Sunday, February 20, 2011

Argos: the center of an art treasure

The Argos community has an unusually large number of examples of glacial boulder and stone masonry construction. There were a few stone masons working in the Argos community during the 1900s through the 1940s. Lewis Swihart (1858-1945) was known for his use of smaller stone in porch wall construction. His farm residence on East 17th Road, Argos probably best exhibits his work (resource #019, page 81 of Marshall County Interim Report). David Lolmaugh was a local mason who passed on the trade to his seven sons. Their family moved from a farm into Argos around 1897; David died in 1940. His son Lawrence Lolmaugh was a member of the Argos Izaak Walton League and was also described as having been employed in the construction of the building and the interior wall decoration (probably plaster work). Lawrence and his brothers Harmon and Lewis are known to have constructed some of the uncut stone porches in the Argos community. The Warner House (326 West Walnut St., resource #001, pages 88-89 of the Marshall County Interim Report) was constructed in about 1923 with stonework laid by Lawrence and/or Harmon Lolmaugh, but was under the guidance of another mason, William Foker. William Foker was a Waltonian and supervised the stone masonry construction of the Argos Izaak Walton League clubhouse at about 80 years of age.

William Lake Foker was the most accomplished of the stone masons working in the Argos community. Foker was the son of William Foker, Sr., a Civil War veteran, and was born in Plymouth in 1857. He moved to Argos as a child and later married Mary Jane Nipp in 1882. At this time he entered the building trade as a plasterer and bricklayer. Foker was described as a “tall raw-boned Irishman with a sense of humor and an artist’s eye”. Accounts from his adopted daughter state that he read a newspaper article concerning the construction of a mansion in South Bend whose owners had imported stone cutters from France to cut and set fieldstones. Because he considered this a difficult and unaccomplished skill in the United States, Foker went to South Bend and stayed several weeks observing the technique of cutting and the art of assembling color in the walls of the house under construction. Based on the time frame of these events it is speculated that the masonry work observed was on the Oliver mansion on West Washington Street. Stone masons were brought from Europe to construct the Oliver mansion, and, in comparison to Foker’s work, similarities can be seen in the work at the mansion.

Foker’s first work was a stone porch at 107 Smith Street in Argos. This was created to showcase his abilities in order to market himself to potential clients. Foker was already being referred to as a “stone artist” when a local newspaper reported he had returned to Argos in 1912. While Foker’s work is most evident around the community of Argos and in Marshall County, Foker’s skill propelled his career to a number of locations outside his home town. Foker completed stone work in Kewanna in 1914. In 1920 Foker relocated to Mulberry briefly due to the large scale of a project for which he received a contract, and also to construct the stone entrance to the Forest Park subdivision in Kokomo, to which he shipped stone from the Argos area. Foker was contracted to lay the stone work for the Chicago Masonic Cemetery’s archway and chapel in 1922 (now Mt. Emblem). He also worked in Gary, Bass Lake and Rochester.

Foker worked in both cut and uncut stone. In both methods he hand selected stone blending colors and shapes to provide a very aesthetically pleasing form to his creation. No full record of Foker’s work has been compiled; however, several characteristics of his work make it identifiable as “a Foker”, as described locally. One characteristic is the tapered appearance of his porch walls and piers. Another is his skill in blending colors to provide great variety, particularly in his uncut stonework. A third characteristic is his careful selection of sizes of stones to give the construction the appearance of a natural “piling” of stone by the ordering of larger stone at the base and smaller stone at the top of his work. A fourth characteristic is his very minimal use of mortar in laying stones. Again, this characteristic provides the appearance of a natural piling of stones in almost a dry-stack appearance in his uncut creations; in his cut stone creations the skill required to make the naturally shaped stones fit so tightly together is quite remarkable.

But the most character defining feature of Foker masonry, found in nearly all of the chimneys he constructed, are his trademark patterns of the “Wheel of Life” and “Star of Hope”. Although not converting to the Christian Science Church, Foker read their literature and embraced their teachings. The patterns placed into his stonework were drawn from these beliefs. Two locations where these patterns are found are at the Schafer Home (ca. 1913) on South Michigan Street, Argos (resource #20, page 91, Marshall County Interim Report) and on the house Foker constructed for himself at 400 Indiana Avenue, Argos (resource #33, page 91, Marshall County Interim Report). The Foker House, called the crowning achievement of his career, was constructed about 1914 and also has an eagle design in the stone just above the Wheel of Life. He was known to fashion other designs into his stonework as well. In 1942, at 85 years of age, Foker completed his last work that also included a flower design on the chimney of a small house for Judge Harvey Curtis near Tyner (18153 4B Road). Here he cut the stone but allowed another mason to place them at his direction.

Foker died September 3, 1942 and is buried at Maple Grove Cemetery east of Argos. A few years prior Foker hand selected a large boulder, approximately 5’ tall and as wide, to mark the gravesite; “FOKER” is carved onto the face. Another grave marker is constructed of uncut fieldstone near the boulder. It has a bronze plaque on its top face with his name and his wife’s name in relief. Foker’s sister and brother-in-law, William Sissel, who assisted Foker in his work, are buried next to Foker. An article written about his work in 1953 stated that “all over this part of the country may be found monuments to the skill of William Lake Foker, legendary character and expert craftsman of the Argos community.” In a 14 part series printed by the Argos Tribune in 1980-81, much of Foker’s work was detailed. The paper called Argos “the center of an art treasure” by virtue of Foker’s work.

The Argos Izaak Walton League clubhouse has been called a colorful memorial in a quiet setting to the work of Bill Foker. Club records from 1936 describe Foker as a “pioneer in the use of native stone”. Club members turned to not only a fellow Waltonian, but also someone with whom many had their own personal experience with in crafting stonework on their own homes including Kosanke, Schafer, and Warner. Foker was reported as supervising the construction of the clubhouse in 1936 in the Plymouth Pilot News and again affirmed as the supervisor by Dr. Middleton in 1981. Middleton was one of the eight original organizers of the club in 1925.


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