Wandering the lobby of the Mammoth Hotel in Yellowstone National Park last week, I came on a little fountain buried in an obscure corner. The lobby of that Park Service Hotel is largely given over to the needs of the throngs who trample through it in the summer—three million in the three month season—and so details that simply delight the eye are few. And yet here was this highly ornamental water fountain; ornamental only, for the spout as the fountain has been repositioned after the lobby was renovated is too low to actually provide a drink; but that is not important in our land of instant plastic bottles of water at every turn (with the inevitable problems they, or rather our uncontrolled use of them produces).
The little copper fountain has an Asian koi fish motif; it is stamped with the letter B surrounded by two E’s, just below the spigot where they are almost invisible. Burton probably made it around 1910 at the height of the Arts and Craft movement when she was living and operating her studio in California.
A large white shell is mounted under the spigot; it has been worn around the edges by the flow of water, at one time continuous, until a stop/start button was installed.
Like many works by women artists, the fountain has had a curious history. First, it was placed, perhaps at Burton’s suggestion, in a remote corner of the lobby where few would see it.
Then it was removed and stored in a warehouse in Gardiner, Montana, just outside the park gates while the hotel was renovated in 1970. There it might have remained, languishing among other remains from 1937 when the hotel was built.
One of the men working on the restoration saw the little fountain and must have liked it. In 1993, it was brought back and re-installed in its remote corner, and the edge of the shell was ground to re-create its smooth edge.
I like to think that its survival owes something to the slow, painfully slow, gathering recognition of women artists that is one of the great, if unrecognized, achievements of the 20th and 21st century. Perhaps the worker read an article or saw a painting or knew a woman artist he thought ought to be recognized. This snail-slow progression is easy to miss in the hurly-burly of modern life, but it is there—as witness the New York Times article of February 3rd on the rise of women directors in that city’s theatres.
More of that later. Meanwhile I’m celebrating the survival of Burton’s little fountain. After all, Yellowstone was originally called The People’s Park—it was the first national park in this country—and more than half of those people are women.
Fountain photo © 2010 Bo Mackison — seededearth.com