateways, on one side, to the Stadium; on the other, to the Midway. We have left the practical side of life and come to the more poetical, which shows us the temperament of the people, their games and sports and their varied amusements. Again the subjects for decorations suggest themselves. It is not necessary to point them out in detail, but I will repeat that all the decorations here should reflect in an ideal light and in elaborate and distinct form the characteristics of the people.

In many respects the most prominent features at the Exhibition are the Electrical Tower and its Colonnade. The display of water about this tower suggests an interesting treatment of its sculptural effects. Buffalo's importance, growth, and prosperity are chiefly due to the Great Lake System and the waterways on which it is located. Its commerce and wealth arc the direct offspring of the "Great Waters," as the Indians called them. They connect this city with the many other cities that dot the shores of those inland seas. This leads us to an allegorization of the "Great Waters," expressed already in the display of cascades and fountains, but now assisted by figures and groups, in which reference is made to the gigantic role which the lakes, the rivers, the Erie Canal, and the eleven railroads play in inland commerce.

On approaching the Exposition, the main causeway, as perhaps the most ornate feature, was given over to an apotheosis of the United States, an allegorization of national pride.

In the main it has been possible to carry out this proposition. Being governed by the groups which the buildings formed, I classified the sculptors' work in three great groups: The court formed by the left wing of the Esplanade, and surrounded by Forestry, Mining, etc., buildings, I devoted to the subject of "Nature." The opposite right wing, surrounded by the Government Buildings I devoted to "Man " and his institutions. The main court, called "Court of Fountains," flanked by Machinery, Electricity, Transportation, and other buildings, formed the third group, the "Genius of Man" and his development in the fields of art, science, and industry.

While the arrangement, as said before, was left to the Director of Sculpture, the numbers of groups and statues and fountains, their location, relative size, and proportions, formed part of the architects' plans. Those plans provided for a number of pedestals, basins, and other features, which were to be decorated by the sculpture.

Beginning with the east wing of the Esplanade, for which I selected the subject of "Nature," I found that it contained a large basin, forming in its outlines a cross. At the head a large fountain was provided, the cross-bar emphasized by two subordinate fountains, while pedestals for six large groups, three on either side, marked the corners of the basin. These were the main features which the architect desired to be decorated, and which were shown on his plans, in their size and proportions. To the large fountain at the head I gave the name "Fountain of Nature," and George T. Brewster was commissioned to execute it. In carrying out his work he introduced allegorizations of the Sun, and the Stars below her; the Globe, on which figures are placed representing the four elements; further below, River and Brook, Mountain and Dale, etc. For the two subordinate fountains, which were to be composed of fewer figures, I selected "Kronos" and "Ceres," to indicate the eternity of Nature on one side, the fruit-spreading goddess on the other to personify its yearly revival. F. E. Elwell, the sculptor, represented "Kronos " as a winged figure, -the swiftness of time,- and placed him on a turtle -- the slowness of time. "Ceres" he has shown with outstretched arms, holding symbols dating back to heathen times, and speaking of the birth that Nature gives to all that exists.

The subjects for the six groups which were to be placed on the pedestals mentioned before, I arranged in three series: the first two, and nearest to the Fountain of Nature, to express "Mineral Wealth," executed by Charles H. Nichaus; the following two, "Floral Wealth," by Bela L. Pratt; the remaining two, "Animal Wealth," by E. C. Potter. In "Mineral Wealth" we find the Nymph of Opportunity calling Man to unearth the hidden treasures; in "Floral Wealth " the bloom and withering of the floral creations; in "Animal Wealth" the wild beast on one side and the domesticated on the other.

The same architectural disposition of the pedestals and bases for fountains and groups just mentioned we find in the other wing of the Esplanade, which is formed, as stated before, by the Government Buildings. Corresponding with the Fountain of Nature in the center of the semicircle, and right in front of the imposing dome of the Government Building, which balances the dome of the Horticulture Building on the other side of the Esplanade, is the principal feature of this beautiful court. It is the Fountain of Man, by Charles Grafly of Philadelphia. It is surrounded by two figures, joined into one and veiled. The two sides of man's nature are thus indicated, and by the veil the mystery of his soul. Below, the Five Senses join hands in a circle and support Man. The waters in this fountain fall into an elevated basin which is supported by groups of crouching figures representing characteristics of humanity, as love and hatred, courage and cowardice, etc.

