Eternal Silence – A Mysterious Statement in Sculpture

"Eternal Silence" by Lorado Taft

“Eternal Silence” by Lorado Taft

Dexter Graves Monument, Graceland Cemetery

Chicago, IL

The rain dripped in a half-hearted drizzle as we drove up Clark Street past Wrigley Field. It was late afternoon in mid-January as we toured the north side of the city with my Dad. “We’re coming up to Graceland cemetery here, kids,” he said to his grandchildren. “Do you remember this neighborhood, Laura? I think there are gangsters buried there…Machine Gun Kelly rings a bell.” Someone has a smart phone and checks this bit of trivia. I turn into the cemetery and check the hours to make sure we don’t get locked inside. We see a light on in a building nearby and joke about it being a gift shop where we can purchase a machine gun keychain. The smart phone answers. It seems the Valentine’s Day Massacre took place across the street in a warehouse, but no mention of gangsters buried in this cemetery. Grandpa’s memory was a little off, but we continued to drive slowly through this fascinating cemetery under the gray sky and barren trees.

Graceland Cemetery in Chicago is home to many monuments of interest to the artistic and architecture communities, but one of the more notable is the brooding bronze sculpture entitled “Eternal Silence,” also known as the “Statue of Death”. I spotted this sculpture and stopped the car to take a picture, unaware of its history, but still drawn to the large, haunting figure. It stands 8 ft. tall, and was once black, but the bronze now reveals a weathered patina. The face, looking on from deep within the hood remains black. Form and content work together here to communicate a discomfiting confrontation with death.

“Eternal Silence” was commissioned by the son of Dexter Graves, a former hotel owner, successful land speculator and businessman. According to the black granite base of the monument, Dexter Graves is credited with bringing the first colony of 13 families to Chicago. He ran a hotel called the Mansion House and lived from 1789-1844. The bronze figure for his monument was created in 1909 by sculptor Lorado Taft, whose unfinished work “Fountain of Time” sculpture is located at the University of Chicago Midway. Homeschooled by his parents, Taft received his master’s degree from the University of Illinois and was a sculptor, educator and writer with exceptional public speaking skills. He is actually better known for his writings than for his sculpture, authoring The History of American Sculpture and Modern Tendencies in Sculpture.

(My midterm student gallery assignment – Introduction to Art – Spring 2013)

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