Monday, May 23, 2016

A Civil War Soldier Remembered

William Laughlin (at right) with brothers Samuel and Alexander

On July 15, 2013, we published an article on our blog entitled “Civil War Artifacts of George C. Hall.”  The article focused on a small collection of items relating to the Civil War contained in a leather wallet inscribed with the name of George C. Hall, a private in Company C of the 78th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.  Although the company was raised in Zanesville, Ohio, where John Glessner was living at the time, it was unknown what connection existed between Hall and Glessner.  A notation in Frances Glessner’s journal has solved this mystery, as well as revealing the identity of “William” mentioned in a penciled note by “Margaret” which was also contained in the wallet. 

On October 28, 1881, John and Frances Glessner arrived in Zanesville, Ohio, for the annual reunion of the Glessner family.  (Their children, George and Fanny, were left in Chicago under the care of Isaac Scott).  

Margaret (Laughlin) Blocksom

One of John Glessner’s favorite relatives in Zanesville was his Aunt Margaret (Laughlin) Blocksom, a younger sister of his mother.  On October 31, Frances Glessner noted, “John and I went over to see Aunt M. who gave John a number of things that had belonged to her brother William, and that were all keepsakes from the war of the rebellion.” 

The Laughlin family; William and Mary (Drake) Laughlin stand at upper left

William M. Laughlin was born in 1822 in Wheeling, Virginia (later West Virginia) to John and Nancy (Lyle) Laughlin, making him just two years younger than his sister Margaret.  In 1851 he married Mary Drake, and two years later, their only child, John Lyle Laughlin was born.  Mary Drake Laughlin died on November 17, 1861, just four days after William enlisted for three years of service in Company C of the 78th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, as a wagoner. 

William Laughlin was appointed Sergeant on May 1, 1862; 1st Sergeant on April 30, 1863; and 2nd Lieutenant on November 29, 1862, but not mustered.  His company fought in the following battles:
Shiloh, Tennessee (April 6-7, 1862)
Bolivar, Tennessee (August 30, 1862)
Raymond, Mississippi (May 12, 1863)
Champion Hills, Mississippi (May 16, 1863)
Vicksburg, Mississippi (May 18-July 4, 1863)
Canton, Mississippi (February 26, 1864)
Kenesaw Mountain, Georgia (June 9-30, 1864)
Battle of Atlanta (July 22, 1864)

Battle of Atlanta, by Kurz and Allison

The Battle of Atlanta was part of the effort led by General William T. Sherman to seize the important city of Atlanta, which served as a rail and supply hub of the Confederacy.  Atlanta fell on September 2nd and was followed by Sherman’s famous March to the Sea.  It was during the Battle of Atlanta on July 22nd that William Laughlin lost his life.  His body was not recovered.  Presumably, Private George C. Hall gathered together William’s  personal items in his wallet and presented them to Margaret Blocksom when he returned to Zanesville at the close of the war. 



The most interesting item turned over to John Glessner was a cardboard pin box containing a small fragment of wood with a note written by his Aunt Margaret:


“A piece of the tree under which Gen. Pemberton surrendered Vixburgh, it was cut by William, and he took it out of his pocket book and gave it to me the last time he was home.  Who ever may get this do treasure it for his sake and mine too.  Margaret.”

Pemberton's surrender to Grant at Vicksburg, note tree at left

As noted in the earlier article about George C. Hall, Pemberton’s surrender at Vicksburg is well documented, as is the tree from which William cut the fragment.  On July 3, 1863 Pemberton sent a note to General Ulysses S. Grant, who demanded unconditional surrender.  The surrender was finalized on July 4, Independence Day, a day Pemberton had hoped would bring more sympathetic terms from the United States.  Surrender was formalized by an old oak tree “made historical by the event.”  In his Personal Memoirs, Grant described the fate of this luckless tree:

“It was but a short time before the last vestige of its body, root and limb had disappeared, the fragments taken as trophies.  Since then the same tree has furnished as many cords of wood, in the shape of trophies, as the ‘True Cross’.”

Marker commemorating the 78th Ohio Volunteer Infantry at Vicksburg

A cenotaph was erected to the memory of William M. Laughlin in Greenwood Cemetery, located in Wheeling, West Virginia.  Wheeling, which sits on the border with Ohio, served as the first capital of West Virginia after it seceded from Virginia and was admitted to the Union in 1863.  


Laughlin family marker (Peace4Me, FindAGrave.com)


William Laughlin's cenotaph (Peace4Me, FindAGrave.com)

The marker, which is worn from time, appears to read:

“To the memory of Lieut. Wm. M. Laughlin, 78th Reg. of Ohio V. Inf., who fell in battle in front of Atlanta, Ga. July 22, 1864, while charging the enemy, his body was not recovered.”

