J.B. Duke sought the finest craftsmen to make statuary for his estate. Duke commissioned bronze, marble and stone reproductions in the first decade of the 20th century, mostly from French and Italian firms that specialized in casting Classical and Renaissance-style reproductions for museums and private collectors.
Of the hundred or more pieces of sculpture thought to have adorned the estate at its prime, approximately 35 are still placed throughout the estate today, and a number of these have been relocated within the ruins of the former Hay Barn.
Three examples of existing and former statuary at Duke Farms include:
Sabatino de Angelis & Fils, Naples, Italy, cast the reproduction of the Farnese Bull in 1907 for J.B. Duke. The original sculpture dates to antiquity, and is based on Greek mythology. It presents the story of Dirce being tied to a bull by the sons of Antiope. Restored by Michelangelo after being found in the Baths of Caracalla, the original was formerly in the Farnese Palace, hence its name.
The Eagle Gate
The bronze eagles that flank the main entrance at Duke Farms were cast around 1902 at Fonderie d’Art du Val, d’Osne, a Parisian foundry. The eagles were recently returned to their original position on the stone posts of the Eagle Gate, which was located at the south end of the estate off Duke’s Parkway West after having been moved to the former main gate along Route 206 and Duke’s Parkway East around 1960.
James B. Duke discovered The Sower while on a grand tour of Europe and purchased it in Leipsic for Duke Farms in the early 1900s. The figure is that of a seventeenth century peasant sowing his fields. An inscription on the statue reveals that it was a production of the Gladenbeck Foundry in Freidrechshagen near Berlin. The sculptor was Stephan Anton Friedrich Walter, born in Nurnberg in 1871. The statue is most likely a small-scale version of the heroic-size figure believed to have been made for the Neiderbariner Hospital in Berlin. In 1914, J.B. Duke donated the bronze statue to Duke University, where it still stands today. Read more about the history of The Sower in the Duke University Archives, including how it became part of a campus dating tradition.
As public visitation at Duke Farms increased, complaints about the absence of resting places and lack of water arose. In 1903, J.B. Duke began the first of two campaigns to dig wells and construct well houses. A second campaign to construct well houses began in 1906.
In 1903, the Unionist Gazette reported, “Rustic wells with oaken buckets and drinking cups are now at the convenience of the public. In the beautiful, rustic stone walls which have been erected along the drive ways at the cost of thousands of dollars this season, there are inviting niches and summer houses with seats as wayside rests for the public.”
Duke began installing fountains at Duke Farms as early as 1895, only two years after he purchased his first tract. When Duke Farms was open to the public in the early days of the estate, the fountains only operated on certain days of the week, typically weekends and Tuesdays. Because the water features were considered the most important element of the landscape, visitation was restricted to the days the system functioned. Today, seven of the 35 original fountains remain.