Lorado Zadoc Taft (April 29, 1860 – October 30, 1936) one of the great American sculptors of the late 19th and early 20th Century, was born at Elmwood, Illinois. His parents, a homemaker and a professor of geology, homeschooled young Lorado before he went on to the Illinois Industrial University (which later became the University of Illinois at Urbana—Champaign), where he received a bachelor’s and master’s degree. He then studied abroad at the famed École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts from 1880 to 1883, in Paris where he was widely recognized for his talent. He returned to the United States and settled in Chicago where he took up a career as an artist and a teacher. Lorado Taft was one of the premier sculptors of his day.  He was a widely published scholar on the topic and his work was highly sought after.  He was commissioned to produce many public works including The Soldier’s Monument in Oregon, Illinois, The Solitude of the Soul Sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago, and The Fountain of Time in Chicago.


His works also include funeral or cemetery monuments such as the Victor Lawson monument in the Graceland Cemetery at Chicago. Only a master carver could sculpt this magnificent statue from stone as hard as granite. The celebrated Lorado Taft created the monument in 1931, for newspaperman Victor Lawson (1850-1925).   Lawson had inherited SKANDINAVEN, a Norwegian-language newspaper, but met Melville E. Stone, Chicago Daily News founder and purchased the Daily News in 1878.



Taft was also commissioned in 1909 by Henry Graves, of Chicago, to create a monument for his father, Dexter Graves [1789-1844].  The Graves family had long been in America, their first ancestor, Thomas Graves, crossed the Atlantic and settled in Connecticut in 1645.  Dexter Graves himself was a pioneer and was one of the earliest settlers in Chicago who, according to the inscription on the back of the monument, “brought the first colony to Chicago, consisting of 13 families, arriving here July 15, 1831 from Ashtabula, Ohio, on the schooner Telegraph.”


The bronze figure that Taft created is named Eternal Silence, an obvious metaphor for death.  The foreboding cloaked figure stands against solid black granite–black being the traditional color representing mourning and death.  The figure has his eyes closed and gathers the shroud to his lips preventing him from speaking. The bronze has an eerie feel to it, in part, because of the way the patina has formed on the statue.  The shroud has a greenish blue unnatural color.  Except for a highlight on the nose, most of the face has remained dark and recedes from the hood, making it appear more menacing and mysterious.

Taft is noted as a ground breaker of sorts. He was working on several projects for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago that was to open in 1893. The chief architect of the project was Daniel Burnham. Burnham approached Taft saying that he was worried that Taft would not be able to complete all of the sculptures for the exposition. Taft asked if he might hire some of the women students who were studying art from him at the time. Burnham’s off-the-cuff remark was supposedly, “Hire anyone, even white rabbits if they’ll do the work.” From that grew a group of artisans who became known as the White Rabbits, many who went on to become noted sculptors at a time when it was not socially acceptable for women to be in the profession. Nellie Walker, though, not a White Rabbit, also worked with Lorado Taft, became a noted sculptor, as well. She studied with Taft and worked as an assistant in his studio in Chicago. In fact, when Taft died in 1936, Walker was hired to help complete the public sculpture Taft was working on at the time of his death.


As noted, Taft sculpted monumental public works, such as “The Pioneers” which stands in the city park in Elmwood, Illinois. The plaque has the following inscription:


The Pioneers

Lorado Taft

The works: Lorado Taft’s heroic-sized bronze work…a tribute to the pioneers…captures the essence of bravery, determination, and faith of the men and women who “bridged the streams, subdued the soil and founded a state.”

Taft created the sculpture as a gift to honor the place of his birth. The community launched an ambitious campaign to raise over $15,000 for casting and mounting. Donations included school children’s dime-collection rulers and contributions from townspeople and former residents.

On Sunday, May 27, 1928, the 10’ high statue weighing 3,500 pounds was unveiled before an enthusiastic throng of 10,000.

The statue serves as a reminder of the past and as an inspiration to the pioneering spirit in those who view it.

