Two gloved and goggled Park volunteers on scaffolding armed with buckets and hand brushes recently scrubbed the pedestal of a Charioteer. The mild weather and shady location undoubtedly made this task a pleasant one.
A dedicated force of volunteers serve The Park in many capacities and by many talents. Volunteers help to maintain the gardens and trails, to lead or assist in group tours, and to help with special public events, like the recent Prairie Sky music festival and the evening lighted Wellness Walk that begins in November.
In walking by the couple toiling in their volunteer labors, the history of the Charioteer and these commissioned copies, along with trailing questions, came to mind. Are the two Charioteers at The Park entrance reversed copies? Which arm was originally extended? Informative signage with vintage photograph at the Fu Dog Gazebo provided the answers. The pair of Charioteer appear to have been reversed. Identical to the original Charioteer of Delphi, each Charioteer copy originally had one arm extended as if holding reins. The bronze charioteer (singular) from antiquity is missing his left arm distal from mid-bicep but both arms originally were probably holding reins. When Robert Allerton commissioned the copies, he had the image reversed in the second. In this way, when the pair was installed side to side, each had the outer arm extended. Robert took a certain liberty in interpreting a reversed copy. When Robert disliked the extended outer arms, he asked the artist, Charles Laing, to break off the extended arms to make the figure symmetrical and armless.
Charles Laing, a Scottish stone-cutter who had immigrated to Chicago in the early 1900’s, carved the two charioteers from Indiana limestone. Robert Allerton commissioned a great many sculptural and decorative pieces from Charles Laing. While the Charioteer of Delphi and the Three Graces are copies of famous masterpieces, Laing also chiseled the two Reclining Sphinx. This female headed lion pair preside over the entrance to the lake and meadow beyond and were executed according to John Borie’s measured hand drawings. Similarly, Laing carved the pair of Primitive Men in monumental size from the small 28 inch plaster model made by British artist, Glyn Philpot during his 1913 stay at The Farms. Because these two pair are based upon original art work in Robert’s ownership, could these enlarged sculptural pieces be considered original works? They are, at the least, one of a kind hand-made pieces of decorative art.
But, Why the Charioteer? Why did Robert Allerton commission a pair of Charioteer, instead of something else? None of John Gregg Allerton’s interviews or accounts provide details on Robert’s motivation. Robert, himself, left no written or oral history.
In speculation only, the date of the archeological excavation of the Charioteer in Delphi, Greece, coincided with Robert’s European studies. In 1896, when an fortuitous tremor unearthed the bronze statue during an archeological dig, Robert was ending his studies in Munich, Germany, before heading to the mecca of art study abroad, Paris, France. The uncovering of this Greek artifact sparked the Romantic imagination of many impressionable young men pursuing the requisite European tour or study abroad. The Columbia Exposition in Chicago in 1893 set Robert and his friend, Frederic Bartlett, upon this rite of passage together. Robert would abandon his art aspirations in 1898, but Bartlett made art a successful career.
Perhaps Robert was one of the Romantic young men who sped off to witness the unearthing of this Greek treasure uncovered after over 1000 years buried in Delphi. Was this Charioteer the Bruce (aka Caitlyn) Jenner of his time? What star-power and prestige did the Charioteer command that his athletic victory was commemorated for perpetuity by a large bronze sculptural group of four horses, chariot and rider?
Why did the Charioteer of Delphi resonate with Robert to the point that when he had enough disposable income he indulged not only one hand carved replica of the Greek treasure, but a pair!
John Gregg Allerton pointed out in at least one interview that his father, Robert, liked symmetry and things in pairs.
The visitor to The Park can only speculate on such questions and thoughts that come to mind on a morning’s walk.
Perhaps Robert told himself “I’m going to put a Charioteer on each gate post at the entrance to my estate and every day I’m going to look at them and ….”
Pure speculation only…
Maybe it’s better to just walk at The Park without excessively over-thinking the why’s and what’s……and maybe’s….
The Park is.
We are in The Park.
The Park is within us.