William and Mary Laughlin’s son John was raised by William’s younger brother Samuel and his wife Sydney.  John married in 1884 and had two children, Mary and James.   He died in 1903 and was buried in the Laughlin plot at Greenwood Cemetery. 

We are pleased to, at long last, be able to identify the William identified in his sister Margaret’s note.  In so doing, we can treasure his memory and the Civil War artifact he left behind, as she requested.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Four Chelsea Houses by Elizabeth Piper


On display in the master bedroom of Glessner House Museum are four small etchings depicting houses in the London neighborhood of Chelsea. Just as they did in the Glessners’ time, the four prints, each under four inches tall, hang in a single frame alongside the bed, amongst intimate family portraits, and immediately below a painting of Frances Glessner’s mother.

The four etchings are the work of British artist Elizabeth Piper, an active printmaker between 1892 and 1932. She trained at the Clifton School of Art in Bristol and the Royal College of Art in London, as well as in France and in Belgium. Piper was a member of the Royal West of England Academy and an Associate of the Royal Engravers. She was skilled as both an etcher and a painter, and her works, which she exhibited often, were purchased by both the city of Leeds and Queen Victoria.  The Glessner prints are each signed in the bottom right-hand corner, in pencil, by the artist.

Carlyle's House

A Shift in Collecting
Though records have not been found to confirm exactly where and when the Glessners acquired the four prints, it is highly unlikely that they purchased the works through their regular print dealer, Frederick Keppel. The majority of prints in the Glessner collection were purchased through Keppel, with detailed receipts that document these purchases starting in 1877, and spanning a 14 year period. Frances Glessner also recorded the purchases in her journal, describing the way in which she and her husband John chose the artworks.

The firm of Frederick Keppel & Co. often sent several dozen prints over to the Glessners for review. The Glessners would then sift through the works (regularly with the company of close friends), and through rounds of elimination, they would send back works they did not care for, and purchase the prints they felt they could not live without. At the height of their collecting in the 1880s, they were purchasing as many as 21 prints at once.  Frances Glessner’s journal entries show the great enthusiasm with which they collected prints for a time, and demonstrate the way that the Glessners became community authorities on the medium through their collecting.

Frances Glessner was a member of both the Fortnightly of Chicago and the Chicago Society of Decorative Art, and was asked multiple times to present for both organizations. In the autumn of 1881 she documented her preparations for a paper on etchings and engravings for the Fortnightly. A number of journal entries show the special care she took in presenting the topic, from carefully selecting prints from the Glessner collection and borrowing selected artworks from Frederick Keppel, to reviewing her paper several times over and having it critiqued by others before she presented it. 

Despite the fervor that both John and Frances Glessner showed for the medium, they rarely added to their print collection after the late 1880s, and the additions that they did make show a rather different approach to collecting. Even though there was continued mention of Frederick Keppel in the Glessner journal through 1899, the once frequent entries describing the viewing, selecting and purchasing of numerous prints in a single transaction ceased after December 27, 1891. Instead, the Glessners purchased prints in smaller quantities, and the purchases they made often took place during out of town visits or special exhibitions.

Another key shift seems to have taken place in the Glessner’s collecting habits from the mid-1880s onward; the Glessners added pieces to their collection that represented the contemporary output of the medium. The collection, which remained heavy in prints taken from plates produced by Dutch and French artists of the 17th and 18th centuries, began to include a few works by artists who were contemporaries of the Glessners, with pieces by printmakers such as Albion Harris Bicknell, Henri Guerard, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, and of course, Elizabeth Piper entering the collection. 


Queen's House

Four Chelsea Houses in Chicago
Though Elizabeth Piper worked and exhibited in Great Britain for most of her life, it is known that she was represented at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. A text published by Rand, McNally & Company in 1894 titled, Art and Handicraft in the Woman’s Building of the World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago 1893, detailed the involvement of women artists at the fair. Within that text is an article titled, “Great Britain- Art,” written by Mrs. E. Crawford, which provides a summary of the types of work by female artists from Great Britain on exhibit at the fair. Crawford notes that some of these women were able to show their works not just in the Woman’s Building, but also in the Palace of Fine Arts, and states, “among the etchings and engravings excellent examples of the work of Mrs. Dale, Miss Ethel Martyn, and Miss Elizabeth Piper may be found. When the exceedingly high standard of the work which Great Britain has sent to Chicago is taken into account, it is a significant and encouraging fact that forty-five women are represented among the British artists exhibiting in the Art Palace.”

