Chicago Rising from the Lake

Chicago Rising from the Lake, 1954
Milton Horn
Northwest side of the Columbus Drive Bridge

            Originally located on a City Parking Facility known as the “Bird Cage” at 11 West Wacker, this 12 x 14 foot, 3 ½ ton bronze relief has endured a tumultuous history. When the garage was demolished in 1983, Horn was in the hospital with a bleeding ulcer and, without his knowledge, the piece was removed by city workers and hauled to the bridge-repair shop’s iron-working facility at 31st Street and Sacramento Avenue. Housed for some years in a warehouse, the piece later ended up in an outdoor storage area, was rediscovered in 1988 by the artist and friend Paula Ellis, but subsequently was moved, without notifying Horn, when the repair shopped relocated. By 1991, when Horn and Ellis tried to resume their efforts to locate and find a new home for the work, no one knew its precise location. The work was still considered lost when Milton Horn died in April 1995.
            In September 1997, a firefighter stumbled upon the piece under several wooden pallets and covered with twigs, dirt and cigarette butts in a storage yard a few hundred yards from its previous location. The original curving bars that extended from the piece were never recovered. The piece required approximately $60,000 worth of repairs, including the replacement of the semicircular projecting harp, and it was installed at its current location in May 1998. Andrzej Dajnowski, a Polish-born conservator trained at Harvard and employed by the Smithsonian Institution, completed much of the restoration.
            Milton Horn (1906-1995) was born in Kiev, Ukraine and came to the United States in 1915. After marrying Estelle Oxenhorn and moving to Chicago in 1949, Horn created several works of art for the Chicago area, including a controversial relief panel for a synagogue in the suburb of River Forest that may have been the first use of figural sculpture on a Jewish temple since the time of Christ.
            The central figure in Chicago Rising from the Lake was modeled after his wife, whom he considered his muse, collaborator and publicist, and it represents “Chicago” as a female form of abundance and fertility. The ripples along the bottom indicate Lake Michigan and other elements refer to aspects of Chicago’s history and importance: the sheaf of wheat in her left hand represents the grain trade; the bull on her right recalls the Union Stockyards and the city’s role as meat processor; the eagle indicates Chicago’s role as an air transportation center; while the plant forms in the background respond to the city motto: Urbs in Horto (City in a Garden). The three curving bars that extend from the piece place “Chicago” in the center of an orb and represent the railroads, industry and commerce. 

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