1857 (Cincinnati, Ohio)
1935 (Cincinnati, Ohio)
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portrait and figure sculpture, bas reliefs, fountain, grave stone figures
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|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|"Fountain of the Water Nymph" a Cincinnati treasure |
By John Johnston
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Anita Ellis, chief curator of the Cincinnati Art Museum, found Fountain of the Water Nymph in an antiques store.
Among the treasures in Cincinnati Art Museum's new Cincinnati Wing, opening Saturday, is a large, impressive piece, impossible to miss. It's called Fountain of the Water Nymph.
For some visitors, the lovely nude nymph might bring to mind toppled bowling pins, strikes, spares and gutter balls. There's good reason for that, but we're getting ahead of ourselves.
This is the tale of a Rookwood fountain and how it came to occupy a place in a special museum collection showcasing Cincinnati's artistic heritage. It's fitting that the fountain be Rookwood, because such ceramics are an important part of the decorative fabric of the city.
When a local sculptor, Clement J. Barnhorn, created the wall fountain for Rookwood Pottery Co. in 1913, the company's reputation had been well established.
Maria Longworth Nichols had founded the pottery in 1880. She was a member of the prominent Longworth family, and it was her family's wealth, as well as the fine potters and decorators she assembled, that set Rookwood on a path to greatness. Within two decades, the pottery was winning international acclaim as the premier art pottery in America.
Early in the 20th century, the company also began producing a special line of tile work, Rookwood architectural faience. Architects could buy a few individual tiles for mantels and the like, or much larger works such as Barnhorn's Fountain of the Water Nymph.
For years, that fountain was displayed in Rookwood's Mount Adams showroom. That's where Robert Wachendorf first saw it, perhaps in the 1930s.
Wachendorf was a developer who built much of Roselawn and surrounding areas. He was "a great admirer of all Rookwood pottery," says his son, Roger Wachendorf of Hyde Park. He says his father often gave Rookwood items, such as ashtrays and bookends, to people who bought homes.
Many others in town also admired the company's work. Architects used Rookwood tiles around fireplaces and in kitchens and bathrooms. Rookwood ceramic art was installed in a number of Cincinnati Public Schools. Downtown, examples of Rookwood commercial commissions can be seen on the Fourth Street facade of TJ Maxx, in the Carew Tower arcade and in the Union Terminal ice cream shop.
"Certainly per capita, there's more Rookwood in Cincinnati than anywhere in the world," said Don Treadway, who owns Treadway Gallery and has been dealing with Rookwood products for 30 years.
For years, Rookwood-lover Robert Wachendorf had his eye on one grand piece - Fountain of the Water Nymph - but he didn't make the purchase. It was 7 1/2 feet high and almost 5 1/2 feet wide, weighed several thousand pounds, and he had no place to put it.
Until 1960, that is. That's when he began building a bowling establishment in Golf Manor called Losantiville Lanes. According to his son, Wachendorf thought the fountain was well suited for the lobby.
That's also the year Rookwood closed its Cincinnati plant. Some years before - it's unclear when - the fountain had been moved out of the company's showroom. Wachendorf traced it to the Institum Divi Thomae (later known as St. Thomas Institute), which Dr. George Sperti operated out of two Madison Road mansions in East Walnut Hills.
It's where Sperti invented the Sperti sun lamp, Bio Dyne ointment for burns and Preparation H hemorrhoid treatment. It's also where Sperti, who owned Rookwood Pottery for much of the 1940s and 1950s, kept a sizable Rookwood collection.
Robert Wachendorf bought the fountain, which had been dismantled and stored in dusty crates in the Sperti mansion basement. Wachendorf's tile setter fretted he would never be able to piece it back together. But the tiles had been numbered, which made reassembly easier.
Losantiville Lanes opened in 1961 with the fountain installed against a lobby wall, near the office of general manager Connie Dierking. That's where it remained for the next 30 years.
"Kids used to climb on it, sit on it, throw stuff in the water, so we stopped running the water because they'd plug up the drain," says Dierking. The former University of Cincinnati basketball All-American and pro player managed the bowling alley until the mid-1970s.
The last bowling ball rolled down Losantiville Lanes in the spring of 1991. The building was sold the following November to Cincinnati Hebrew Day School. That's when Michael Williams and Tim Miller, owners of Wooden Nickel Antiques in Over-the-Rhine, were asked if they were interested in buying the fountain. They were.
"It was nerve-racking getting it out (of the bowling alley)," Williams says. Over two days, five-ton railroad jacks and wedges were used to lift the fountain, which Williams guesses weighs 4,000 to 5,000 pounds. Workers had to remove part of the building entrance to get the fountain outside.
At the Wooden Nickel, the fountain was displayed for about a year in a front window. That's where Anita Ellis, chief curator of the Cincinnati Art Museum, saw it in 1992.
"It is a magnificent piece, and I wanted it for the museum," she says. The museum raised the money to buy it, with funds from Cincinnati Woman's Club, the Fleischmann Foundation and Wooden Nickel Antiques. (The museum will not disclose purchase price; Williams also declined to provide the figure.) A donation from Dorothy Wood Whitaker paid for the fountain to be conserved, restored and installed.
Beginning Saturday, visitors will see it in all its splendor.
Said Ellis: "The nude figure of the female is three dimensional, not in relief. This is incredible for a pottery, for ceramics to be fired that big and that heavy. It's a tour de force of technology, as well as an exceptionally fine composition. And it's probably the largest Rookwood fountain I've seen. Without question, it's a museum piece."
Fittingly, that museum is in Cincinnati, only a brisk walk from the place where the fountain was created 90 years ago.
|Biography from Ran Gallery:|
|Clement John Barnhorn (American/Ohio 1857-1935)|
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1857, John Barnhorn was a sculptor active in Cincinatti as head of the Sculpture Department at the Cincinnati Art Academy and as a member of the Cincinnati Art Club.
He studied in Paris at the Academie Julian and was taught by William Bouguereau.
The Crucifixion Group (1929), considered his finest work, and is in the Church of Santa Monica.
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