Piper showed a print of a woman at a spinning wheel in a carefully documented interior in the Woman’s Building, and a number of architectural etchings in the Palace of Fine Arts. It has been noted that among these architectural prints were etchings not only of prominent cathedrals, but also of the homes of Carlyle, Rosetti, Turner and Eliot-- the same four locations that appear in the signed prints owned by the Glessners.

As noted in their journal, the Glessners were frequently in attendance at the World’s Columbian Exposition, and though it cannot be proved with certainty that the Glessners purchased their four small etchings at the fair, it is certainly a powerful suggestion that they were at least made aware of Piper and her work at this point. With the Glessners’ changing collecting habits, the idea that they may have become interested in a set of prints by a contemporary artist at such an event certainly adds power to that suggestion.

Turner's Last Home

A Shared Interest: Documenting Architecture
Owning the four etchings of Chelsea homes marks another departure from many of the works purchased by the Glessners through Frederick Keppel. The vast majority of the prints that were acquired through Keppel were renderings of important figures, praised for their masterfully engraved hair, delicately depicted skin, and attention to detail in costume and form. The etchings by Piper though, show historically significant architectural sites, pointing to a common interest between the artist and the Glessners.

The Glessners and Elizabeth Piper share a connection beyond that provided by the World’s Columbian Exposition; the two parties are linked through their individual commitments to the preservation of architectural sites. The Glessners showed a commitment to an architectural legacy through their involvement in the construction of their home, their willingness to open their doors to young architects and admirers of the space, and through their written words, which document the house on Prairie Avenue as it was during a key moment in Chicago history.  Elizabeth Piper showed her commitment to architectural preservation through the many prints she created.

Piper spent nearly her entire career documenting significant architectural sites in the United Kingdom, France, and Belgium. She rendered both interiors and exteriors of schoolrooms, libraries, residential buildings, and churches with great attention to detail.  Her prolific production of such series of etchings serves as evidence of her dedication to these places, and in some cases her prints serve as evidence of buildings long forgotten or since dramatically repurposed.

The four prints in the Glessner collection represent well-known homes in Chelsea, the neighborhood in London where Elizabeth Piper was a resident at the time. The homes in the four prints were along Chelsea’s Cheyne Walk, a street that boasted sought after 18th century constructions. The buildings were home to some of the key figures of the Victorian period (the architectural beauty and historical significance of this stretch of homes has continued to draw notable figures to this day, and more recent residents have included members of the Rolling Stones and former Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg). The four prints show the home of Thomas Carlyle, the home of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (known as Queen’s House), the last home of Joseph Mallord William Tuner, and the last home of George Eliot.

The inhabitants of these homes were well known figures during the Glessners’ time. Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), was a Scottish philosopher, writer, historian, and social commentator. He lived in his Chelsea home with his wife, Jane Welsh Carlyle, a prominent woman of letters, for nearly half a century. Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) was an English painter, illustrator, and writer, and the founder of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. He worked closely with figures such as William Morris (whose work can be found throughout Glessner House). Rossetti lived along Cheyne Walk from 1862-1882. He is known to have kept exotic animals at his Chelsea residence, and was famously banned from keeping peacocks, after receiving noise complaints. Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) was an English Romanticist landscape painter. He was known for his ability to paint light, and his works are now widely admired as important pre-cursors to later styles, such as impressionism. Turner was born in the Covent Garden area of London, but his final home was along Cheyne Walk, where he lived until his death in 1851. George Eliot (1819-1880) is the penname of Mary Ann Evans, who was one of the most celebrated writers of the Victorian era. She lived her last three weeks at her home on Cheyne Walk.

Like Glessner House, many of the homes along Cheyne Walk exist today as historic landmarks, but Piper was depicting these houses at a time when a great boom in development meant huge changes to the Chelsea neighborhood. The picturesque houses along Cheyne Walk had formerly fronted the River Thames, but with the construction of sewer systems and walkways during the late 19th century, the homes found themselves facing the busy Chelsea Embankment. The building of the embankment encouraged further modernizing and rebuilding in the area, which meant the clearing of some older architectural sites, and the building of blocks of flats. Piper’s etchings serve as documents of significant buildings in a key moment when many such homes in London faced an uncertain future.

George Eliot's Last Home

The commitment in Piper’s careful documentation of buildings in Chelsea is mirrored by the pride the Glessners took in preserving their home on Prairie Avenue. Though the reasons for changes in the area that surrounded the Glessner home in Chicago were different from those in Chelsea, and though the two events were separated by several years, Chicago’s Prairie Avenue nonetheless saw very dramatic shifts during the Glessners’ lifetimes. These changes meant the demolition of many of the homes neighboring Glessner House. Aware of the architectural significance of their home, the Glessners were compelled to preserve the legacy of the space. In creating written documentation and commissioning pictorial documentation, the Glessners made efforts to document and protect their home. In the opening pages of The Story of a House, John Glessner wrote that the “description of this home may give some indication of how a man of moderate fortune would live in the latter part of the 19th century and the earlier part of the 20th.” His text, written to his children to preserve an image of the physical space and the events that took place inside it, goes on to detail the family’s connection to architect Henry Hobson Richardson, the building of the house, and the way the home was furnished. Through John Glessner’s written word, and through the photographs of the house that he commissioned from the architectural photography firm, Kaufman and Fabry in 1923, the important site could endure, in the face of the threat of demolition.

