Born in 1860 in Elmwood, Illinois, Taft had a lifelong passion for sculpture. He received his master’s degree from the University of Illinois in 1880, and studied in Paris at the École des Beaux Arts. He later moved to Chicago and taught at the Art Institute for 20 years. Taft was an internationally known writer and lecturer on art and sculpting. Many of his works are important Illinois landmarks, including Black Hawk (or The Eternal Indian, 1911), watching over the Rock River near the Eagle’s Nest Art Colony, founded by Taft; Fountain of the Great Lakes (1913) at the Art Institute of Chicago; Lincoln the Lawyer (1927) in Urbana; and Fountain of Time (1920) in Chicago’s Washington Park. The artist and his wife, Ada Bartlett Taft, were members of the Rockford Art Association (now RAM) where he frequently gave his signature Clay Talks. Inspired by the collaborative creative atmosphere at Eagle’s Nest, Taft penned an accompanying poem about Despair that cites poet Horace Spencer Fiske, a fellow colony artist: “Though bowed above thine everlasting grief / Thy loosened locks in sorrow dropping low / Thy Greek-like beauty touched with secret woe.” Mrs. Taft donated Despair and Knowledge shortly after her husband’s death. Don Reed of River’s Edge Foundry in Oregon, Illinois, restored both in 1996.