Robert Allerton Park

Tour curated by: ExploreCU Team

The 1500-acre woodland, garden, meadow, and prairie landscape that surrounds the Allerton Mansion was once the private estate of Robert Henry Allerton. Named “The Farms,” the estate was the center of the 12,000-acre Illinois agricultural enterprise acquired during the latter half of the 1800s by Robert’s father Samuel.

Although he oversaw his father’s interests in the Illinois farms, Robert Allerton’s passion was art. He was an avid art collector, philanthropist and an artist who used the landscape as his canvas. Allerton believed that art surrounded and embraced every human being through nature. His belief in the artistic power of nature led to a life-long commitment to stewardship of the land and its natural elements. With the help of John Gregg, his protégé and, later, adopted son, Robert spent decades shaping the Illinois farmland to create ever-evolving landscapes that captured the natural beauty of the woodland and prairie, and formal gardens that served as an outdoor gallery for the sculpture he collected during his world travels.

Robert Allerton was a dedicated patron and benefactor of the Art Institute of Chicago. During his lifetime, he donated over 6,600 pieces of art to the museum. Many originals sculptures and artifacts were acquired during his travels for the benefit of the Art Institute. Fortunately, many prototypes and replicas of his favorites found their way to the gardens at the Allerton estate. Robert and John spent 40 years creating gardens that highlighted Robert’s growing collection of sculpture.

In 1946, Robert Allerton gave his beautiful Illinois estate to the University of Illinois for use as “an educational and research center, as a forest and wild-life and plant-life reserve, as an example of landscape architecture, and as a public park.” He also committed the income from 3,600 acres of farmland for the Park’s care. At the same time, 250 additional acres of land within the estate’s boundaries were given to establish the Illinois 4-H Memorial Camp.

Allerton Park and Retreat Center is composed of several major elements. The core of the estate features an English-inspired manor house, a reflecting pond, an approximately 10-acre meadow, and a series of formal sculpture gardens. A network of interpretive and primitive hiking trails winds through the woodland, riparian, and prairie areas of the Park, of which 1,000 acres have been designated a National Natural Landmark because of the quality of their upland and bottomland floodplain forests. Historic farmsteads are gradually being renovated and once again used productively.

Today, Allerton is operated under the guidance of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Allerton Retreat Center (Mansion) is used as a retreat and conference facility by University, state, and corporate clients. The natural areas of the Park are used by a variety of University departments, as well as other universities and conservation agencies, for environmental study and for participatory student interactions. Both the Retreat Center and Park areas are used for wonderfully unique weddings and special events.

What was once the private oasis for a single family is now a vibrant teaching, recreational, and celebratory sanctuary for nearly 100,000 guests every year. Allerton Park and Retreat Center is a unique cultural and environmental asset of the University of Illinois and serves as a bridge between the public and the educational and research resources of the University’s faculty.

In this tour, you’ll find information about many of the sculptures that can be seen around the gardens and trails of Allerton Park and Retreat Center.

Text adapted from Allerton Park and Retreat Center. (n.d.). History | Allerton Park and Retreat Center. Retrieved from http://allerton.illinois.edu/history.html

Locations for Tour

Inspired by Dante's Inferno, Rodin conceived his original Adam and Eve as figures to flank The Gates of Hell, a huge bronze portal commissioned for the Museum of Decorative Arts, Paris, that included 186 high-relief and freestanding dynamic figures.…

Two erect stone figures, copies of a bronze Charioteer of Delphi made for the Art Institute of Chicago from the Greek original, stand on pillars at a park entrance. Each of the statues had just one arm at first, as does the ancient prototype, which…

In 1930 Allerton bought two nineteenth-century fish fountains from a Peking dealer with the understanding that they came from a prince's garden, and he subsequently placed them in the Maze Garden. Soon after, he had eight nearly identical…

Visitors usually call these stone figures "Chinese" musicians, but a closer look shows that their features are Western. The present sculptures are not those Allerton bought in England early in the century. Initially he obtained ten statues…

