By Robin Wylly McCown
Standing atop 45 floors on the pyramidal roof of The Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) building, arguably one of the most stunning examples of art deco architecture in Chicago—erected in 1930 and designed by Holabird & Root–is John Storrs’ artistic idealized interpretation of the Roman Goddess Ceres, The Goddess of Agriculture.
John Henry Bradley Storrs (American, 1885-1956) once studied under the French artist, Auguste Rodin, and Lorado Taft of the Art Institute of Chicago, and was commissioned by The Chicago Board of Trade to design the sculpture of the great goddess.
The artist discovered the model, Madelyn Lasala (LaSalle) a young girl who was 14 years old, in the elevator of Chicago’s Fine Arts building, while CBOT was being built. Madelyn was on her way up to interview for a modeling assignment and was not given the particular job she sought.
Storrs, upon seeing Madelyn on the elevator, was determined that he had finally found the perfect inspiration for his statue. Storrs gave the elevator operator a note to give Madelyn, when she would be coming back down.
“Please come up to my studio. I have spent a year looking for a model for the statue of Ceres, goddess of grain, which I have been commissioned to do for the top of the Board of Trade building. You are the model for whom I have searched.”
Storrs had found his muse. It would take the artist months to finish the studies that would lead to the creation of Ceres. Storrs would take his obsession with verticality and his penchant for the modern aesthetic, to a great new height.
It was Storrs’ vision that this incredible six-ton aluminum minimalist statue be in perfect harmony with the resplendent Board of Trade building—soaring 31 feet—holding a sheaf of wheat in her left hand, a bag of corn in her right and wearing a crown of wheat—emblematic of the building’s original purpose as the world’s largest grain exchange. The columnar lines in Ceres’ garment suggest those of a skyscraper.
The artist believed that Ceres’ height, the suggestion of her figure, her statuesque silhouette were most important—and decided to leave out the details on her face, even though the model was considered a true beauty.
It has been said, that as the tallest building at the time, in Chicago, the artist believed that facial details could never be seen. It is imagined that Storrs never realized that many far taller building would be built.
The great statue of Ceres is exquisitely designed as a result of Storrs’ inimitable appreciation for the ‘machine age.’
It is a majestic, and stoic figure that almost stands like a Sentinel facing north on LaSalle, with her grandeur and presence.
Ceres is one of the greatest sculptural icons in Chicago. She represents not only strength and perseverance in commerce, but also is a constant reminder that relevant and thoughtful design matters. John Storrs, one of the most important modernist sculptors of the 20th century, cared deeply about his mission to create Ceres, a true triumph, and a testament that great art and architectural design go hand in hand.
Note: Madelyn’s father changed his last name to LaSalle—no relation to Sieur de La Salle, an early explorer of Illinois.
The McCown Collection LLC