Littlefield Fountain in front of the Main Building Tower
|Artist||Pompeo Coppini (sculptor)|
Paul Cret (architect)
|Completion date||April 29, 1933|
|Type||Memorial fountain and sculpture|
Fountain wall: limestone
|Owner||University of Texas at Austin|
Littlefield Fountain (also known as the Littlefield Memorial Gateway) is a World War I memorial monument designed by Italian-born sculptor Pompeo Coppini, located on the main campus of the University of Texas at Austin in Austin, Texas at the entrance to the university's South Mall. Completed in 1933, the monument is named after university regent and benefactor George W. Littlefield, whose donation paid for its design and construction.
Major George W. Littlefield, a former regent of the University of Texas at Austin and major benefactor to its development, first envisioned the monument as a memorial arch over the university's southern entrance that would honor the Confederate dead from the Civil War. In 1919 Littlefield contacted San Antonio-based Italian-born sculptor Pompeo Coppini, requesting a design that would include images of notable figures from the history of Texas and the American South.
Littlefield intended to donate $250,000 to fund the monument's design and construction, but Coppini informed him that the arch Littlefield imagined would require a larger budget. Instead, Coppini persuaded him to accept a fountain with accompanying sculptures. Coppini also convinced Littlefield to dedicate the monument to the students and alumni who had died in the Great War (now known as World War I), arguing that a Confederate memorial would only prolong the lingering resentments from the Civil War.
Littlefield died in 1920, and Coppini spent almost ten years developing the statues that he meant to incorporate into the finished memorial. Construction of the fountain was finally completed in the fall of 1932, with its plan somewhat altered by campus architect Paul Cret and six of Coppini's statues relocated to the adjoining South Mall. The memorial was dedicated on April 29, 1933, and the water was turned on that March.
Statue and inscription controversy and removals
Beginning in 2015 and accelerating in 2017, a national controversy grew over the prominent positions of monuments and memorials to the Confederacy in many public spaces across the United States, and particularly in the American South. In this context, the statues of Confederate notables along the university's South Mall that Coppini had designed for the Littlefield Fountain attracted increased public criticism, as did a dedication inscribed on a wall along the west edge of the fountain complex, which honored the Confederate cause along with American participation in World War I.
In March 2015, UT's student government passed a resolution calling for the removal of Coppini's statue of Jefferson Davis from the South Mall. That August, the university in fact removed the statues of both Davis and Woodrow Wilson from the Mall and placed them in storage, despite a lawsuit from the Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which failed to persuade the Texas Supreme Court to block the plan. Davis's statue was later relocated to the university's Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, where it has been displayed since 2017.
In July 2016, the university removed the stone panels bearing the dedication inscription from the fountain complex and stored them, possibly for future display at the Briscoe Center. On August 20, 2017, in the aftermath of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the university removed the remaining four Coppini statues of Confederate-Texan notables from the South Mall.
The memorial consists of a fountain set in a three-tiered semicircular granite pool, with a large bronze sculpture rising above the water, backed by a limestone wall. Two rows of fountain nozzles runs from front to back in the top tier along the sides of the central sculpture, spraying diagonal jets of water onto the sculpture's base.
The sculpture depicts the prow of a ship emerging from the stone wall behind it, with an eagle perched on its tip. The ship bears the figure of Columbia, who holds two raised torches and is flanked by the figures of a soldier and a sailor. Ahead of the ship are three hippocamps, partially submerged in the pool, two of which are mounted by mermen.
The limestone wall behind the fountain bears two bronze plaques. One is inscribed with "THESE SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS GAVE THEIR LIVES TO THEIR COUNTRY IN THE WORLD WAR," followed by two columns of names listing all UT students and alumni killed in the Great War; the other reads "BREVIS A NATVRA NOBIS VITA DATA EST AT MEMORIA BENE REDDITAE VITAE SEMPITERNA" (Latin: "A short life hath been given by Nature unto man; but the remembrance of a life laid down in a good cause endureth forever").
Changes to Coppini's design
In Coppini's original design, the fountain was to be backed by a pair of colossal stone obelisks, representing the Confederacy and the Union. In front of the Confederacy's pylon he intended to place a statue of Jefferson Davis, faced on the Union's side by one of Woodrow Wilson. Coppini meant to present the men as two "war presidents," one governing the Confederacy through the Civil War, the other leading America through the Great War, with their juxtaposition symbolizing the reunification of the United States after the divisions of the Civil War. Littlefield also selected Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Albert Sidney Johnston, Confederate postmaster general John Reagan, and Texas governor Jim Hogg to be depicted in bronze statues which would flank the fountain, representing historical figures of Texas and the South.
However, in the late 1920s the university regents decided to remove the obelisks from the plan, in part to reduce the memorial's cost (which had overrun Littlefield's donation), and in part to preserve the view of the university's Main Building along the South Mall. In 1930, the university's campus architect, Paul Cret, decided that the six bronze statues Coppini had meant to surround the fountain would instead be installed at various points along the South Mall, asserting that the figures would appear too crowded in the small space around the memorial. These alterations were vehemently opposed by Coppini, who felt that the omission of the obelisks ruined the symbolism he had intended, and that the disarrangement of the statues reduced them to mere decorations.
- List of public art in Austin, Texas
- Albert Sidney Johnston (Coppini)
- James Stephen Hogg (Coppini)
- Jefferson Davis (Coppini)
- John H. Reagan (sculpture)
- Robert E. Lee (Coppini)
- Woodrow Wilson (Coppini)
- Seale, Avrel (March 2007). "Southern Living: How to Start to End the Confederate Statue Controversy". The Alcalde. 95 (4). pp. 16–19. Retrieved December 2, 2017.
- Jim Nicar (May 2001). "Symbolism Amok". The Alcalde. Emmis Communications. 89 (5): 79. Retrieved November 29, 2017.
- "Littlefield Fountain, (sculpture)". Smithsonian Institution Research Information System. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
- Kenning, Chris (August 15, 2017). "Confederate Monuments Are Coming Down Across the United States". The New York Times. Retrieved November 29, 2017.
- McCann, Mac (May 29, 2015). "Written in Stone: History of racism lives on in UT monuments". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved November 29, 2017.
- Haurwitz, Ralph K.M. (August 30, 2015). "Crews remove Jefferson Davis, Woodrow Wilson statues from UT Main Mall". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved November 29, 2017.
- "Jefferson Davis statue returns to University of Texas". The Dallas Morning News. A. H. Belo. 7 April 2017. ISSN 1553-846X. Retrieved July 31, 2017.
- "Jefferson Davis is Back at UT". Texas Monthly. Austin, Texas. 17 April 2017. ISSN 0148-7736. Retrieved July 31, 2017.
- Haurwitz, Ralph K.M. (August 25, 2016). "UT removes Confederate inscription that it previously said would stay". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved November 29, 2017.
- Haurwitz, Ralph K.M. (August 20, 2017). "UT removes Confederate statues from South Mall". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved November 29, 2017.
- Bromwich, Jonah Engel (August 21, 2017). "University of Texas at Austin Removes Confederate Statues in Overnight Operation". The New York Times. Retrieved August 21, 2017.
- Media related to Littlefield Fountain at Wikimedia Commons