Friday, December 5, 2014


When we last looked at the life and career of noted sculptor Leonard Volk it was 1861 and he tried and failed to enlist as a soldier in the Civil War.  His fame was on the rise, but he found it very hard to make a living as a sculptor.

On June 3, 1861 Volk's friend and mentor Stephen A. Douglas died in Chicago from typhoid fever.  He was 48 years old.  Almost immediately his widow asked Volk to design and execute a fitting monument to the departed statesman.  Volk organized the Douglas Monument Association and set about designing a monument to the man who had put up the money for him to get his start as a sculptor.  Douglas had been buried on his estate "Oakenwald" and the monument would be erected there.  Mrs. Douglas asked Volk to take charge of the grounds of the estate and he actually moved his family to a cottage on the estate that he ultimately bought from Mrs. Douglas.

The news for the Volk family was happier on July 13, 1861 when Clarissa Volk gave birth to a daughter who they named Honora E. Volk (1861-1928).  The family called her "Nora."

In January of 1863, Seth Catlin died.  He had been the Secretary of the Chicago Board of Trade, and the traders raised $1,000 for a suitable monument to Catlin to be erected over his tomb in Rosehill Cemetery.  They decided to hire Leonard Volk for the task.  Here is a mention from the Chicago Daily Tribune of June 30, 1863:

Here is the completed monument to Seth Catlin by Leonard Volk:

If you want to read more about the life and career of Seth Catlin, check out:
The Tribune article about Leonard Volk also mentions the monument to Companies A&B, Chicago Light Artillery, also by Volk, and also at Rosehill:

1864 was another busy year for Leonard Volk.  On the business side, the Fireman's Benevolent Association hired him to execute a monument that would mark the resting place of departed firefighters at Rosehill Cemetery.  Here are some photos of that monument that was re-dedicated in 1979:

On the family side, there was another addition to the family:  Adele Douglas Volk was born April 17, 1864.  Unfortunately she lived just over one year, dying on August 9, 1865.  As with many other of the Volk family records, Adele's birth and death records were lost in the Great Chicago Fire of October, 1871.  Of Leonard and Clarissa Volk's four children, only two, Stephen and Nora, lived to adulthood.

1865 saw Leonard Volk busy with the plans for the Northwest Sanitary Fair.  The United States Sanitary Commission was a private relief agency created by federal legislation to support sick and wounded soldiers of the Union Army during the Civil War. It operated across the North, raised an estimated $25 million in Civil War era revenue and in-kind contributions to support the cause, and enlisted thousands of volunteers.  

The other thing that kept Leonard Volk busy during 1865 was tracking down and prosecuting those who had copied his Lincoln sculptures and marketed them as their own (more about these later).  When Volk could not obtain satisfaction by legal means, he was know to storm the shops of the counterfeiters and physically smash all of their inventory.   

The cornerstone for the Stephen A. Douglas monument was laid September 6, 1866.  The Association invited President Andrew Johnson to participate in the cornerstone laying ceremony.  He accepted and stopped in Chicago as part of his political tour of the eastern half of the country.  Accompanying Johnson were several members of his cabinet, as well as Generals Grant, Rawlins, Dix, Meade and Custer, and Admiral Farragut.

The day of the ceremony, shops, businesses, and banks were closed.  The Illinois Central Railroad ran trains to the grave every ten minutes. Over one hundred thousand people lined the parade route.

The monument is 96 feet tall. There is a circular base topped by a 20-foot diameter octagonal mausoleum.  On the four main corners of the mausoleum, pedestals hold large bronze allegorical figures portraying “Illinois,” “History,” “Justice,” and “Eloquence.”

Illinois by Leonard Volk
Photo by Jyoti Srivastava

History by Leonard Volk
Photo by Jyoti Srivastava
Justice by Leonard Volk
Photo by Jyoti Srivastava
Eloquence by Leonard Volk
Photo by Jyoti Srivastava

Atop the 46-foot column is a nine-foot bronze statue of Douglas gazing over Lake Michigan.

Stephen A. Douglas
Photo by Jyoti Srivastava

Above the main base of the column are four bronze bas reliefs representing “Important events in Illinois.”

Photo by Jyoti Srivastava

Photo by Jyoti Srivastava

Photo by Jyoti Srivastava

Photo by Jyoti Srivastava

The 1870 US Census saw the Volk family living on the Stephen A. Douglas estate in the home provided by Mrs. Douglas.  Forty-one year old Leonard lists his occupation as "Sculptor", thirty-seven year old Emily is "at Home", fourteen year old Douglas is "at School" as is nine year old Nora.  Volk lists his real estate owned as worth $20,000, and his personalty at $10,000. 

1870 also saw Leonard Volk commissioned to produce another monument at Rosehill Cemetery.  This time it would be a monument to the soldiers and sailors of the Civil War.  Entitled "Our Heroes" it can be seen as you come up the drive after entering the gates of Rosehill:

Photo by Jyoti Srivastava

This 30-foot high monument is dedicated to Union soldiers who died in the Civil War. The memorial consists of a square limestone shaft topped by a marble figure of a Union standard bearer holding his flag in his left hand and a bugle in the right. 

Photo by Jyoti Srivastava

In front is the inscription, "Our Heroes".

Photo by Jyoti Srivastava

Photo by Jyoti Srivastava

Four bronze plaques at the base of the column portray members of the four branches of service: cavalry, infantry, artillery and navy:

Photo by Jyoti Srivastava

Photo by Jyoti Srivastava

Photo by Jyoti Srivastava

 Photo by Jyoti Srivastava

The popularity of "Our Heroes" led to another Soldiers and Sailors monument commission for Leonard Volk.  This one was in the City of Rochester, New York. 

It is a monument to Civil War Soldiers and to President Abraham Lincoln, who is depicted on the large central column of the monument.  When then monument was unveiled on Memorial Day of 1892, a group of about 30 dignitaries, including President Benjamin Harrison attended.

The monument is said to weigh 461,599 pounds.  It is 42 feet high.  The cost in 1892 was $26,000.

The monument contains four figures in addition to Lincoln.  Like the monument in Chicago, each represents a branch of the Union military service:  Infantry, Artillery, Cavalry and Navy.  There are also scenes from the war and various inscriptions:

"To those who faithful unto death gave their lives for their country: 1861-1865"

"We are in peril.  They breasted the danger.  The Republic called:  They answered with their blood."

"We here highly resolve the dead shall not have died in vain."

Next week we will finish our story of the life and work of Leonard Volk by examining the sculptures he is most famous for:  The life mask and the hands of Abraham Lincoln.

Leonard Wells Volk circa 1860

A big "thank you" to the talented photographer Jyoti Srivastava who graciously allowed me to use her photos of various works of Leonard Volk for this article.  Jyoti has a wonderful blog on Public Art in Chicagoand and other blogs of interest as well.  Jyoti's blogs are as follows:

Chicago - Public Art

Chicago Architecture & Cityscape

Project Onward

Chicago Riverwalk

The Art Institute of Chicago..

Urbs in Horto

The Butterfly Haven

My Photo Journal

Clicking on any of the links above should take you to one of Jyoti's blogs (but don't forget to come back here...)

Any photo not credited is from the author's own collection.

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