Sculptor and U of I alumnus Lorado Taft had made quite a name for himself in American art circles by the late 1920s. His sculptures and statues, designed in his Chicago studio, had been installed in Chicago, Denver, Washington D.C., and other places around the country.
However, as many of the rich and famous with a listed mailing address probably do, Taft received requests of all different varieties. Some requests were more commonplace: autographs; personal appearances; quotations, recipes, or anecdotes for publication. Some requests were…less commonplace.
“I have made claims to the invention of the first perfect conception of flight and a flying machine…I also made an actual flight by kite about 1892 when a mere boy-but this was an accident for which I claim no credit…it was my intention to have paintings and sculpture and moving pictures of my rare studies that were the best ever made and may be so still…Could you be interested in doing the painting or sculpture work in part with other artists entirely under my direction as to all colors, tints, and other details, if so, on what terms. Can you interest other artists.”1
The following passage from 1925 may sound familiar in this age of spam e-mail:
“However, being on the staff of one of the big Chicago dailies, I cannot sign the letters and incidentally should not care to handle funds alone. Hence I am trying to interest some gentleman to act as treasurer and receive and bank the incoming checks.”
The most unusual request, however, may have been the following:
“June 7, 1921
“My dear Mr. Taft: I am a young woman, a graduate of the University of Illinois, which, I think, is also your alma mater. I have heard you lecture at Champaign and enjoyed the same very much. Since you are a lover of beauty I though possibly you could appreciate my request which is stated below at least to the point of giving me your best judgement on the matter.
“I have a deformed hand the disfigurement of which I wish to overcome if possible by applying an artificial hand. The form and flexibility of the natural hand has been very well imitated by manufacturers but so far no one has thought themselves able to imitate human skin. Therefore artificial hands must always be worn with gloves.
My inquiry of you is whether in your opinion art could paint a glove or rubber hand which would so closely resemble the texture and color of the skin so not to be conspicuously different from the live hand…”
Taft’s response to her, typical of his replies to all unusual requests, was tactful and empathetic:
“Dear Miss ____ —
“I wish that I could be of assistance in this matter which means so much to you but I am absolutely uninformed upon the subject. I do not even know of what material such parts are made. If I had time I would go forth and investigate but am crowded with work. The best doctors ought to be able to advise.”
- All correspondence quoted in this post from “Absurd Requests” (1925-1931). Lorado Taft Papers, 1857-1953, Record Series 26/20/16, Box 10, University of Illinois Archives.