Alma Mater (Illinois sculpture)

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Alma Mater
Alma Mater - UIUC - DSC09095.JPG
Sculpture in 2011, before restoration
Artist Lorado Taft
Year1929, 2012-2014 (Restored)
Type Bronze sculpture
Location Urbana, Illinois
Owner University of Illinois

The Alma Mater is a bronze statue by sculptor Lorado Taft, a beloved symbol of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The 10,000-pound statue depicts a mother-figure wearing academic robes and flanked by two attendant figures representing "Learning" and "Labor", after the University's motto "Learning and Labor." [1] Sited at the corner of Green and Wright Streets at the heart of the campus, the statue is an iconic figure for the university and a popular backdrop for student graduation photos. [2] It is appreciated for its romantic, heraldic overtones and warmth of pose. The statue was removed from its site at the entrance to the university for restoration in 2012 and was returned to its site in the spring of 2014. [1]

Bronze metal alloy

Bronze is an alloy consisting primarily of copper, commonly with about 12–12.5% tin and often with the addition of other metals and sometimes non-metals or metalloids such as arsenic, phosphorus or silicon. These additions produce a range of alloys that may be harder than copper alone, or have other useful properties, such as stiffness, ductility, or machinability.

Statue Sculpture primarily concerned as a representational figure

A statue is a free-standing sculpture in which the realistic, full-length figures of persons or animals or non-representational forms are carved in a durable material like wood, metal, or stone. Typical statues are life-sized or close to life-size; a sculpture that represents persons or animals in full figure but that is small enough to lift and carry is a statuette or figurine, while one more than twice life-size is a colossal statue.

Lorado Taft sculptor

Lorado Zadok Taft was an American sculptor, writer and educator. Taft was born in Elmwood, Illinois, in 1860 and died in his home studio in Chicago in 1936. Taft was the father of US Representative Emily Taft Douglas, father-in-law to her husband, US Senator Paul Douglas, and a distant relative of US President William Howard Taft.



Sculpture in 2014 after restoration Alma Mater Restored 2014.jpg
Sculpture in 2014 after restoration

The Alma Mater is a bronze figure of a woman in academic robes. She stands in front of a stylized throne, or klismos, with her arms outstretched in welcome. The attendant figure "Labor" is a male who stands to her proper right and wears a blacksmith's apron. At his feet lies a sheaf of papers. The proper left figure "Learning" is a female robed a classical gown with a sun bas-relief on front. Learning and Labor extend their hands in a handshake over the throne. [3] The work stands approximately 13-feet tall. The granite base carries three inscriptions:


A klismos or klismos chair is a type of ancient Greek chair, with curved backrest and tapering, outcurved legs.

The long flowerbed stretching from the front of the Alma Mater to the corner of Green Street and Wright Street is known as the Alma Mater Plaza. [4]


Taft's Alma Mater contrasts with the cold reserve of Daniel Chester French's Alma Mater at Columbia University in New York. Almamater.jpg
Taft's Alma Mater contrasts with the cold reserve of Daniel Chester French's Alma Mater at Columbia University in New York.
In the winter showing Altgeld Hall in the background. Alma Mater, Lorado Taft.jpg
In the winter showing Altgeld Hall in the background.

Lorado Taft wrote in correspondence that he began sculpting on the theme of "Labor and Learning" while home from Paris in 1883, after having graduated from the University of Illinois in 1879. [5] [6] [7] Taft envisioned a sculpture that students would climb on and, indeed, climbing on the statue and sitting on the throne have become campus traditions. [1]

Paris Capital of France

Paris is the capital and most populous city of France, with an area of 105 square kilometres and an official estimated population of 2,140,526 residents as of 1 January 2019. Since the 17th century, Paris has been one of Europe's major centres of finance, diplomacy, commerce, fashion, science, and the arts. The City of Paris is the centre and seat of government of the Île-de-France, or Paris Region, which has an estimated official 2019 population of 12,213,364, or about 18 percent of the population of France. The Paris Region had a GDP of €709 billion in 2017. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit Worldwide Cost of Living Survey in 2018, Paris was the second most expensive city in the world, after Singapore, and ahead of Zürich, Hong Kong, Oslo and Geneva. Another source ranked Paris as most expensive, on a par with Singapore and Hong Kong, in 2018.

The 1883 piece was a relief with just two figures and was not preserved. [7] He began to seek funding for the project in 1916, a year after Daniel Chester French's Alma Mater was unveiled at Columbia University. [5] [7] Taft was familiar with French's reserved, seated Alma Mater treatment and desired to create a more generous and "cordial" figure suitable for a Midwest mother." [8] He began to correspond that year about the work, writing of it on a grand scale and in terms of the figures in position, pose and dress. [5] The central matriarch would stand "at least twelve feet high" and risen from her throne, advancing a step with outstretched arms, "a gesture of generously greeting her children." On the theme of the motto, he would pose two more figures on the same scale yet subordinate. He based Learning on Lemnia Athena as an heraldic gesture, clasping hands with a sturdy figure of Labor over the back of the chair. [5] The subordination of figures was accomplished by sculpting them "with less accent" so as to make them appear "out of focus." [7] According to financier Roland R. Conklin, an alumnus of the class of 1880, an initial completion date of October, 1918 was pushed back due to Taft's other commissions. [7] Having secured the necessary patronage, Taft and Conklin announced the gift on November 27, 1916. [9] The plaster cast was presented at the annual convocation of the Alumni Association at 3:00 PM on June 13, 1922. [6] So although the plaque beneath has stated the statue was conceived in 1922, it was nearly half a century in the making. [5]

Daniel Chester French American sculptor

Daniel Chester French, one of the most prolific and acclaimed American sculptors of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is best known for his design of the monumental statue of Abraham Lincoln (1920) in the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC.

