Richard Bock



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 casting.

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.