The four etchings of Chelsea houses are but a very small fraction of the prized Glessner print collection, but they point to telling connections between the Glessners, as print collectors and passionate supporters of the arts and architecture, and Elizabeth Piper as a printmaker and documenter of the built environment.


Guest author:   Heather MacGregor, an intern at Glessner House Museum, spent four months documenting the Glessners’ collection of engravings and etchings.  She received her MA from Sotheby’s Institute, London, University of Manchester in May 2016.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Chicago Architecture Awards - 1966

National Design Center

Glessner House Museum celebrated its 50th anniversary on April 16, 2016 with an event entitled “Peace, Love and Preservation.”  As part of the event, an exhibit was unveiled showcasing the year 1966, with topics ranging from movies and television to architecture and preservation.  In this article, the first of several to focus on our founding year, we will showcase five of the buildings which received Distinguished Building Awards from the Chicago Chapter American Institute of Architects.

A total of nine building projects received awards in 1966, including the Jacobus residence by Ralph Anderson and a Glencoe residence designed by Erickson and Stevens, the latter of which received the top honor award.   The firm of McPherson, Warner and Brejcha was recognized for its design of the Flossmoor Public Library, and M. K. Young and Associates received an award for its design of the Oakbrook School.

Old Orchard Country Club


The Old Orchard Country Club in Mount Prospect was designed by the firm of Alper and Alper.  In the February 1966 issue of Golfdom, architect Zalman Y. Alper discussed the design of the club, as well as designing clubs in general.  Regarding the design of clubhouses, Alper noted:

“There are three significant aspects of the architectural design of a clubhouse: function, spatial organization, and the visual aesthetic. . . The visual aesthetic of the clubhouse is an area in which some strange and often ludicrous decisions have been made.  In the past, for various reasons, clubhouses were designed to give the superficial appearance of manor houses and chateaux.  Fortunately this has begun to change and here and there one can see really elegant clubhouses using contemporary materials and designed with reference to site and need – instead of being poor imitations of Elizabethan buildings which even in the original weren’t very comfortable.”

Alper also noted the importance of fire resistance construction, since golf courses are usually located “in areas which are far removed from adequate fire protection.”  He encouraged the use of sprinklers and other “on-the-spot firefighting equipment.”  This made perfect sense, considering the commission for the new club house came about after the previous clubhouse had been completely destroyed by fire. 

The new clubhouse was designed with an independent steel frame with huge panes of glass set in aluminum frames amongst walls of common brick painted white.   Careful attention was given to the interior plan, taking into account function and usage during both peak and off-peak hours.  Alper closed his article by noting:

“The architect can make a significant contribution not only in providing an aesthetic environment but in planning for efficient utilization of space.”

Holy Apostles Greek Orthodox Church


The construction of this church on Wolf Road in Westchester reflected the growing population in the western suburbs of Chicago.  In 1961, the parish, consisting of 280 families, purchased a five acre tract of land and immediately began planning their new building.  Ground was broken in May 1964 and the “Opening of the Doors” was celebrated on June 27, 1965. 


The architect of the building was Edward D. Dart of the firm Loebl, Schlossman, Bennett and Dart.  Classified as Neo-Byzantine in style, the church incorporated traditional forms within a modern interpretation.  As noted in the parish history:

“Mr. Dart accomplished this by extensive study, research, and travel throughout Greece and the Middle East.  The primary use of just three basic materials (concrete, brick and wood) resulted in an impressive and distinctive church building.”

The interior was decorated with significant mosaic icons designed by Sirio Tonelli.

Northern Trust Company Drive-in Banking Facilities


The first drive-up bank window was installed in 1928 for the City Center Bank in Kansas City; however drive-in banking remained a rarity until the 1960s.  C. F. Murphy Associates designed the facilities for Northern Trust Company and the AIA noted:

“In an era of fast food chains and shopping malls, another example of the Automobile’s impact on the built environment.”

