Richard Walter Bock was born in Schloppe, Germany on
July 16, 1865. In May of 1870 his family emigrated to Chicago, Illinois to join other
relatives that had already settled in the area. His father soon obtained work as a cabinet
maker to support Richard, his mother, his older brother and younger sister.
As a young boy Bock admired the intricately carved handles of a family
bureau and dreamed of someday being able to perform similar type carvings. This dream
evolved into a desire to become a sculptor. But at age 14 after graduation from parochial
school, his father demanded that he become a cabinet maker and he went to work with his
father at the furniture factory. He was given menial tasks to perform, but at the same
time he became proficient at using a wood plane and sandpaper. The factory also employed
wood carvers and Bock was constantly watching and asking questions about carving. He was
finally given an opportunity to carve a spread winged eagle, which he executed beyond
expectation. This earned him a job as a wood carver, paying seven dollars a week. It also
secured him a scholarship at the Mechanic's Institute of Chicago, where he studied drawing
and geometry. At the same time he also enrolled in a class to learn modeling and plaster
At age eighteen Bock lost his job at the furniture factory and took a
job as a modeler at the Northwestern Terra Cotta Company, a company that made terra cotta
building designs. After a disagreement over salary, Bock left his job and went to New York
City to seek better opportunities. He obtained work as a modeler and found himself
providing designs for the mansion of William Vanderbilt. After spending a year in New York
he returned to Chicago and went to work again for the Northwestern Terra Cotta Company. He
had planned to work there for a year, all the time saving as much money as possible to
finance a three year study program in Europe.
In 1888 Bock left home for Germany and eventually the Ecole des Beaux
Arts in France. After completing his studies he toured Europe for three months before
returning to the United States. Upon his return he immediately sought work at providing
sculptures for the World's Columbian Exposition which would open in 1893. Although most of
the contracts had been let, he did secure contracts to provide sculptures for the
Electricity Building and the Mining and Metallurgy Building for architect Solon S. Beman,
a statue for the Schlitz Brewing Company, and a panel of the Seal of Costa Rica.
In 1891 he opened his first studio in a Chicago building occupied by
other artists. Through one of the artists, Arthur Feudel, he learned of possible work on
the Schiller Theater Building which was under construction at the time. After presenting
his sketches to the architect, Louis Sullivan, he was awarded the contract to provide the
sculpting for the theater. As the work progressed Sullivan sent his head draftsman, Frank
Lloyd Wright, to inspect the project. This meeting was the beginning of a long friendship
between the two men. Wright used Bock to execute many statues and sculptures for his
commissions. Bock provided works for the Susan Dana, Isadore Heller, and Darwin Martin
houses along with works for Unity Temple, the Larkin Building, and Wright's Oak Park
Studio. His last commission for Wright was the Midway Gardens in Chicago in 1914.
On November 1, 1899, Bock was married to Martha Higgins Methven, the
sister of one of Bock's colleagues, artist Harry Wallace Methven. After returning from
their honeymoon on the shores of Lake Michigan in Benton Harbor, Michigan, Bock received a
commission for a statue for Olson's Department Store in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He
temporarily moved himself and his new bride to Minneapolis to execute the work. Upon their
return to Chicago, Bock immediately entered a competition to design a monument
commemorating the soldiers from the State of Illinois who lost their lives in the Civil
War Battle at Shiloh in Tennessee. He beat out twenty-seven other entries and was awarded
the commission and a three hundred dollar prize.
By now Bock had become a respected sculptor. He was sought out to
execute commissions for sculptures for residential and commercial buildings, civic and
memorial monuments, and various statues. Some of the other Prairie School architects he
provided works for included William Drummond, William Purcell, and Charles White.
In late 1928, Bock was asked to become the Head of the Sculpture
Department at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Along with the position came an
opportunity to create a sculpture for the Campbell Memorial Court which was being built on
campus to honor a former university president. He accepted the position and moved to
Oregon to begin the fall semester of 1929. His classes became very popular almost
immediately, with registration going from 3 to over 80 students by his second semester.
In 1932 he was abruptly asked to retire from his position due only to
the fact that he was already one year past retirement age and it was not within university
decorum to let him continue to teach. Bock and his wife stayed in Eugene for another year
before deciding to return to their home in River Forest, Illinois which they had rented
out while in Oregon. They made a month long stop in southern California to visit with
their son and daughter before continuing on to Illinois, arriving just in time to attend
the last day of the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago.
Now in semi-retirement and with a lifelong desire to invent something
that would provide an eternal income, Bock gave his wife a one foot high plaster model of
a lighted Christmas tree that he had made for another project, to display at a gift shop
convention. The tree was an instant success and he received orders for thousands of units.
Unfortunately he could not provide the trees fast enough and he lost interest in the idea.
In 1944 Bock and his wife went to California to spend the winter with their daughter,
never returning to River Forest. He had developed Parkinson's disease and decided to stay
in California. Bock spent the next few years writing his memoirs until he could no longer
hold a pencil. He died on June 29, 1949, at the age of 83.