<i>Alma Mater</i> (New York sculpture) sculpture by Daniel Chester French

Alma Mater is a bronze sculpture by Daniel Chester French which is located on the steps leading to the Low Memorial Library on the Morningside Heights campus of Columbia University in Manhattan, New York City. It is a personification of the traditional image of the University as an alma mater, or "nourishing mother". French designed the statue in 1901 and installed it in September, 1903. It was donated in memory of alumnus Robert Goelet of the Class of 1860 by his wife, Harriette W. Goelet. Alma Mater has become a symbol of the university.

Columbia University Private Ivy League research university in New York City

Columbia University is a private Ivy League research university in New York City. Established in 1754 near the Upper West Side region of Manhattan, Columbia is the oldest institution of higher education in New York and the fifth-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. It is one of nine colonial colleges founded prior to the Declaration of Independence, seven of which belong to the Ivy League. It has been ranked by numerous major education publications as among the top ten universities in the world.

The Alma Mater was cast in 1929 by the American Art Bronze Foundry with materials paid for by donations by the Alumni Fund and the classes of 1923-1929, [5] [10] and with time donated by the sculptor himself. [5] Taft insisted that his aim was not personal glory: he wished that his signature appear on the bronze and nowhere else, and even spoke decidedly of forgoing the dedication ceremony. [5] But attend he did, and at the statue's dedication on June 11, 1929, the university bestowed on Taft an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. [5] [11]

For 33 years, the statue's provisional location was on the south campus behind Foellinger Auditorium, but the Alumni Association moved Alma Mater to Altgeld Hall on August 22, 1962, despite student dissent. [5] [8] [11] The Daily Illini protested the new location as in the "worst possible taste; it makes the Alma Mater a debased, commercial ‘advertisement’ for the University.” [8] Taft, whose father was the first geology professor at the University, lived for many years in Champaign at 601 E. John Street, less than two blocks from the site at Altgeld. [12]

2012–14 restoration

External video
U of I Alma Mater detail.JPG
Nuvola apps kaboodle.svg University of Illinois Facilities & Services - Conservation of the Alma Mater, University of Illinois, 2013 (6:31)
Nuvola apps kaboodle.svg Alma Mater Update, February 2014, University of Illinois, (3:39)
Nuvola apps kaboodle.svg A time lapse video showing the return of the Alma Mater sculpture, University of Illinois, (5:02)

On August 7, 2012, the statue was removed for a planned, $100,000 restoration to repair surface corrosion, cracks, and water penetration into the sculpture. [13] [14] According to the campus historic preservation officer, a previous 1981 attempt to waterproof the statue by university staff had the unintended effect of sealing water inside the sculpture, causing serious internal damage. The statue was restored by Conservation Sculpture and Objects Studio Inc. of Forest Park, Illinois.

"Learning" of the Alma Mater Statue at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, showing the surface after the restoration Learning of Alma Mater.jpeg
"Learning" of the Alma Mater Statue at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, showing the surface after the restoration

The Alma Mater was expected to return before the commencement for the Class of 2013. [15] [16] [17] However, the director of the restoration, Andrzej Dajnowski, reported that the damage was worse than original estimates and that the timeline was to be extended. Restoration costs tripled original estimates to more than $360,000. [18] [19] The statue was not returned until April 2014. [18] Rumors amongst the student body speculated that the statue had actually been damaged, lost, or stolen.[ citation needed ]

Anticipating student reaction to the statue's absence for the 2013 commencement, the University announced extensive plans to provide alternative photo opportunities, including replica statues by School of Art and Design to be placed around campus, green screen photos for a virtual photo with the statue, and improving other landmarks on the campus. [18]

The University decided to restore the original bronze color of the statue rather than leave the natural green patina that is associated with the image. [18] Initially, the restoration committee had not announced a decision on the issue. [13] The oxidation was removed by laser, and the metal was sealed with a wax compound. [18]

Symbol and impact

The Alma Mater has long been a public symbol of the University of Illinois. Her image is currently the profile image for the official University Twitter account, figures prominently on the University website, and the statue is featured on the i-Card, the official university identification card for the flagship Urbana-Champaign campus. [20]

The Alma Mater statue at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign during the 2012 commencement week. UIUC Alma Mater Commencement Week 2012.jpg
The Alma Mater statue at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign during the 2012 commencement week.

The statue is sometimes adorned to reflect current events. In 2005, during the Final Four, the Alma Mater sported an Illini jersey. In late 2007, the Alma Mater was decorated with a variety of red, orange, and blue roses to signify the Illinois football team's 2008 Rose Bowl appearance. In 2010, the Alma Mater was decorated with a UIUC cap and gown custom-made by Herff Jones to signify the University's graduation exercises. [21]

In the 2012-13 absence of the statue, it was popular for students to don costumes mimicking the Alma Mater's robes and pose on the empty granite base. [2]

See also

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  9. "The Semi-Centennial Alumni Record of the University of Illinois". University of Illinois. 1918: ixxvi.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  10. "University of Illinois Campus Tour- Alma Mater". Archived from the original on 2007-02-02. Retrieved June 13, 2007.
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  20. "Home - i-card".
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Coordinates: 40°06′36″N88°13′42″W / 40.1099°N 88.2284°W / 40.1099; -88.2284