Photo taken from the plaza east of the Wrigley Building and just west of the Michigan Avenue Bridge. (Click on image to enlarge it and click a second time to return to the smaller size.)
Look up, with me, at the fifth floor of this building’s north façade You should be able to discern four large and two small relief sculptures among the windows. There are also two large reliefs on the east façade plus four large and three small reliefs on the west façade. These sculptures suggest early-day Chicago. This motif may be based on the location of the building, which is near the original site of Fort Dearborn and the mouth of the Chicago River.
All of the seven, unique reliefs can be view on the west façade of 333 North Michigan building. The north façade displays six of the seven, and the east façade, only two.
1. The northernmost relief on the west façade may represent Jacques Marquette, French explorer and missionary to Native Americans. He and Louis Joliet had reached the Chicago area in 1673, wintering there again in late 1674. The canoe in the upper left of the sculpture, and the ropes being pulled by the Native Americans suggest that they are using a portage to get from one river system to another. The Chicago Portage provided Marquette and Joliet with a shorter and more direct route from the Mississippi watershed to that of Lake Michigan.
This first relief is the leftmost on all three, fifth-floor façades.
2. Moving to the right (south), the next relief appears to depict an interaction between a trapper or frontiersman and a settler. The trapper is dressed in buckskin and wears moccasins. The settler, on the other hand, wears boots and, perhaps, cloth clothing. The settler is accompanied by a yoke of oxen, the true beast of burden for those seeking to settle on the trackless frontier.
This relief is paired with the one to its right on both the west and the north façades.
The three reliefs, above, represent from north (top) to south (bottom):
3. A trapper carries pelts on his back and his flintlock musket in his right hand. Eyes downward, he may be tracking additional game.
4. A Native American also has eyes cast down. Are they focused on the howling dog at his feet or on the trail before him? He carries no weapons. Incidentally, this relief is the only one of the seven that is not duplicated on the north façade.
5. Finally, a woman firmly grasps her flintlock weapon with both hands — ready for any eventuality — as she moves toward the right. Rather than looking at the trail ahead, she cautiously glances back over her right shoulder.
6. This relief may refer to the Battle of Fort Dearborn, an unfortunate fallout of the War of 1812. If so, the man on the right may have been struck by a bullet and the other men prepare for a fight. The stockade and blockhouse in the background would then represent Fort Dearborn.
7. Finally, the southmost relief may represent the on-going commerce between the trappers/traders and the Native Americans of the Chicago area. As for relief 1, this relief is the right most on all three façades.
A case could be made for the north-to-south array of these reliefs being intended to represent a chronological sequence. On the east façade, only the first (1) and last (7) of the reliefs are displayed. On the north façade — as well as the west façade, as seen above — The first two (1 & 2) and the last two (6 & 7) reliefs are in the same order. On the north façade, however, relief 4 is not displayed, but the sequences of 1-3 and 5-7 are the same.
Thank you for looking up with me at the 333 North Michigan building.