The artist, Lorado Taft…”Who has done most for the development of sculpture in the West”…was born in Elmwood at 207 East Cypress, April 29, 1860 to Don Carlos Taft, Headmaster of Elmwood Academy and Mary Lucy Foster Taft.

When Lorado was 11, his father joined the faculty of the University of Illinois. Young Lorado enrolled at the university at the age of 15 and at 19 received his master degree. After years of study at the Ecole Des Beaux Arts in Paris, he opened a studio in Chicago.

Taft’s works include the Fountain of the Great Lakes and Fountain of Time in Chicago, Blackhawk on the Rock River near Oregon, Illinois and the Alma Mater and others at the University of Illinois in Urbana.

Lorado Taft died at his Chicago Home October 30, 1936. After cremation, he ashes were scattered in the Elmwood Cemetery near family and friends.

As the plaque above states, Taft’s ashes were scattered in the Elmwood Cemetery at Elmwood. A monument to him was erected with a small replica of one of his own favorite sculptures mounted on top of a rose-colored granite base.


The plaque in front of his memorial states:











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Nellie Verne Walker (December 8, 1874 Red Oak, Iowa – July 10, 1973 Colorado Springs, Colorado) stood a whopping 4 foot 8 inches tall. The diminutive woman was not the image one thinks of when conjuring up a sculptor creating monumental works of art. But she climbed up and down ladders teetering on the steps, leaning in and over her creations to carve sculptures of all sizes earning her the moniker, “the woman who lives on a ladder”.

She first picked up a hammer and chisel in her father’s Moulton, Iowa, shop carving gravestones. But by age 17 she carved her first work of art—a limestone bust of President Abraham Lincoln. In a mere 24 days, she had created the bust for the Columbian Exposition being held in Chicago in 1893. Her first piece is now on display in the Moulton City Library.

"Abraham Lincoln" at the Moulton City Library, Moulton, Iowa

“Abraham Lincoln” at the Moulton City Library, Moulton, Iowa

Nellie was determined to study art at the Chicago Art Institute and set out on that path in an unlikely place—a secretarial pool as a legal secretary. Within six years she was able to afford tuition where she studied with the famed Lorado Taft with whom she worked until his death in 1936. In fact, when he died, his Herald Square Monument in Chicago which includes statues of George Washington, Robert Morris and Haym Solomon was not completed and Nellie was one of three artists engaged to finish it.

Nellie created famous works, such as, the statue of Senator James Harlan which stands in Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol Building; the Polish War Memorial in Chicago; and Chief Keokuk in Rand Park in Keokuk, Iowa.

"Chief Keokuk" in the Keokuk City Park, Keokuk, Iowa

“Chief Keokuk” in Rand Park, Keokuk, Iowa


She also returned, in a way, to her earliest work in her father’s workshop—creating cemetery monuments. But this time, she didn’t carve gravestones but instead created sculptures. Below are three examples of her cemetery commissions.

Milton T. Barlow 1844 – 1930 Forest Lawn Cemetery, Omaha, Nebraska

Milton T. Barlow 1844 – 1930 Forest Lawn Cemetery, Omaha, Nebraska

Myron Leslie Learned (1866 – 1928) and Mary Poppleton Learned (1873 – 1960) Forest Lawn Cemetery, Omaha, Nebraska

Myron Leslie Learned (1866 – 1928) and Mary Poppleton Learned (1873 – 1960) Forest Lawn Cemetery, Omaha, Nebraska

Donald Bartley McMullen (1892 – 1966) and Helen Diggins McMullen (1892 – 1918) Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Donald Bartley McMullen (1892 – 1966) and Helen Diggins McMullen (1892 – 1918) Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Nellie returned to her parent’s home in Moulton, Iowa. She attended church at the Methodist Church there, where her sculpture “Benediction” is on display.

Methodist Church, Moulton, Iowa

Methodist Church, Moulton, Iowa



A mile west of the small rural town is the Oakland Cemetery where Nellie was laid to rest beneath a plain gravestone hardly befitting an artist of her talent and status. Her tombstone bears one word that describes her and her life’s work, “Sculptress.”