National Design Center


The National Design Center was a New York-based company that offered decorators and the general public the opportunity to view a huge array of home furnishings and appliances.  Several buildings in Chicago competed for the Center, which was awarded to the Marina Management Corporation, builders of Marina City, in 1962.  The Center leased 35,000 square feet of space on the first four floors of the Marina City office building.  The architectural firm of Brenner Danforth Rockwell was awarded the commission and a $1.5 million budget to design the interior. 

The Center premiered in March 1964 and was open seven days a week.  Exhibits occupied the first three floors and included not only furnishings and appliances, but fabrics, decorative items, and building products as well.  Since nothing could actually be purchased on site, an information counter, staffed by 12 people, provided information on where products could be purchased and how much they cost.  The fourth floor was occupied by a large auditorium for lectures, meetings and concerts.  A bookshop was later added to the main floor.

Brunswick Building


The only downtown skyscraper to receive an award in 1966 was the Brunswick Building designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill at 69 W. Washington Street.  The building was significant both for the individuals who worked on the project as well as its construction.  As noted on the SOM website:

“The Brunswick Building represents an early collaboration between three men synonymous with Chicago’s skyline: Myron Goldsmith, Bruce Graham, and Fazlur Khan.  The Brunswick utilizes a tube-with-a-tube structural system.  Rigid, hollow tubes make up the core and perimeter, bracing the building and allowing column-free interiors.  Variations of this system would later give rise to the John Hancock Center and Sears Tower.”

Carl Condit, in his volume Chicago 1930-1970: Building, Planning and Urban Technology, also noted that the Brunswick was “the highest structure with a load-bearing wall erected up to the time of its completion.”  The AIA Guide to Chicago notes another innovation in the building, “To provide a visually open base, a massive ring girder (behind the thick windowless line at the second floor) transfers and distributes the weight of over five dozen vertical members to the perimeter first-floor columns.”

The building serves as the Cook County Administration Building.

Note:  George Danforth and Carl Condit were founders of Glessner House, and Dan Brenner joined in during the first year.  C. F. Murphy and Associates and Skidmore, Owings and Merrill each contributed $5,000 toward the $35,000 purchase price of the house.



Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Spirit of Music


On April 24, 1924, a memorial was unveiled in Grant Park honoring Theodore Thomas, founding music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  Although designed as a lasting tribute to the man who established Chicago as a center for outstanding classical music, the monument itself has had a shaky history, and very nearly disappeared altogether.  In this article, we will explore the creation of the Theodore Thomas memorial and how it ended up at its current location just north of Balbo Drive.

The B. F. Ferguson Monument Fund
Benjamin Franklin Ferguson was a prominent Chicago lumber merchant.  His home, a massive brick Queen Anne style home completed in 1883, still stands in the West Jackson Boulevard landmark district.  When he died in 1905, Ferguson left a bequest of $1,000,000 for the establishment of a fund, the income of which was to be expended by the Board of Trustees of the Art Institute of Chicago (of which John Glessner was a member) to fund public monuments.  Specifically, the income was to be used “in the erection and maintenance of enduring statuary and monuments in the whole or in part of stone, granite or bronze, in the parks, along the boulevards or in other public places, within the city of Chicago, Illinois, commemorating worthy men or women of America or important events of American history.” 

The first monument to be erected by the fund was the Fountain of the Great Lakes by Lorado Taft, dedicated in 1913 on the south terrace of the Art Institute of Chicago.  By the early 1920s, additional monuments included:
-Statue of the Republic, Daniel Chester French, sculptor, 1918 (Jackson Park)
-Alexander Hamilton, Bela Lyon Pratt, sculptor, 1918 (Grant Park)
-Illinois Centennial Monument, Evelyn B. Longman, sculptor, 1918 (Logan Square)
-Eugene Field Monument, Edward McCartan, sculptor, 1922 (Lincoln Park)
-Fountain of Time, Lorado Taft, sculptor, 1922 (Washington Park, Midway)

Sculptor Albin Polasek
By the time the massive Fountain of Time was dedicated in late 1922, discussion was already underway for a permanent memorial to Theodore Thomas, who had died in 1905.  The site selected was a location just south of the Art Institute, facing Orchestra Hall (now Symphony Center).

Czech-American sculptor Albin Polasek (1879-1965) was commissioned to create the work, which was titled “The Spirit of Music.”  Polasek began his career as a wood carver in Vienna, immigrating to the United States in his early twenties and settling in Philadelphia.  In 1916, he was invited to head the department of sculpture at the Art Institute, where he remained for over 30 years.  He retired to Winter Park, Florida in 1950 and his home and studio are open to the public as the Albin Polasek Museum andSculpture Gardens.

