PRESS RELEASE Background Information Re: The “Promise of Youth”
The “Promise of Youth,” an Alonzo Hauser sculpture, is ending years of isolation inside the bronze lily fountain outside the Veterans Service Building at the State Capitol. The female nude sculpture was commissioned in 1952 by Architect W. Brooks Cavin, Jr., but controversy and mechanical difficulties have kept it concealed from the public for most of its life. The refurbished sculpture was installed in the summer of 2000 on the St. Paul capitol grounds.
“The Promise of Youth” was probably Hauser’s most inspired work of art, and unfortunately, also his most controversial piece. The sculpture is a bronze water lily with a female nude inside the flower. It was designed so the petals would open at dawn while a spray of water rose around the female figure. The petals would close again at dusk. The sculpture was installed in the reflecting pool at the Veterans Service Building in 1958. It was Hauser’s representation of the motivating force behind the men and women of Minnesota who served the nation in the pursuit of peace. Her name is “Promise of Youth,’ and was personally christened by the artist. The figure represents the motivating force which guided men and women of Minnesota in the service of achieving peace and fulfilling their dreams. According to Hauser when he explained the iconography, “It’s an ancient form of sculpture.. .I didn’t invent it... I wish I had.” He was referring to the water-sprite nude which was an inspiration from mythology.
The figure was part of a larger idea that was never fully realized. Additional floors were to be added to the Veterans Service Building and a sculptured panel dedicated to veterans would face the pool on one side of the floors. The young maiden was designed so she would be looking up toward this promise on the sculptured panel. The sculpture was to correlate with the “peace and progress” theme of the post-WWII Veterans Service Building.
A controversy surrounding the nude erupted even before it was completed and continued to haunt it for years. In addition, the heavy bronze structure created mechanical problems which made it inoperable. Structurally, it was an idea ahead of its time. The fountain has been non-operational due to mechanical difficulties. The condition of the patina on the lily and nude figure had also degraded over the years. The Minnesota Historical Society, in cooperation with state and federal agencies began the process of restoration of several public works located on the capitol grounds in 1999. The fountain was removed for repairs and patination by Jensen Conservation, Services, Inc., in August, 1999. The sculpture was then reinstalled on the capitol grounds in the summer of 2000.
Hauser's original design was initially approved. However, objections were later raised on grounds that the nude figure was inappropriate. The head of the Veterans Service Building Commission at the time lobbied instead for a statue of a kneeling soldier hurling a hand grenade.
Letters of support from prominent members of the art community were submitted, but the commission refused to consider them. An expose by the Minnesota Daily in 1957, however, broke through the censorship and helped resolve the controversy. In 1958, the sculpture was installed in the fountain but a myriad of problems have continued to hamper its operation.
The following is a timeline of events concerning the fountain.
1946 Architect Brooks Cavin won the national design competition for the Veterans Service Building. The design combined functionalism with beauty. It was an architectural monument to the contributions of Minnesotans toward peace and progress. Cavin’s original plan for the building called for a large pool with fountain in the middle. The building was delayed until 1952 due to steel shortages during the Korean War and difficulties with site location.
1952 Scale model of Hauser’s lily and female nude sculpture was exhibited before the Veterans Service Building Commission (VSBC). There was no objection to the appropriateness of the statue until after the full-size sculpture was cast in plaster.
1953 Gen. Walsh, head of the Veterans Service Building Committee(VSBC) voted to reject Hauser’s sculpture and denied Cavin’s request to read letters of support for the sculpture from prominent art experts. The VSBC approved the fountain but not the sculpture.
1953 Time magazine article (7/18/53) reported on the controversy surrounding the statue.
1953 Letters of support for the statute were received from Directors of the University Art Gallery and the Walker Art Center.
1955 Brooks Cavin had the statue cast in bronze without the permission of the VSBC.
1957 Hauser credits Minnesota Daily article of 10/29/57 for breaking the censorship ofthe sculpture.
1958 “Promise of Youth” installed in the fountain at the Veterans Service Building, St. Paul, MN.
1958 - 1962 The fountain was almost non-operational during this period due to a number ofmechanical, budget and vandalism problems.
1965 Governor Karl F. Rolvaag announced that the fountain sculpture would operate throughout the summer unless there were unforeseen difficulties.
1965 - mid-1970's “Promise of Youth” opened only sporadically after the summer of ‘65. Reasons given for closure were many but the nudity of the sculpture was probably the leading although unspoken reason.
Mid-1970'2 to 1999 Fountain closed for a number of mechanical reasons due to poor maintenance.
1999 “Promise of Youth” removed from the Veterans Service Building reflecting pool for refurbishing.
Summer 2000 Reinstallation of "Promise of Youth" with fixed position of petals to display figure.
Statement by the Artist:
“The effort has been made to create of the fountain a thing of beauty, the observation of which would induce in the beholder a deep feeling of peace. The more specific message it would tell would be simply that of youth yearning and reaching out to peace and freedom. It has not been the intention of this sculptor to create a memorial glorifying war as an end in itself. For certainly, our country has never embarked upon a punitive war meant only for personal gain. Every war effort has been forced upon us. We have formed armies and fought to maintain our democratic American way of life and form of government as first envisioned for the United States by our founding fathers. A war memorial in our country focuses attention on the ends of the war, which are peace and freedom. In such a world of peace, youth may flourish to fulfill the dreams of those who served.” -- Alonzo Hauser 4/7/58.