Defense, Regeneration, The Pioneers, The Discoverers


Defense, Regeneration, The Pioneers, The Discoverers, 1928
Henry Hering and James Earle Fraser
Pylons, Michigan Avenue Bridge
North Michigan Avenue at the Chicago River

            The relief sculptures that adorn the four bridge houses on the Michigan Avenue Bridge commemorate important events in Chicago’s early history. The two limestone reliefs on the northern pylons, The Discoverers and The Pioneers, were carved by James Earle Fraser (1876-1953) and were a gift from William Wrigley, Jr. The southern pylons feature carvings by Henry Hering (1874-1949), entitled Defense and Regeneration, and were erected by the B. F. Ferguson Monument Fund.
            Hering was trained at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and both he and Fraser later served as studio assistants for AugustusSaint-Gaudens, the prominent sculptor best known in Chicago for his StandingLincoln in Lincoln Park and his Seated Lincoln in Grant Park. The Beaux-Arts style of the imagery, with deeply-carved scenes that combine historical and allegorical figures, recalls the reliefs on L’Arc de Triomphe in Paris, such as François Rude’s The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792 (La Marseillaise) from 1833-36.
            The Discoverers depicts French explorers Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette, as well as René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de LaSalle and his lieutenant Henri de Tonti. Although Marquette was a Jesuit priest, he is portrayed wearing a Franciscan robe. The allegorical figure above, possibly a symbol of divine protection, carries a torch of guidance. The Pioneers portrays fur trader John Kinzie leading a group of non-native settlers into Indian country. In addition to many works of public sculpture, Fraser was famous for his 1913 design for the Indian head or “Buffalo” nickel.
            Hering’s Defense (shown) depicts the Potawatomi attack on the United States contingent evacuating Fort Dearborn (which stood near the bridge) on August 15, 1812. The main figure on the right is William Wells, who was abducted as a teenager by a Miami war party near the Ohio River and later adopted by the village chief. Attempting to lead the group to safety, Wells was abandoned by his Miami escort and was eventually killed by the Potawatomi warriors. Described here as a “massacre,” that designation has been challenged over the years by historians. Another public sculpture that depicted these events, a bronze entitled The Fort Dearborn Massacre (1893) by Danish artist Carl Rohl-Smith, was finally removed from public view following protests about its depiction of Native Americans and has been in storage since 1998.
            Regeneration focuses upon the reconstruction of Chicago following the Great Fire of 1871. Amidst muscular men hard at work stands a female personification of “Chicago” who steps on a salamander, a creature mythically associated with fire. Other works by Hering in Chicago include a series of classical figures and reliefs for the Field Museum of Natural History, a pediment for the Civic Opera House and allegorical figures in the Great Hall of Union Station. 

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