Chicago Totem, 1963-64
Abbott L. Pattison
West Plaza, Outer Drive East Apartments
400 East Randolph Street
Rather than an emblem of a particular group of people, Abbott Pattison’s monumental 18-foot high bronze totem is intended to represent the force and energy of his native city. Non-representational but suggestive of writhing, organic forms, the piece was commissioned by the Jupiter Corporation, developers of the Outer Drive East Apartments, along with his Pavane to Chicago. The latter work originally served as the focal point of the building’s lobby but was donated subsequently to DePaul University and is displayed on its campus. Although the swirling lines and punctured forms of Chicago Totem offer a visual correspondence with its windswept location, artist and critic Harold Haydon complained that the work was not integral to the architecture or its function, in contrast to other local works by Pattison, such as his carved portal for the American Bar Center.
Pattison (1916-1999) was born in Chicago, attended Francis W. Parker school and studied art at Yale University. He was awarded Yale’s first traveling fellowship, which he used for study in China and Japan during 1940. His experience overseas may have contributed to his later rejection of straightforward, figurative sculpture in favor a more experimental, modernist approach. Pattison taught at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1946-1952 and, in addition to his many works on display in the city of Chicago, he received public commissions from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, Stanford University Medical Center, the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, and the U.S. State Department. Best known for his large-scale works in bronze, he learned casting techniques at the famous Marinelli foundry in Florence, Italy during the 1950s and made frequent return visits throughout his career.