Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hiking Through History: Carle Park (Urbana, IL)

So I took another long history walk over my lunch hour to Carle Park in Urbana.  It's located in a quiet residential area of Urbana, across from Urbana High School.  I'd never been there before, and I found quite an unexpected surprise in this beautiful eight-acre park that was established in 1909--a famous bronze of Abraham Lincoln sculpted by famed artist Lorado Taft.

Lincoln the Lawyer
by Lorado Taft
Lincoln the Lawyer is a remarkable statue--Lincoln seems relaxed wearing a bow tie and long coat.  He's leaning against the ends of a large slab, and one knee is bent as he gazes over to his right.  It's a stunning statue, and recently underwent restoration.

The artist, Lorado Taft became interested in art at the University of Illinois.  His father was a professor of Geology, and as a fourteen year old boy, he help unpack, repair, and arrange the first sculpture collection at the University.  He earned his bachelor's degree and his master's degree at the University of Illinois before going to study in Paris.  He later became an instructor at the Art Institute of Chicago.  He became very famous in his lifetime, and when the World's Fair came to Chicago in 1893, he became the superintendent of all the the sculpture for the exposition.

Sculptor Lorado Taft
Taft's Lincoln the Lawyer bronze has an interesting history as well.  It was originally displayed near the Urbana Lincoln Hotel, which was the original location of Kerr's Tavern (very near the courthouse where Lincoln practiced)--the tavern was place Lincoln was known to frequent while he was riding the circuit.  The statue was dedicated in 1927, but later, there were some squabbles over the ownership of the land the statue was on, and it was moved to Carle Park.  At the statue's original dedication, Lincoln scholar William E. Barton described it best.  He said, "Abraham Lincoln comes to Urbana again, where for years he was not a stranger, where lawyers and tavern keepers knew him.  Back he comes to permanently abide in the community.  Here where his fame increased and his reputation grew with each visit, he comes again and comes to remain."

Now I'd tell you more about Lorado Taft, the sculptor, but Lincoln the Lawyer isn't the only mark that Lorado Taft made here . . . in fact, there were several more.  Great places for a fat guy to walk and describe to you in future installments of the series.

~TEC

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