Chicago Tribune, April 13, 1924

An article in the Chicago Tribune, dated April 13, 1924, noted the following:

“Albin Polasek, head of the sculpture department of the Art Institute, will soon have the satisfaction of seeing his beautiful monument to the memory of Theodore Thomas erected in bronze . . . ‘The Spirit of Music,’ Polasek has called his memorial.  The figure is of heroic size and stands thirteen feet high.  She holds a lyre in her arm, the strings of which she has just struck, the act being indicated by her uplifted right hand.  With its granite pedestal the bronze figure will of course stand several feet higher than its thirteen feet.  The great seat just to the east is a semi-circular affair about forty feet in length.  Upon it figures of the orchestra are carved.  Polasek has done in this a truly powerful and significant piece of sculpture.  It is effective, simple, striking, decorative, impressive, and artistic.”

As noted in A Guide to Chicago’s Public Sculpture by Ira J. Bach and Mary Lackritz Gray (The University of Chicago Press, 1983), the bronze figure, actually 15 feet in height, was “to have the grandeur of a Beethoven symphony and to be ‘feminine . . . but not too feminine.’”  The guide also describes the hemispherical base upon which the figure stands, featuring “low relief figures of Orpheus playing his lyre, Chibiabos, from Longfellow’s ‘Song of Hiawatha’ singing, and a group of animals listening.”  Polasek insisted that the face peering out from a small classical mask at the lower end of the lyre was his own.

Howard Van Doren Shaw
Architect Howard Van Doren Shaw (1869-1926) collaborated with Polasek on the memorial, designing the massive granite exedra and bench to display Polasek’s incised carving of the orchestra members being led by Thomas.  The back side of the exedra features a memorial panel with Thomas’ bust surrounded by the following inscription:

“Scarcely any many in any land has done so much for the musical education of the people as did Theodore Thomas in this country.  The nobility of his ideals with the magnitude of his achievement will assure him everlasting glory.  1835-1905.”


Dedication
The bronze figure was completed in 1923, the date noted on its base, but was not set into place and unveiled until April 24, 1924.  The dedication ceremony began at 4:00pm with a program and concert in Orchestra Hall.  Thomas championed German music, so it is not surprising that the works performed that afternoon included the Chorale and Fugue by Bach-Albert, the first movement from Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, and the Prelude to the Mastersingers of Nuremberg by Wagner.  Charles H. Hamill gave an address on the life and work of Theodore Thomas.  Charles L. Hutchinson, president of the Art Institute and the B. F. Ferguson Monument Fund, presented the memorial, which was accepted by Edward J. Kelly, president of the South Park Commissioners.  (The South Park District merged with others to form the Chicago Park District in 1934).

The assembled audience then adjourned to the location of the monument immediately south of the Art Institute.  Thomas’s daughter, Mrs. D. N. B. Sturgis, unveiled the memorial “while trumpets played a theme from the ninth symphony of Beethoven and crowds stood with bared heads.”

Later History
In 1941, the monument was moved to the north end of Grant Park, very near to the original peristyle designed by Edward H. Bennett.  That structure was demolished in 1953 when the Grant Park underground parking garage was constructed, and The Spirit of Music was placed in storage.  When it was re-erected five years later near Buckingham Foundation, only the bronze figure was installed.

In the late 1980s, the original granite sections of the exedra were found along the edge of Lake Michigan where they had been dumped.  They were retrieved by the Chicago Park District and restored, and the present setting for the memorial was created at the northeast corner of Michigan Avenue and Balbo Drive.  The rededication of the monument took place on October 18, 1991, concluding the year long celebration of the CSO's centennial season.  Sir Georg Solti was joined by Rafael Kubelik and Daniel Barenboim for the ceremony, which was followed that evening by a concert recreating the very first performance of the orchestra in October 1891.  

The adjacent Spirit of Music Garden has for many years now been home to the popular Summer Dance, continuing, in a somewhat different vein, the legacy of music in the cultural fabric of the City of Chicago.


Statue Stories

In August 2015, The Spirit of Music was one of thirty statues in the city to be featured in “Statue Stories,” funded by the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, and produced by Sing London.  At each of the thirty sites, visitors can swipe their smart phone and get a call back from a celebrity, telling the story of the monument.  The Spirit of Music story is read by soprano Renee Fleming, creative consultant with the Lyric Opera of Chicago.  For more information, visit Statue Stories Chicago.


Monday, April 11, 2016

Glessner House Museum celebrates 50 years


On April 16, 1966, twenty individuals signed a resolution creating the Chicago School of Architecture Foundation.  Out of that organization evolved both Glessner House Museum and the Chicago Architecture Foundation, entities that champion and celebrate the rich architectural tradition in Chicago, past and present.  As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of that milestone event this week, we pause to honor those individuals whose foresight and vision saved H. H. Richardson’s iconic Glessner house, launched the successful preservation movement in our city, and made Chicago a destination for architectural enthusiasts from around the world.


