Founded by sculptor Lorado Taft in 1898, the Eagle’s Nest Art Colony included painters, sculptors, poets, storytellers, and musicians. The group took its name from an ancient cedar tree—a site for nesting eagles (Oregon Sculpture Trail pamphlet).
Mostly artists from the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago, the cohorts took creative refuge in Oregon, first setting up primitive tents in the summers on bluffs near Rock River. What follows is Ada Taft’s first memory of the land: “It was after ten when we arrived, but the moon filled the earth with magic and we, being young, eagerly accepted Mr. Heckman’s proposal to walk over to the possible site for our camp” (Call 77). Eventually, Lorado and Ada Taft summered in a rustic rock cottage on the property.
Leased to the artists for $1 per year and the promise to give lectures and workshops to the local community, patron Wallace Heckman’s fifteen acres of land provided space for eventual cottages and artist studios.
The artists playfully promenaded from the dining hall to Heckman’s residence decked in royal regalia” to deliver the annual payment, presenting the rent in clever arrays; “Sometimes the rent was offered in “eighty-nine pennies, two slugs, and some postage” (Call 81).
The communal fireplace showcased a verse by Edward Lear: “And here all these interesting animals live together in the most copious and rural harmony; seldom if anywhere else in the world is such perfect and abject happiness to be found” (Prokopoff 3).
Lorado Taft identified the defining moments of his initial inspiration to sculpt; in his fourteenth year, he endeavored to aid in establishing the University of Illinois’ primary sculpture collection, through transporting, unpacking, restoring, and arranging the sculptures (Oregon Sculpture Trail pamphlet).
Taft instructed at the Art Institute of Chicago, and countless sculptors identify Taft as their mentor.
Taft published his monumental survey History of American Sculpture in 1903 (Call 78). A tireless supporter of artists, Taft declared that people have the right to “All the beauty around us which most of us never perceive… All the inheritance of the past, which we Americans are particularly unconscious, and the talent which springs up perennially but which America’s rushing life is wont to extinguish before it takes root” (Call 78).
The Eagle’s Nest members, all advocates for Native American causes, expressed their abiding love for Native American cultures in various ways. Member Hamlin Garland “slept in a teepee as a tribute to eh Cheyenne” and “Renewed his youth sitting around the firehole… smoking the beautiful Pipe of Meditation” (Call 79).
Taft himself sculpted the monolithic tribute Blackhawk (originally titled The Eternal Indian) in 1920.
The Oregon Sculpture Trail showcases Blackhawk, which Taft felt he had “essentially grown from the ground” (Oregon Sculpture Trail brochure).
A thematic/organizational motif in Taft’s work includes arrangements of multiple figures reacting individually to a common dramatic experience. (Prokopoff 6). In homage to Taft, his disciples created the sculptural grouping The Mourners.
Taft’s work The Blind embodies his typical large-scale sculptural grouping approach, and its conceptual origin begins with an unlikely source—an assortment of donated costumes from the Art Institute of Chicago. The Eagle’s Nest Art Colony’s intimate, idyllic setting promoted creative cross-pollination between artists working in various genres. The members utilized costumes for various performance or for creative inspiration itself; “Depending on their whimsy, they dressed as nymphs, ghosts, gypsies, fauns, fairies, or Greeks” (Call 81). Fellow Eagle’s Nest member Maeterlinck used these costumes for pageant-like performances, eventually conceptualizing his tragic drama Les Aveugles (The Blind). Maeterlinck’s play inspired Taft’s sculptural grouping The Blind, in which a group of people find salvation in the child among them.
The Blind was Taft’s allegorical treatment of the figure of a child as the visionary; he wrote, “This is the artist’s moment… it is the symbol of hope that is worthy of perpetuation” (The Eagle’s Nest Art Colony Collection 47).
The working plaster cast for The Blind, on permanent display in the Oregon Public Library’s gallery, was instrumental in aiding in the restoration of the large-scale title piece. The Blind underwent massive restoration before it was ultimately cast in bronze; the working plaster cast served as a priceless model, aiding in determining proper reconstruction arrangements for the grand work; “The remodeling required unusual sensitivity to transposed scale, while retaining the sculptural character and subtleties of adjacent forms. For a brief moment, those involved became Lorado Taft. It was interesting. It was exciting. Thirteen hands, three heads, five different body parts and one walking staff were recreated in this manner” (Prokopoff 15). The restored sculptural grouping is now permanently installed at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana campus in the Krannert Art Museum.
Allen and Irving Pond, two Chicago architects and former Eagle’s Nest members, designed the Oregon Public Library—a Carnegie library building—now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The library’s gallery showcases turn-of-the-century works in various mediums, including Lorado Taft and Nellie Vern Walker’s neo-classical masterpieces. The second-story art gallery’s exceptional collection boasts roughly 31 paintings and 25 sculptures, most of which are on permanent public display.
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The fine art and personal property appraisers at MIR Appraisal Services, Inc., are proud to serve as the current appraisers and consultants for the Oregon Public Library’s impressive gallery collection. Consider taking an artistic pilgrimage to Oregon, Illinois; a mere two hours from the bustle of Chicago, Oregon, Illinois offers a peaceful setting in which to view the works of turn-of-the-century Illinois art masters.
Call, Keith. Oregon, Illinois. Mount Pleasant: Arcadia Publications, 2005.
The Eagle’s Nest Art Colony Collection. Arts Alliance of Ogle County [Illinois], Oregon, 1982.
Kroft, Betty [Publisher]. Oregon Sculpture Trail, pamphlet.
Prokopoff, Stephen [Director]. The Blind, Lorado Taft, Krannert Art Museum. The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, 1988.