Children of the Fountain

In 1919, industrialist August Hecksher commissioned Evelyn Longman to create a marble sculpture for his soon-to-be-opened art museum in Huntington, Long Island. Later that year, The American Magazine of Art noted that the sculpture, a working fountain, was intended to represent “childhood,” echoing Hecksher’s groundbreaking philanthropic efforts to improve the lives of New York City children. When he made his final payment to Longman in October 1920, August wrote, “It has rarely afforded me greater satisfaction to pay a bill which I have owed…When the replica of the fountain is erected your studio will always be a [m]ecca for us.”

Longman’s sculpture portrays three children standing over a basin. Bas-reliefs of storybook-styled animals surround the basin’s outer surface, and a bronze frog poised on the rim camouflages the fountain’s nozzle. The replica to which Hecksher referred is cast in concrete and bronze, and both versions of the sculpture share the name Youth Eternal. A 1931 letter to Longman from an interested Long Islander, Mrs. Marion Makay, explained that a poem found among the possessions of Hecksher’s friend inspired this title.

Forever fair and ever to be loved

Their youth eternal and their innocence

By art enshrined in spotless, changeless stone.

The children of the fountain woo me back

To those sweet days when it was also mine

The sculpture held personal significances for the artist and the patron. The figures of the children are sculpted in the images of three of Hecksher’s grandchildren who, by 1919, resided in London. And Longman’s work on the commission spanned her courtship and June 1920 wedding to Nathaniel Horton Batchelder, first headmaster of the Loomis School. Sometime in the first decade of their marriage, the replica of Youth Eternal was placed along the exterior east wall of Chiselhurst-on-Farmington, the studio Mr. B constructed on campus so that Longman could relocate her thriving New York City art career. If Hecksher journeyed to Chiselhurst-on-Farmington, evidence of the visit does not survive.

Family and school events intertwine with the Loomis sculpture’s life story. The rising flood waters of 1936 and 1938 surrounded the fountain, inspiring the Fall 1938 Loomis Bulletin to proclaim in a photo caption, “Three Frog-Watchers Go Wading.” The Batchelders featured the sculpture on their 1931 holiday card and again in 1948 after moving it to their Cape Cod home in preparation for their retirement. The latter card shows three of Mr. and Mrs. B’s
grandchildren playing gleefully in the basin.

The generosity of the Batchelder family, and especially that of Nathaniel and Evelyn’s son, Skip ’35, made possible the return of the Youth Eternal replica to Loomis Chaffee. Permanently installed outside the Richmond Art Center in 1992, the sculpture was seen by hundreds that year who viewed a Longman retrospective created by faculty members Marilyn and Walter Rabetz. The “children of the fountain” remain today on the Island, enticing the young and the old to consider those “sweet days” of youth.