As I selected mythological subjects at either side of the Fountain of Nature, I have chosen for the corresponding positions on either side of the Fountain of Man subjects also mythological in character, the Fountain of Hercules, and the Fountain of Prometheus, which Hinton R. Perry has executed.1 Furthermore, to correspond with "Mineral," "Floral," and "Animal Wealth," I have chosen for the six important pedestals on this side the subjects, the "Savage Age," the "Age of Despotism," and the "Age of Enlightenment."

John J. Boyle shows in the groups of the "Savage Age" on the one side the Rape of the Sabines on the other side the subject is entirely modern, representing the war-dance of an uncivilized tribe.

The "Age of Despotism" was treated by two different artists, and in two entirely different ways. One group, by Isidore Konti, has the Chariot of State drawn by four men representing the mass of the people, the peasant, the artisan, etc. On the chariot is seated the Despot, whose governing power is being represented by a Fury, scourge in hand, forcing the people in the yoke to draw the heavy burden; in the rear of the chariot are chained justice and Truth. Different again is H. A. McNeil's conception of "Despotism." He shows the despotism of conscience that will give no rest to the guilty; he shows the despotism of a fanatical idea that may possess alike the aged and the innocent child.

The two groups representing the "Age of Enlightenment," by Herbert Adams, show the blessings, in a modern sense, of religion, education, and the family.

Again, arriving at the axis of the Esplanade, we have to the left "Nature," to the right "Man" and his institutions, and before us the large open Court of Fountains. We find this court surrounded by a group of buildings devoted to machinery, electricity, transportation, manufacture, and liberal arts, and we find at its head the principal feature of the Exposition, the colossal Electric Tower.

I said before that I have selected as the subject for this court the "Genius of Man." Again, this court contains a basin, but larger than those of the Esplanade, and grander in its fountain effects. Piling up against the semicircular wall which forms the upper end of the basin in front of the Electric Tower is sculpture of heroic size and composed of many figures -- sea-horses and other creatures. The central composition will bear the title, the "Genius of Man." On either side we will have two subordinate groups, the one "Human Emotions" and the other "Human Intellect." Paul W. Bartlett has executed this important work. Since this basin again recalls in the ground-plan the basins of the Esplanade and is also provided with two wings such as have been devoted to mythological subjects, I have again put the main subject in a frame of mythology. The "Birth of Venus" will be placed on the side of "Human Emotions," the "Birth of Athena" on the side of "Human Intellect." We also find in this court the pedestals which mark the architectural design and emphasize the corners of the basin. To bring the ideas expressed in these fountains to a culminating point, a group representing "Art" will decorate the pedestal nearest to "Human Emotions" and the "Birth of Venus," while " Science " will occupy a corresponding position with regard to " Human Intellect" and the - Birth of Athena." The two groups are executed by Charles Lopez, and the two fountains by Mr. and Mrs. Michael Tonetti

The pedestals on the other end of the Court of Fountains will support two groups by A. Phimister Proctor, "Agriculture" and "Manufacture " being the subjects.

Marking the center of the Exposition grounds, where the Esplanade and the Court of Fountains join, the architect has provided a circular basin, to be embellished by a fountain. For this I chose the subject of "Abundance" --the Exposition is to show what abundance prevails in the domains of Nature and in man's resources. Philip Martiny is the sculptor of this fountain.

Back of the Electric Tower and surrounded by the entrance to " Vanity Fair" on the one side, to the Stadium on the other, and by the Propylaea on the third side, we have a large open square called the Plaza. While before we have been confronted with things appealing to our intellect and to the practical side of life, we may see here and study the temperament of the people, their sports and games and their varied amusements. To carry out this idea, famous works of art have been used of which replicas could be procured, such as antique figures and works of the later Renaissance period. The Achilles Borghese, and other athletic subjects familiar to us all, will be seen flanking the Stadium entrance. Nymphs, fauns, and bacchantes ornament the pedestals near the entrance to the Midway. Groups of children, copies of those at Versailles, are distributed among the flower-beds and the paths surrounding the Music Pavilion, which is located in the center of the Plaza, and around which it is expected that music-loving people will gather.