Oakland Cemetery, Moulton, Iowa

Oakland Cemetery, Moulton, Iowa


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The Celtic Cross

Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

One of the most easily identified and plentiful crosses found in the cemetery is the Celtic cross. The Celtic cross is much like the Latin cross with a long stem and crossbeams toward the top third. But the feature that distinguishes it from other crosses is the circle that encompasses the intersection of the crossbeams. Often, but not always, the cross will also have elaborate tracery designs on the cross itself, adding to the beauty. This cross is almost always associated with a person of Irish or Scottish descent.

Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

No cross is more closely associated with a people and a country as is the Celtic cross is with Ireland. The cross itself has a very long history that predates Christianity. The Celtic cross has pagan origins—some say representing the moon goddess. Others believe that the crossbeams of the cross symbolize the male while the circle represents the female. When Christianity spread throughout the Emerald Island, the Christians adopted the Celtic cross as their expression of the cross.

Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

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The Rugged Cross


This dramatic gray granite monument erected in the Mount Carmel Cemetery at Hillsdale, Illinois, is a depiction of a line from the iconic hymn “Rock of Ages” written by Reverend Augustus Montague Toplady in 1763 and first published in 1775.  The hymn has been a popular Christian standard for over a century.

At the turn of the 19th Century, postcards depicted a dramatic scene of a woman in a flowing dress being buffeted by a storm surrounded by stormy white-crested waves clinging to a cross illustrating the first two lines of the third stanza from the hymn:

“Nothing in my hand I bring,

Simply to Thy cross I cling”

The image above is a sculpture of those two lines of the great hymn.  The woman symbolizes faith.  The raging sea (not depicted in this sculpture–the woman rests upon a rock) is a metaphor for the sea of sin in which humankind lives, and the cross is the hope to which sinners cling to be saved.


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Cross of Glass


The stained and painted glass windows found in the back of many of the mausoleums in large urban city cemeteries are great works of art rarely seen by most people who walk by. Most do not peer into the windows in the doors of the mausoleums to view the windows in the back of the crypts. It feels a bit like trespassing. I do it so you don’t have to!

Stained glass is a thousand-year old art form first produced to enhance the windows of great churches and mosques. The stained glass is produced by mixing metallic salts into glass to make glass of various colors. Tiny pieces of the glass are cut and pieced together using strips of lead to create spellbinding designs. Painted glass is often added to enhance designs and add details to the figures and scenes in the windows.

This stained glass window found in a mausoleum in the Rock Creek Cemetery at Washington, D.C., depicts a woman looking toward Heaven while kneeling in front of a white cross in prayer. The portrait is surrounded by a deep blue, red, and yellow band design that frames the kneeling figure and the cross. The face and arms of the praying woman are painted glass, gently modeled to great effect. The window speaks not only to the power of prayer but to the importance of the cross as a symbol of Christianity.

Currently there is a meme being posted in social media that only begins to express the power of the cross and its deep meaning for Christians in the following acrostic:

Crowned Jesus with Glory

Reconciled us to god

Overcame the World

Shed Blood for our Sins

Saved us from His Wrath


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The Crucifix

Lakeside Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Lakeside Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota

The symbol of Jesus Christ hanging on the cross is called a crucifix. This cross demonstrates the suffering of Christ. The word crucifix is from Latin and is the combination of two words—cruci and fixus—which translates to one fixed to a cross.


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The Staurogram Cross







OCTOBER 21 1839


OCTOBER 16 1905

The cross surrounded by lilies at the top of this round-top gravestone in the Rock Creek Cemetery at Washington, D.C., is called a Staurogram or monogram cross. The cross is a combination of two symbols—the tau “T” and the rho “P”. The combination of symbols was a form of early Greek shorthand for the word “cross”. These two symbols were imbued with meaning—the tau referred to salvation and the rho represented Christ the Messiah.


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