The land south of the museum’s historic Michigan Avenue building, on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Jackson Street, was not always the sanctuary of flowering trees and dappled light that visitors experience today. It was first laid out as a terraced square, with Lorado Taft’s monumental Fountain of the Great Lakes (1913) facing south, attached to the original Michigan Avenue building. In 1962, when the Morton Wing was built to house the expanding modern art collection and to restore symmetry to the growing museum, Mrs. Stanley McCormick, who had made a gift of the North Garden in front of the Ferguson building addition, offered to fund the companion South Garden. Renowned landscape architect Dan Kiley designed the garden, but his original plan, which included streams of water flowing throughout the space, was vetoed by Mrs. McCormick, who had her eye on the budget. They compromised on a reflecting pool anchored by Taft’s famous famous fountain, which was moved against the new Morton Wing, facing west, and Kiley filled the surrounding area with a grid of raised concrete beds, each planted with a single cockspur hawthorn. Today those hawthorns offer a shaded canopy for the cool and calm oasis underneath. The din of traffic softened by sounds of water falling from the fountain and splashing in the pool, the South Garden is a quiet refuge amid the noisy Loop.
Fountain of the Great Lakes (1913)
by Lorado Taft
First unveiled in 1913 on the museum’s South Terrace, Lorado Taft’s Fountain of the Great Lakes was the Ferguson Fund’s first commissioned work. The fund was established in 1905 with the express purpose of embellishing Chicago’s public spaces with enduring works of art. Taft produced this statuary fountain to honor the region’s great natural resources. The five bronze female figures symbolize each of the Great Lakes, with the fountain mirroring the lakes’ tributary water flow, starting at Lake Superior and ending with Lake Ontario. In 1965, the fountain was moved from its original site adjacent to the Michigan Avenue building to its current location along the Morton Wing, due to the construction of that wing and the new South Stanley McCormick Memorial Court. The fountain remains one of Taft’s most popular works and a favorite spot to relax in our gardens.