Glessner House is Threatened
For twenty years, Glessner house was occupied by the Lithographic Technical Foundation, but by early 1965 that organization had relocated to Pittsburgh and the building was put up for sale.  The early 1960s had been a period of extraordinary challenge and frustration for those attempting to preserve Chicago’s rich architectural heritage.   Among the chief losses was Adler & Sullivan’s Garrick Theater on Randolph Street, demolished in 1961. 

The fate of the Glessner house was known as early as November 1963, when several individuals met with representatives from the Foundation to discuss the future of the building.  Among those at the meeting were Wilbert Hasbrouck, chairman of the Preservation Committee of the Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (CCAIA); Joseph Benson, Secretary of the Commission on Chicago Architectural Landmarks; and Marian Despres, wife of Alderman Leon Despres, and the daughter of architect Alfred Alschuler.  Hasbrouck reported back to Jack Train, president of CCAIA:

“Regardless of what final use is made of this building, I feel the AIA must take a major advisory role in its disposition.  The Glessner House is too important a structure to go the way of the Garrick.”


On January 31, 1965, the Chicago Tribune published an article noting that the future of the house was in jeopardy, but quoted several individuals who recognized that the house was simply too important to lose.  Wilbert Hasbrouck noted that the building would make a perfect museum of Chicago architecture.  Joseph Benson also expressed concern and noted that it was one of 38 buildings in the city to be designated a landmark.  But Marian Despres noted that the landmark designation was purely honorary, and did nothing to protect the building from demolition. 


Individuals Come Together
Many of those involved in saving Glessner house were well acquainted with each other by the time the house went up for sale.  Leon and Marian Despres and others had rallied together to save Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House when it came under threat of demolition in 1957.  That successful effort led to the formation of Chicago’s first preservation group, the Chicago Heritage Committee, co-founded by architect Ben Weese.  Soon after, Alderman Despres proposed an ordinance creating an historical and architectural landmark commission which awarded landmark status to 38 buildings in 1960, including Glessner house.

In 1960, Weese, Despres, and Hasbrouck joined others, including photographer Richard Nickel and architect John Vinci, to march together in a picket line to save the Garrick Theater.  Although their efforts proved unsuccessful, it brought these like-minded individuals together and the preservation movement gained momentum. 


Worthy of Architects’ Praise
Ben Weese recalled that in the early 1960s, he spent the day escorting the world famous architect Alvar Aalto around Chicago, showing him the buildings of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright.  Aalto appeared only mildly interested.  But when the two pulled up in front of Glessner house, Aalto stepped out onto the sidewalk and stood transfixed, studying the building for over an hour.

In March 1965, Weese and his brother Harry took architect Philip Johnson to see Glessner house.  Johnson praised the building, and was especially taken by the floor plan which oriented the major rooms toward the private south-facing courtyard.  He offered to pay half of the purchase price of $70,000 if those in Chicago could raise the other half, but later rescinded the offer when “the horrid question of maintenance came up.”  In spite of that, however, Johnson was quoted in June 1966 as saying “Glessner House is the most important house in the country to me.”

The Weeses Search for Funds
Ben and Harry Weese continued to search for funds to purchase and maintain the house throughout 1965 and into early 1966.  In a letter to selected Chicago architects, Harry Weese laid out the purposes of the proposed organization that would acquire Glessner house:

“To establish the first architectural organization in the country, at the birthplace of modern architecture, in a historic and architecturally significant building.

“To create a unique institution to become the center of architectural history, a staging point for tours, a place to sell books and literature, a gallery, a museum for artifacts in the courtyard.”

Others Express Interest
At the same time that these architects and preservationists were attempting to raise the funds to purchase the house, four young men, working independently, had also learned of the house and decided to find a way to purchase it.  Richard Wintergreen and Jim Schultz were draftsmen in the office of Mies van der Rohe.  Wayne Benjamin, a businessman in finance, had met Wintergreen at the University of Illinois, and Paul Lurie, an attorney, became acquainted with Wintergreen through his fiancĂ©e.  The four men formulated their idea to save the house over dinner at Pizzeria Due, ironically housed in a late 19th century mansion.

CSAF meeting, August 18, 1966

The Chicago School of Architecture Foundation is Organized
On April 6, 1966, the Weese brothers announced publicly that they would pledge $10,000 toward the purchase of Glessner house.  The same day, Richard Wintergreen wrote to Philip Johnson alerting him to the fact that he and his three friends had formed a group to purchase the house.  Johnson suggested that Wintergreen’s group coordinate their plans with the Weeses, and from that point on, all those working to save Glessner house worked together.

