Monday, November 17, 2008

What Became of "The Wall"

Once upon a time, there was a giant piece of art entitled "The Form Makers" where Parmer Hall stands today. "The Form Makers" was an enormous mural; 20 three-and-a-half ton panels forged of concrete and iron by renowned sculptor Henri Nehemiah Azaz, measuring approximately 10 x 57 feet. It portrayed forty-five famous landmark Chicago buildings constructed from 1836 to 1968, when the piece was commissioned by George Kaufman, then president of the Sherman House Hotel.Undated photos of "The Form Makers" as it appeared on the West side of campus, current site of Parmer Hall

photos courtesy Amy McCormack/Business Office


According to an official description assembled by Dominican in 2007, the piece was donated to Rosary College in 1976 by Chicago area construction mogul Ezra Sensibar, a friend of Azaz, who purchased the piece. Sensibar donated the work to Rosary in memory of his recently deceased wife, who was a lifelong lover of the arts. Sensibar also believed Rosary to have a strong art department, then headed by influential sculptor Geraldine McCullough, and he donated the piece in hoping it would spark the creation of a student sculpture garden on campus.

Jump ahead 31 years to 2007. Rosary College, now Dominican University, had begun construction of a brand-new, multi-million dollar science building in the very same area where "The Form Makers" stood watching over the West parking lot. After construction was started, the piece was disassembled by Pepper Construction, the same firm constructing Parmer Hall, and moved by truck across campus to a small plot of land situated between Coughlin Hall and the Igini Sports Forum. There it sat for over a year, awaiting its fate.

"That probably wasn't the best solution," says Vice President of Administration Amy McCormack of the wall's new storage space.

In an article in the Sept. 27, 2007 issue of the Dominican Star entitled "The Fall of 'The Wall?'", McCormack estimated it would cost the university approximately $20,000 to move or recycle the piece, should a potential new location be found for it. McCormack was charged with finding a new home for the sprawling mural, as Dominican's property no longer had enough room to fully display the artwork in its entirety. Restoration of the artwork was also considered, but this option carried a hefty $80,000 price tag.

After months of trying to find a potential new home for the piece but with no takers, McCormack decided to approach the donor's family in hopes they might be interested in re-acquiring the artwork. But no such luck.

"The donor felt like it ["The Form Makers"] had lived its purpose, and couldn't take it back," says McCormack. It was then decided that the thirty-year-old piece of Dominican history be retired for good.

Director of Buildings and Grounds Dan Bulow was responsible for contracting local firm Harrington Excavation to remove the neglected and deteriorating three-and-a-half-ton sections of the wall during summer 2008.

"It cost more to move across campus than it did to dispose of it," says Bulow, adding that the disposal and recycling of the piece never reached the estimated $20,000 price expected by the university. "The Form Makers" was recycled by Harrington for a mere $1,200. "It was just like throwing away concrete," says Bulow.

The two areas "The Form Makers" once occupied on campus have been radically transformed in its absence. Parmer Hall now towers over the area where the piece once stood, offering the promise of a new educational era for the university. Batting cages for the baseball team now stand in the wall's former storage space behind Coughlin Hall, a far cry from the cluttered, ruinous piles of concrete rubble the wall had been reduced to in its final years.

Maybe the wall's time had truly come after all. Although many students and faculty at Dominican will fondly remember what became affectionately known as "The Wall" with a certain nostalgic longing, perhaps the piece really does offer more in the way of growth as a simple memory than as a reality.

7 comments:

  1. What an enlightening piece, Sir. I was aware of "The Wall" when I transferred here last year, but had never really seen it or knew the meaning and history of its presence at DU. I'm glad to finally know about what really happened. And I agree with you that the piece offers more opportunity for growth at Dominican!

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  2. I remember seeing "The Wall", but I never got a chance to take a good look at it. It's sad to hear of its fate, but some things have to go unfortunately if DU wants to expand. And we sorely needed a new science/academic building. I heard how outdated the lab equipment was in the old science building. But I'm always up for interesting art pieces - the larger the better.

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  3. Thanks for this posting. This sculpture is listed on the Smithsonian Art Inventory site. I will notify them of its demise.

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  4. How come one only finds about these things too late!

    This is a really sad piece of news ...
    The Form Makers was considered to be a significant work of art when it was originally installed in the Sherman House Hotel. The re-siting to Rosary College (nowadays DU) was a generous and not inexpensive act in itself. Apart from the original donors, I wonder how much effort was made to track down the UK-based sculptor N H Azaz, who, under US Artistic Rights legislation should have been notified before any part was moved.

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    1. Couldn't agree with you more Tamir... Seems like the idiots at this university were simply unaware of this work's importance and context in the history of Chicago, and architecture.... I can't even express how large of a loss this really is... And the complacency here is simply depressing... Makes you think all great works will someday find their undeserved fate among the ignorant masses, all in the name of "progress."

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