It now remains to speak of the Triumphal Causeway, which forms the great introduction into the architectural charms of the Exposition. Here the host welcomes the visitor--the United States greets the nations of this hemisphere. The adornments of the Causeway are an apotheosis of national pride and quality. Four "Mounted Standard-Bearers"2 will crown the pylons, expressing peace and power. Below them will be heaped "Trophies," modeled by Augustus Lukeman, and embodying the same subjects in different form. In addition, the pylons have eight niches which contain statues expressive of "Courage," "Patriotism," "Truth," "Benevolence," and other characteristics of our people. Large semicircular bays extend on either side from this bridge into the canal, and these bays support the colossal flagpoles, the bases of which are richly ornamented by figures and seahorses, the one having as its subject the "Atlantic," the other the "Pacific," by Philip Martiny. At some distance in front of the Causeway the two guard-houses are situated, which are surmounted by two colossal groups of "Fighting Eagles," by Maximilian Schwarzott.

In placing the sculpture on the buildings the same system has been followed as with the sculpture of the fountains and grounds. The Temple of Music is adorned by groups representing Sacred, Lyric, Heroic, and Gay Music by Isidore Konti. The Electric Tower is crowned by the "Goddess of Light," by Herbert Adams, while around the water display which is so prominent a feature of this structure we have the " Six Lakes," and groups with further subjects suggestive of water, by George Gray Barnard. The Ethnology Building has a pediment showing the study of the races, by H. A. MacNeil.

Thus far I have made no mention of anything but the subjects that were to be expressed by the sculptor. Certainly whether sculpture is successful does not depend entirely upon the selection of subjects, but for obvious reasons the manner in which the subjects are treated, the arrangement and composition of the figures, has been left absolutely to the individual sculptors. No doubt a strictly uniform result is not obtained in such a way. As much as character and the training and education differ, so much will conception and execution vary. Still I believe the result is, nevertheless, interesting and pleasing. While one artist is gifted by nature with an imagination full of ideas and resources, in some cases supported by considerable knowledge of history, mythology, and literature, the other has a fine sense for the real, a keen observation of Nature and the life that immediately surrounds him.

Whatever will be the verdict of time upon the result, the sculpture at this Exposition will demonstrate, perhaps more clearly than has yet been demonstrated, the condition and standing, the ideals and direction, of contemporary sculpture in America.

In addition to the principal courts and buildings, there are the bridges leading over the canal, the sunken gardens in the Mall, and various other features of the Exposition which offer excellent opportunity for sculptural decoration. For this purpose I purchased from the museums of the Trocadero, the Louvre, and the Ecole des Beaux Arts at Paris, a number of plaster casts of vases, gaines, figures, and groups. The originals of a majority of them may be known to those who have visited the gardens of Versailles. While it would scarcely be proper for me to praise the work which our modern school has given to the Exposition, I feel free to say that these nymphs and satyrs and river-gods on bridge piers and among flowers and green are delightful to the eye ; and although they symbolize the rivers of France, and depict ideas of by-gone days and of a foreign land, they are nevertheless of a great educational value. Though these pieces have a place in the history of art, many among us are not acquainted with that particular period. Others, having seen them in museums only, have not been impressed by the charm of this period of art, which demands surroundings of a kind which will be found in the flowers and fountains, the stairways and balustrades, of our Exposition.

Of course, to these objects of art my original scheme does not apply, and to carry out my scheme even in its limited form would have been impossible, had we proceeded in the usual manner and by such methods as have been pursued, for instance, at the Chicago Exposition. An exposition studio was therefore established at Weehawken, across the Hudson from New York, and there the small models of the sculptors were enlarged by the most improved appliances. Special credit is due to the invention of a young American sculptor, Mr. Robert T. Payne, whose pointing-machine proved a great success. It was for the first time that this new device of making an enlarged copy of the artist's small original model was experimented with, and the result was greater precision and faithfulness in the reproduction, and a considerable saving in the cost of purely mechanical labor.

On the other hand, this great common studio, in which during the period of five months over five hundred figures were produced and sent to Buffalo in fifty large railroad cars, was a school of training for so many young American sculptors, who found there an opportunity for study on large and ambitious objects which art schools cannot ordinarily afford. I am certain that the visitors to this studio will remember the busy scene. The interest which the young men took in their work was apparent and will speak for itself in the result they accomplished in an astonishingly short space of time. Many of them saw little rest during those five months, and particularly their superintendent, Gustave Gerlach, who set them such an example of disinterested devotion to purpose as only a true artist can.

Apart from the gigantic proportions of the undertaking, the names of those who were engaged therein make it important and representative of contemporary American art, and though disciples of many beliefs in art had to meet on the same grounds and often compromise, harmony prevailed from beginning to end. May success crown their efforts and reward them for their indulgence!

1 Mr. Perry's sculpture has been damaged.
2 The Mounted Standard-Bearers are the work of Mr. Bitter.

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