On Saturday April 16, 1966, a resolution was signed by twenty individuals creating the Chicago School of Architecture Foundation.  Those signing were:  Carl Condit, Richard Nickel, Herman Pundt, Earl Reed, Wilbert Hasbrouck, James Speyer, Joseph Benson, Clement Sylvestro, George Danforth, Maurice English, Phyllis Lambert, Dirk Lohan, Paul Lurie, Wayne Benjamin, Richard Wintergreen, James Schultz, Dan Murphy, Ben Weese, Harry Weese, and Irving Berman. 

The first order of business was to raise the funds needed to purchase the Glessner house. 

Additional articles will be posted throughout our anniversary year highlighting the efforts of our founders in purchasing and preserving what survives today as Glessner House Museum.

Photos by Richard Nickel


Monday, April 4, 2016

William Morris 1883


The extensive use of wallpapers, textiles, and rugs by Morris & Co. in the Glessner house is well documented, and in recent years, many of these items have been faithfully reproduced and reinstalled.  H. H. Richardson, as a major proponent of Morris & Co. in the United States, certainly influenced the Glessners’ decision to acquire these items for their home.  In this article, however, we will see that Frances Glessner became well-acquainted with William Morris more than two years before she ever met Richardson.

Introduction to William Morris
The earliest mention of Morris in Frances Glessner’s journal occurs on Tuesday March 6, 1883, “I went to the Decorative Art Society.  Wm. Morris and his designs was the subject – it was very interesting.”  Frances Glessner was an early member of the Chicago Society of Decorative Art, founded in 1877 “to help impoverished women master the skills of an honorable trade particularly by training women artists and artisans in the applied arts.”  (The organization survives today as The Antiquarian Society at the Art Institute of Chicago).  It would have been the logical place for her to learn about Morris and his emerging impact on the decorative arts.

As was often the case with Frances Glessner, when a topic piqued her interest, she actively pursued it.  Less than a week later, she noted in her journal, “I am reading Morris’ Hopes and Fears for Art.”  By the following week, she had finished the book.


Hopes and Fears for Art
This volume, published in both the United Kingdom and the United States in 1882, was a collection of five lectures delivered by Morris in Birmingham, London, and Nottingham between 1878 and 1881, namely:
-The Lesser Arts
-The Art of the People
-The Beauty of Life
-Making the Best of it
-The Prospects of Architecture in Civilization


In the lectures, Morris states many of his widely known views, including the inherent value of handicraft, and the evils of industrialization.  The fifth chapter, for example, contains interesting views on architecture and how it relates to the other arts.  It also illuminates his thoughts on historic preservation, not surprising given that he was the founder of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1877.  (That organization led indirectly to the founding of the National Trust).  He opens his lecture on architecture as follows:

“The word Architecture has, I suppose, to most of you the meaning of the art of building nobly and ornamentally.  Now, I believe the practice of this art to be one of the most important things which man can turn his hand to, and the consideration of it to be worth the attention of serious people, not for an hour only, but for a good part of their lives, even though they may not have to do with it professionally.

“But, noble as that art is by itself, and though it is specially the art of civilization, it neither ever has existed nor ever can exist alive and progressive by itself, but must cherish and be cherished by all the crafts whereby men make the things which they intend shall be beautiful, and shall last somewhat beyond the passing day.

“It is this union of the arts, mutually helpful and harmoniously subordinated one to another, which I have learned to think of as Architecture.”

John J. McGrath
Before the month of March 1883 had drawn to a close, Frances Glessner considered the purchase of Morris products for her summer home at The Rocks, then under construction.  On Friday March 23, she noted, “I took Mrs. Avery down to McGrath’s to see Wm. Morris designs in materials for furnishing.  We had a delightful morning.  I selected a lovely combination for The Rocks, but it is too expensive.”

Chicago Tribune, February 3, 1883

McGrath’s was a reference to the wholesale and retail establishments of John J. McGrath.  An article in the Chicago Tribune on January 1, 1883, noted that his firm sold more paper-hangings than any other firm on the continent.  In addition, a number of European manufacturers, “recognizing the advantages of Chicago as a distributing point,” made McGrath’s their exclusive agent in the United States, thus requiring Eastern buyers to purchase from him. 

Although Frances Glessner did not purchase the Morris & Co. items she admired, she had been a customer of McGrath’s for several years, purchasing numerous wallpapers there for her home on West Washington Street.

Later History
Frances Glessner makes no further mentions of Morris in her journal until February 1887 when she began actively purchasing rugs, textiles and wallpapers for her new home being built on Prairie Avenue.  Many of these items, including a Hammersmith rug for the main hall, were purchased through Marshall Field & Co., which by that time, was offering a line of goods from the English firm.

Chicago Tribune, September 19, 1887




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