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The Missing Piece Of The J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain Returns

Laura Spencer

The bronze figures on horseback and children riding fish that are part of the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain near the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Mo., will be removed Wednesday for an extensive renovation.

"This is the iconic fountain for Kansas City," says Jocelyn Ball-Edson, landscape architect for the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department. "We have a lot of fountains. We love them all, but this is probably the one that gets the most photography and the most visibility."

The fountain dates to 1910. French sculptor Henri-Léon Greber was commissioned to create the bronze sculptures for a wealthy family in Long Island, New York. The estate fell into disrepair, and the pieces were sold. The Nichols family purchased them in the 1950s. In 1960, the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain was dedicated as a tribute to the late real estate developer. 

Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR
This small fish sculpture, a replacement, will not be part of the fountain when it's re-installed in April.

There are 48 fountains in the city's collection. The J.C. Nichols Fountain is one of eight identified as "in critical need of major repairs." About $300,000, in donations and services, was raised for the renovations.

This project will include restoring an original piece, one of the four small fish or "dolphin" sculptures that was missing when the fountain was acquired. Ball-Edson says the city first learned of the long-lost sculpture in 2008, and it was purchased in 2010. 

"The main difference is the stylistic difference," she says. "You can see on the other sculptures that are original to the fountain there's a lot more textural detail on the pieces. The one that's coming back will match those better than the one that's here." 

Over the winter, the sculptures will be repaired, cleaned, waxed, and coated with patina. They'll return, with new concrete bases in place, in time for Fountain Day on April 14, 2015.

The replacement sculpture, created more than 50 years ago, will be installed in a separate display near the fountain. 

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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