The eminent French artist Bourdelle, regarded by many of his contemporaries as the greatest sculptor of his generation, himself thought The Death of the Last Centaur the "summit" of his achievements. He showed it first in plaster at the…

High up on four-sided pillars, framed by trees at the Allerton Road entrance to the park, are these badly weather-damaged concrete statues representing the mythological Greek goddess of the hunt, Diana (right), and her chaste, athletic young male…

Mythological lion-dogs such as these are ubiquitous in Asian art, found in cemeteries, temples, shops, and domiciles and utilized traditionally as Buddhist guardian effigies to ward off demon spirits. Fabricated of materials such as stone, wood,…

Allerton bought Lili Auer's Girl with a Scarf at the Chicago Art Institute's annual Exhibition of American Painting and Sculpture, 1941-42, and had a special place prepared for it in the center of the Brick Garden. It was the last piece he…

This stone figure represents a composite Brahmin god, Hari-Hara, and is a copy of a seventh-century stone statue in the Museacute Albert Sarraut in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Robert Allerton had the copy made from a plaster cast he purchased at the…

On pylons in the Sunken Garden, looking very much like glittering sea creatures diving into a vast subterranean world, surfaces modeled in wonderful deep and shallow designs, teeth huge and fearsome, are sixteen guardian fish, reduced-scale versions…

Two pairs of stone lions look down from pillars at either end of a long gravel pathway near the greenhouse, one pair made before 1922 in Chicago from originals Allerton owned, the other in Indiana in 1976. John Allerton's recollection was that…

Hidden almost from sight southeast of the Gatehouse is this unpretentious little stone shepherdess and her dog, which Allerton had Lew Wagy, a Monticello gravestone carver, adapt from an eight-inch-high German porcelain figurine in the house. The…

Based on a Roman original in the Naples Museum, this little garden statue is located near a path leading from the parking lot to Allerton House. The sharply pointed ears, animal skin about its neck, wine sack resting on the knee, and distinctly…

When Glyn Warren Philpot was Allerton's houseguest in the autumn of 1921, he had an estate employee pose for him in order to conceptualize a figure he planned to include in a British mural commission on the birth of man. Allerton used the…

The placement of Kuöhl's darkly patinated bronze figures at either side of a gravel pathway leading to the Brick Garden nicely relates them to the meditative Girl with a Scarf just beyond. In Art Deco style, they are mounted frontally on John…

Allerton bought a pair like this one early in his residency at the Monticello estate, but because of vandalism the figure of the shepherd recently had to be replaced. He no longer holds a long shepherd's crook as he did in the original. The…

Amazingly, these two slim, delicate images of Buddha were fashioned from single logs of teakwood. Students of the Royal School in Bangkok, Thailand, made them from prototypes Allerton selected in nearby wats (Buddhist monasteries or temples), waiting…

The placement of these two identical, recumbent stone creatures is unusual in that they look directly into the house instead of facing out toward the approaching visitor. In classical mythology, sphinxes were most often represented as having the head…

Carl Milles created three colossal Sun Singer statues: one in Stockholm, commissioned in 1919 by the Swedish Academy of Sciences to honor the influential poet-patriot Esaias Tegner (1782-1846), who did so much to bring Norse sagas and Scandinavian…

Two odd marble statues-partially draped, truncated, demure armless female nudes on decorated, tapered shafts stand against the back terrace brick walls of Allerton House. Renaissance-type figures such as these are sometimes adapted by architects for…

Allerton had two limestone copies of Pilon's Three Graces made. One adorns the east wall of the Peony Garden, on the path west of the Visitors' Center; the other is at the Lake Geneva, lllinois, grave of his aunt, Mrs. Lester McCrae. In…

Probably dating from the late nineteenth century, the park Venus is a close copy of Canova's famous Venus Italica in the Pitti Palace, Florence. Allerton bought the copy from a European dealer and had it placed in a small latticed pavilion in…
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