Horace H. Rackham Memorial Fountain

Located at the center point of the central mall in the Detroit Zoological Park
at 8450 West Ten Mile At Woodward in Royal Oak

Which one of Detroit’s many fountains is the most pleasing? My two candidates are Cass Gilbert’s James Scott Fountain located at the southwest end of Belle Isle and the marvelous one that you see on this page. As you stare at this monument, you sense that the bears are enthusiastically—even joyfully—holding up the basin. The water arches down extremely gracefully, enhancing the image given by these ursine statues.. Just to make sure that you appreciate that this is a water fountain; it is located in a large reflecting pool—perhaps the size of three or four Olympic pools. Because of their shape and their grace, seals are among the most interesting animals to sculpt. Carrado Parducci added two appealing seal fountains to add to our pleasure. And if you walk a quarter mile to the west, the zoo’s new Artic Exhibit presents you with real seals playing in their massive pool.

Horace H. Rackham was paid $25 to draw up incorporation papers for the third incarnation of the Ford Motor Company, the one that was founded in 1903. He also had the excellent judgment to purchase fifty shares. This ensured his financial success and allowed Horace and Mary Rackham to rank among Detroit’s leading philanthropists. He generously supported the Graduate School at the University of Michigan, and contributed funds needed for the impressive building on that campus that carries his name. One of that university’s most beautiful structures is the white marble Rackham Educational Memorial Building located in Detroit’s Cultural Center.

From 1924 to 1928, Horace Rackham presided as president of the Detroit Zoological Commission. That commission negotiated with Mayor James Couzens about having the city take over and support the emerging zoo. To make the Commission’s offer more attractive, Rackham purchased 160 acres adjoining the zoo and offered it to the city for a golf course. It is now a City of Detroit course bearing his name, although it is located in the suburb of Huntington Woods. Late in the 1920s, Horace Rackham purchased additional land for the zoo south of Ten Mile Road.

Horace Rackham died at age 75 in 1933. His wife recognized his long interest in the zoo by donating a magnificent fountain. The European artist, Frederick Schnaple, was commissioned to design a suitable memorial for Horace Rackham. Corrado Joseph Parducci was the sculptor responsible for the beautiful craftsmanship that you see.

Marshall Fredericks and Corrado Parducci are, arguably, the two sculptors whose works most distinguish the public art of Detroit. Parducci was born near Pisa in 1900, but his family brought him to New York just four years later. At an early age, he displayed creative talents. The heiress, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, was his patron and supported him while he attended the Beaux-Arts Academy of Design. He served as an apprentice to several well-known sculptors, and in doing so, came to the attention of Albert Kahn who needed a sculptor to produce elegant stone works for the buildings he designed.

Corrado Parducci moved to Detroit in 1924 and spent the rest of his life here. His forte was the design and execution of stone statues, decoration and gargoyles for the exteriors of the great buildings erected in Detroit in the 1920s and later. His work appears on the exteriors of the Guardian, the Buhl, the Penobscot, and the Fisher buildings, as well as at Most Blessed Sacrament Cathedral, the federal court house in downtown Detroit and Meadowbrook. He sculpted pieces grace about 600 buildings. So far as I know, the fountain you see is the only one that Parducci produced. He continued sculpting into his ninth decade, his final piece being a statue of the great Nineteenth Century architect, Henry Hobson Richardson, done for one the new legislative buildings that Governor Rockefeller built when he rebuilt New York State’s governmental facilities in Albany in the 1970s.

Sculptors: Corrado Joseph Parducci and Frederick Schnaple
Date of completion: 1939
Materials: Bronze and granite.
Use in 2004: Zoo fountain
Photographs: Ren Farley; September, 2004

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