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Technology and Culture 41.4 (2000) 783-787
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On The Cover
Science Advancing Mankind
Cheryl R. Ganz
Visitors to the 1933 Chicago World's Fair could not help but be impressed by the imposing Fountain of Science in the open air rotunda of the main entrance at the Hall of Science. Fair planners had placed the Hall of Science at the focal point in the fairgrounds in order to showcase the fair's theme, "A Century of Progress," through the hall's architecture, sculpture, murals, and exhibits. The fountain could be viewed from the outdoor terrace on the main level, from the rotunda on the ground level, and from the Sky Ride rocket cars traversing above. As a promotional flyer explained, "the theme of this fountain--Science Advancing Mankind--is represented by the great robot-like figure typifying the exactitude, force and onward movement of science, with its powerful hands at the backs of the figures of a man and a woman, representing mankind." The robot, man, and woman stood on a pedestal surrounded by a pool of water, with eight smaller pools below. At the base of each pool was a relief panel portraying one of the basic sciences: astronomy, mathematics, physics, chemistry, botany, zoology, medicine, and geology. The sculpture and the panels provided fairgoers with an interpretive vision of the origins of science and its role in modern American society. Amazingly, fair officials gave the responsibility of executing this pivotal artistic endeavor to a local woman sculptor.
Louise Lentz Woodruff had studied at Columbia University and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her artistic mentors included Lorado Taft, who taught many aspiring women artists in Chicago, and Emile Antoine Bourdelle, of Paris. Bourdelle urged his students to seek essential truths and free themselves from superfluous ornamentation. Taft, whose Chicago studio had produced many works for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, was dedicated to the sculptural beautification of Chicago. He believed that public sculptures captured the essence of the cultural ideas and ideals of those who collaborated to erect them. These views influenced Woodruff's own artistic vision and more modernist style. [End Page 783] [Begin Page 785]
Woodruff and her banker husband, George, were socially prominent in the elite circles of Chicago. She served on the boards of artistic and civic organizations, and he was treasurer of the 1933 Chicago World's Fair's board of trustees. These social connections, combined with fair officials' efforts to integrate exceptional women into selected positions within the fair organization, resulted in Woodruff's commission. Most of the artistic commissions offered to women at previous fairs had enhanced women's pavilions rather than main exhibition buildings or central gathering points.
Since London's Great Exhibition of 1851, organizers of international expositions had promoted the idea of progress. Gradually, the vision of progress that exhibitions embodied expanded beyond the industrial arts to include social, economic, commercial, artistic, and spiritual advances. The intersection of science, industry, and progress was the motif running through the Chicago World's Fair of 1933-34. Fair officials linked exhibits by emphasizing the universality of science and eliminated competitive industrial exhibits in favor of cooperative displays of significant historical, scientific, and technological artifacts and events. The changing symbolization in exhibits, art, and architecture evident at Chicago, and in particular apparent in Woodruff's sculpture, reveal something of the shifting conceptions of and waning faith in the idea of progress.
The juxtaposition of the aesthetic arts and the industrial arts at early world's fairs highlighted perceived contradictions between them--a perception that would change with the development of industrial design. Monumental fountains were featured as examples of the successful combination of art and engineering. The union of aesthetics and hydraulics not only enlivened the fairgrounds but also embodied cultural ideals. Fountains demonstrated human efforts to conquer nature and use it to improve the quality of life. By the 1930s many Americans had come to hail a new age of science and industry, in which the machine symbolized social promise and art celebrated production and consumption. In the Fountain of Science, Woodruff...