The Centennial mural tells Wisconsin's history.
Madison is a city of art. And some of it is often overlooked.
Most of us take the public art of our landscape for granted. We walk or drive by it without a glimpse. We're busy, we're commuting; we leave it to tourists or children to really see where we live.
That's too bad. As a result, the histories of some of the city's most iconic images have already vanished, their creators unknown.
It's past time, then, to stop and look - really look - at Madison's underappreciated or unnoticed public art.
Annie Stewart Memorial Fountain
Probably no work of art in the city has such a tragic history as this memorial to a little girl. It rests in a small park area at the end of Erin Street, on a bluff overlooking the Henry Vilas Zoo.
Who was Annie Stewart? All we know is that she was a child, beloved by her parents. Her father was a clerk in a federal court. He and his wife both died before World War I. Annie obviously died before them. The family apparently had considerable savings, given the monumental tribute to their daughter.
Work on the fountain began in 1911, but it was not completed until 1925.
It is massive. Frederic Clasgens, a student of Rodin's, created it from 1,500 pounds of Vermont marble in his Cincinnati studio. The beaux arts memorial comprises concentric circles and shallow basins, and once was capped by figures of a Triton, mermaid and porpoise.
At its unveiling, Ernest Warner, president of the Madison Parks and Pleasure Drives Association, said, "It will be cherished and admired by the Madison citizens and the thousands of visitors from other parts of the state and country who come to the park each year."
However, vandals attacked the fountain with sledgehammers in 1931, causing damage including the destruction of the Triton figure. It has remained dry ever since.
11 W. Main St.
On top of the building at 11 W. Main St. is a sitting stick man. The 11-foot figure was commissioned by the city in 1979. John Martinson of Monticello created it from welded, painted steel. It exemplifies, according to its maker, "one of man's most enjoyed pursuits in a busy area, that of watching the activities of his or her fellowman."
Wisconsin Historical Society, 816 State St.
This massive mural, on the landing between the third and fourth floors of the Wisconsin Historical Society, tells the story of Wisconsin's history. Its three panels were painted by William Ashby McCloy in 1948 to commemorate the state's founding. The first panel depicts the French era of exploration, with figures such as Jean Nicolet and Father Jacques Marquette. The second panel portrays early state industries, such as lead mining. The third panel depicts Robert La Follette and other political figures.
Mount Rushmore in Madison
Wisconsin State Capitol
UW-Madison's Henry Mall
We take so much for granted. Did you know that the figure atop Wisconsin's Capitol, Wisconsin, was sculpted by the same artist who created the figure of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial? The artist was Daniel Chester French, and his Wisconsin Capitol model was Edith Minturn Phelps Stokes, great-aunt to Edie Sedgwick, a muse of Andy Warhol's.
But how about something a little more populist? A bust of William Dempster Hoard, governor between 1889 and 1891, and the father of Wisconsin's dairy industry, is at the head of Henry Mall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. It was created in 1922 by Gutzon Boglum. Five years later he began work on the presidential figures at Mount Rushmore.
Wisconsin State Capitol
If works by these two celebrated American sculptors are not enough: This statue in the second-story West Washington Avenue entrance to the Capitol was sculpted by Vinnie Ream Hoxie, the most famous local artist you never heard of. It portrays a young woman meant to be gazing across a prairie, her gown swept by wind. She holds a sheaf of wheat and a surveyor's compass and chain.
Hoxie was born in Madison in 1847, in the first log cabin built here. She was the only sculptor for whom Abraham Lincoln posed in life. After his assassination she became, at age 18, the first woman and youngest artist ever to be commissioned by Congress, for her statue of Lincoln in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. The town of Vinita, Okla., is named in her honor.
Wisconsin State Capitol
While the current Legislature is making deep cuts to the arts, its home is Wisconsin's arts treasure house.
On the end of each wing of the Capitol, the roofline is an inverted "V." Beneath these low gables - called pediments - are collections of statuary. The sculptor for the east and west pediments was Karl Bitter. He was once celebrated for his allegorical statues of war, peace, science and art at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893.
The State Street pediment contains Bitter's The Unveiling of the Resources of the State, featuring a female figure with livestock, fish, corn and lumber. The King Street pediment is Liberty Supported by the Law, with figures representing liberty, justice and truth.
Around the barrel shape supporting the dome, Bitter also created four massive groups of statues. Facing Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is Faith. Overlooking West Washington Avenue is Strength, and on East Washington is Knowledge. On Wisconsin Avenue is Prosperity and Abundance.
All are carved from the same granite as the Capitol.
The shoe slide
Descriptors such as "whimsical" are usually the kiss of death for public art. For example, in 2005 the UW delayed unveiling its phallic football corncob, Nails Tales at Camp Randall, so that press releases stressing its "whimsical" nature could take hold.
They didn't. Donald Lipski's obelisk has since been described by Milwaukee critic Collin Schipper as "thoroughly disliked by both the public and the art world. It is unusual to have such unanimous agreement on any public work of art."
But there's no denying that another work, arguably the city's best-loved statue, is not only whimsical, it's functional, too.
Though generations of Madisonians have played on it and loved it, the Mother Goose shoe slide at Vilas Park is also a complete mystery. Like the literary good Goose mom herself, no one knows its origins.
No city agency or the Vilas Zoo knows who created it, how or when. Its recorded history in city files begins in 1970, though it is surely older than that. It supposedly was donated by a plasterer's union. Madison's Operative Plasterers Cement Masons Local #599 has no information.
The Madison Metropolitan School District's recreation department has nominal responsibility for its upkeep.
The John L. Bourke Kiddie Drinking Fountain
Henry Vilas Zoo
Near Vilas Park's shoe slide is a work of public art that is similarly functional. The fountain near the lion exhibit at the Henry Vilas Zoo was designed and built in 1931 by zoo director Fred Winkelmann. The thoroughly Craftsman-style fountain is built of pebbles, boulders and cement. It has six drinking taps and was designed to be 30 inches tall, the perfect height for children. It honored Bourke, secretary of the Madison Parks and Pleasure Drives Association.
Johnson Street bridge
Johnson Street at Tenney Park
Madison has a number of "drive-by" works of art: James Watrous' Freedom of Communication on the front of Vilas Hall and the Richard Haas mural now concealed by the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center. One street-oriented work includes the street itself: the bridge on Johnson Street, just east of Tenney Park.
The charming, buff-colored stone bridge was built in 1925, and that's all that is known. It appears to have been constructed of locally quarried limestone, a material known as "Madison rubble."
The city has no record of an engineer or architect. However, the bridge strongly resembles the work of Arthur Peabody, UW and state supervising architect, who extensively used similar treatments on campus during the same era. Peabody was no engineer, so it's unlikely that the bridge is his creation, but he or someone inspired by him is clearly responsible for the Madison rubble cladding. The UW in recent years has taken great pains to mimic the Peabody style in new construction, notably in the addition to Mechanical Engineering.
Marc Ruhland designed the bridge's sensitive 2005 bike path addition. Because local quarries played out decades ago, Minnesota limestone was substituted.
One final note: Readers will see that this article provides both questions and answers. If anyone can offer more information on the shoe slide or other Madison art mysteries, contact Isthmus (firstname.lastname@example.org). We want to complete these histories and update readers.