Tyler Davidson Foundation

Focal Point

Dan McDonald

She's gorgeous and world famous, yet she's remained accessible to admirers throughout the years. As the focal point of the TYLER DAVIDSON FOUNTAIN, the Genius (or Lady) of Water has been enjoying her prominent downtown Cincinnati position since 1871.

Bavarian artist August von Kreling and the director of the infamous Royal Bronze Foundry in Munich, Ferdinand von Miller designed the sculpture in the 1840s, but their vision did not come to life until 1866. That year, Henry Probasco approached the foundry in search of a monument to honor the memory of his deceased friend and business partner, Tyler Davidson. He allegedly sought to commission a drinking fountain so that fellow Cincinnatians, parched from their avid beer drinking, could quench their thirst.

Meant to rival its great European predecessors, the Fountain uncharacteristically glorifies humanity rather than focusing on mythological figures, as is customary in fountain design. Topped by the lady Genius who bestows the blessing of water from above, the overall scheme of the fountain highlights the necessity and uses of water in everyday life.

The outer sculptures showing boys riding animals were originally the drinking fountains for the aforementioned beer enthusiasts. Sculptural clusters directly beneath the Lady dynamically depict both mundane and dramatic ways in which water is employed: a mother drags her child to the bath, a farmer with his inert plow and loyal dog implores the heavens for rain, a fireman atop a burning roof holds out a bucket to gather rainwater, and a woman offers an elderly man respite and drink. Surrounding the bottom basin are whimsical sculptures of children enjoying water's gifts, such as a child tying ice skates and a series of friezes showing various ways humans employ water for sustenance.

Even though the fountain's not for drinking anymore, this summer you can still sip a beer in the Square with this classy Cincinnati Lady.

FOCAL POINT turns a critical lens on a singular work of art. Through Focal Point we slow down, reflect on one work and provide a longer look.

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