Levi L. Barbour Memorial Fountain

Located in the formal garden just west of the Belle Isle Conservatory
on the east side of the island

If you asked me to select the most attractive sculpture in Detroit, I would select the one you see in the picture above.  Michigan’s most accomplished sculptor, Marshall Fredericks, was an instructor of sculpture at the Cranbook Institute when he won a competition to design the beautiful animal that you see above.  Notice how extremely graceful the animal appears and the symmetry of the design of the gazelle and the pedestal upon which it stands.

The gazelle is in a pose known to mammalogist as “wheeling.”  When a gazelle is running rapidly in one direction and wishes to turn to run in a different direction—perhaps to do a 360 degree turn—he or she will “wheel.”  At that point, the hind feet are firmly on the ground, the front feet are far above the ground, the neck is fully stretched so that the head faces the sky and the back is arched with the horns pointed directly at the ground.  Marshall Fredericks captured those movements accurately.

This statue was particularly important to Frederick since it was the first major competition that he won.  He sculpted several other statues of wheeling gazelles.  One of these is on display at the Detroit Zoo.  For a very much more abstract representation of a gazelle, please see the one created by Richard Bennett at the north end of Belle Isle.

Gazelles are certainly not native to Michigan.  Perhaps Marshall Fredericks, or those who commissioned this impressive sculpture, believed that there should be a display of Michigan animals in this work. At the base, you will see Frederick’s carving of four native Michigan animals: a hawk, a grouse, an otter and a rabbit.

Levi Lewis Barbour was born in Monroe in 1840 and pursued the legal professions.  In the 1870s, the city sought title to Belle Isle from the state so that it might be converted into the beautiful park that it now remains.  I believe that the city of Detroit, perhaps with assistance of the state, paid the Campau family $200,000 for the island in 1869.   Levi Barbour played a role in those negotiations and maintained a strong interest in the island.  He served two terms as a Regent of the University of Michigan and was a member of the constitutional convention that drafted a new constitution for the state in 1908.  I believe that he died in 1925.  His will appropriated funds for the erection of a statue on Belle Isle, the competition that Marshall Fredericks won.  Barbour was one to remind his fellow citizens of their patriotic duties; thus, the rim of the basic of this fountain contains a phrase from him:  “A continual hint to my fellow citizens to devote themselves to the benefit and pleasure of the public.”


Sculptor: Marshall Fredericks
Substances: Black granite and Bronze
Put in place: 1936
Use in 2009: Public Art
Website describing this sculpture: http://www.svsu.edu/typo/fileadmin/websites/mfsm/education/Discussion_Questions_and_Activities_2.pdf
Photograph:  Ren Farley; September 12, 2009
Description prepared:  September, 2009

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