In the upper corners of the east facade of the original Library building are two bas relief panels designed by Iowa-born sculptor Nellie Verne Walker (1874-1973). To complete the library commission Ms. Walker worked on scaffolding after the stones had been put in place in 1924. She was assisted in much of the actual carving by the Swiss-born sculptor J.G. Zimmerman, who was employed at the Midway Art Studio and had space in the same building in which Ms. Walker had her studio.
Born in Red Oak, Ms. Walker learned the feeling of working with stone at her father's monument shop in Moulton, Iowa. At age 17, without instruction and working only from an engraving, she carved a head of Abraham Lincoln in twenty-four days. This bust was exhibited as part of the Iowa exhibit at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. With financial help from a family friend, she moved to Chicago in 1900 to begin study at the Chicago Art Institute with Lorado Taft. She later taught sculpture at the Institute for five years, and after 1909 maintained a studio in the Midway Art Studio, established by Lorado Taft near the University of Chicago. In Paris, she continued her studies and conducted sculptor's studios. Textbooks list her as one of the outstanding women sculptors in America. In an interview she noted: "I like all the various things we do -- portraits, monuments, fountains, reliefs, everything. But I do like them large rather than small." Well-known examples of her work include the statue of Senator James Harlan in the U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C. (1907); the Chief Keokuk statue in Iowa (1913); the Polish-American War Memorial in Chicago (1927); the Suffrage Memorial panel in the Capitol in Des Moines (1934); and the Lincoln Monument at Vincennes, Indiana (1937).
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