In 1932, John D. Rockefeller Jr. founded the International House at the University of Chicago to be the home for a diverse community of international students on campus. Art works highlight global understanding and cultural exchange in every corner of I-House, of which the fountain in the courtyard is an important example. Standing at 46 inches tall in the courtyard, the fountain is made up of a plain, cast bronze bowl and a bronze pedestal. It stands on a pool of turquoise tiles and a black granite octagon frame. The fountain, of course, is not a static artwork but an interactive sculpture that sticks out and sprinkles its water to greet and remind both residents and visitors of the changing seasons. That is when many residents enjoy the courtyard, studying or relaxing in the sun, listening to the sound of water dripping and commemorating the greatest values fostered by International House and guarded by its fountain: diversity and inclusion.
The figures on the base of the fountain were meant to be playful to match with the function of the site where it is set, the courtyard, a place where people meet and enjoy their time. Seven characters are depicted on the base of the fountain, including:
Pan, Greek god of nature and keeper of the flocks. Pan is depicted as a satyr—a half-man, half-goat being—which was common in Greek myths. He sits on the north side of the pedestal of the fountain happily sitting and eating grapes.
Nymphs, figures from Greek mythology seen in a running position on the fountain. Nymphs were female spirits who inhabited rivers, meadows, forests and mountains. They were often depicted running or frolicking in nature.
Triton, from Roman Mythology. He is the herald and trumpeter of Oceans and the god Neptune, and is seen in the figure of a merman floating under the sea and blowing his iconic conch shell.
Freyr, ruler of fertility, peace, rain, and sunshine in Norse Mythology, depicted riding on the boar Gullinbursti.
Elfs of early Teutonic myth, depicted here while crafting Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir.
The Genie, a common character in Oriental legends, is seen on the east side of the base emerging from a pot, as opposed to the modernized lantern version.
Wee–folk found in Celtic and Gaelic folklore also appear on the fountain's base. “Wee–folk” is an alternate name for the lesser faerie creatures that permeate many cultures' folk traditions, and they can be both benevolent and darkly mischievous.
Notably, all the characters found on the fountain—with the exception of the Genie—originate from European mythologies, which may have been consistent with the majority of the student population at the time, whose international origins were more limited than they are today.