Monday, September 24, 2012

The White City - Chicago's 1893 World's Columbian Exposition

On Friday September 28, 2012 at 7:00pm, the museum is proud to host a production of “The White City.”  This original musical, produced by Lost and Found Productions and playwright June Finfer, focuses on one of the most legendary events in Chicago history – the World’s Columbian Exposition.

When Chicago wins the right to host the 1893 fair, the first great fair in the United States, the architect chosen to design and build it in record time – Daniel Burnham – finds that ambition is not enough.  He needs a lot of help from even those who oppose him.  In the three-year period of construction of the mile square fairgrounds and dozens of buildings, a vast canvas of characters vie with fate, death, and love to achieve the impossible.  Original music by Elizabeth Doyle that could have been written in the Gay 90s brings color and humor to a story of “making no little plans.”  This musical explores the politics and passions behind a unique national event, in many ways the first and last of its kind.

June Finfer is an award-winning writer, and a producer of documentaries.  Her film about the architecture of Mies van der Rohe has been broadcast on A&E and PBS and won a first prize at the American Film Festival.

Pre-paid tickets are $25.00 per person and may be purchased by calling 312.326.1480.  The production will take place in the coach house of Glessner House Museum, located at 1800 S. Prairie Avenue in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood.

John and Frances Glessner made numerous trips to the fairgrounds, which are recorded in Frances’ journal.  Daniel Burnham, the fair’s Director of Construction, was a close friend of the family, so they were given special privileges, like access to the grounds in advance of its official openings and the opportunity to visit private viewing areas. 

In a manuscript entitled “Ghosts of Yesterday,” John Glessner recalled some of the individuals who visited 1800 S. Prairie Avenue during the Fair.  We herewith present a few excerpts from that manuscript.

“Other dear and delightful friends were Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Law Olmsted.  Our families were on very intimate terms.  George and young Frederick were classmates in College (Harvard).  During the World’s Fair Mr. and Mrs. Olmsted visited us.  He was America’s first and leading landscape architect, really settled the location of the Fair and laid it out.  In many warm discussions with the architects Mr. Olmsted always kept still until everyone else had talked, and then quietly would say – ‘Why don’t you do so and so?’ and that invariably settled it.  Mrs. Olmsted was a quaint little body, wore a white lace cap built over a rather high frame and tied under her chin in a large bow knot of wide muslin strings, and was a lovely picture.”

“It was (Charles) Hutchinson, too, who first brought Sir Caspar Purden Clarke, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, possessing a great and thorough knowledge of art but never forcing his knowledge or position on one – another cultured Englishman, with all that that implies.  As he left our dining room he said to Hutchinson – ‘You ought to keep you eyes on that punch bowl.  That’s a museum piece.  You ought to have it in your Art Museum.”  (Hutchinson was the long-time president of the Art Institute of Chicago.  The Glessners purchased their silver niello punch bowl from the Siam exhibit at the close of the fair.)

“The World’s Fair brought us many pleasing experiences with men and things, both in the early days of preparation and later in the installing of exhibits and the display itself.  It brought, also, some official representatives from abroad that our authorities treated very well, better than some of them deserved.  Special attention was paid to the Spanish representative.  I think the Duke of Veragua was never in my house, but I had some small connection with his entertainment – once at a horse show on the Dunham farm at Wayne, where Arthur Caton was in charge and asked my help; and again at South Bend, where the first Clement Studebakers were entertaining the “royal” party at luncheon, where I witnessed the most marvelous exhibition of hospitality.  We went from Chicago, a train load of men.  Unfortunately the house had taken fire that morning and the roof and part of the upper storeys burned, but the Studebakers spread tarpaulins under the ceiling of the dining room and gave us a magnificent luncheon on a beautifully decorated table just as if nothing had happened or as if that was the way they always did it, while water trickled down the walls of the room and leaked through spots in the tarpaulin.  Again it was my lot to help entertain the Duke in a theater box at a play.  Perhaps my total ignorance of Spanish and his imperfect knowledge of English combined with the inanities of the play at least account partially for the lack of spontaneous hilarity that marked the evening for both of us.”

“Perhaps it was not only the Chatelain that brought these World’s Fair men to us.  There was the daughter of the house – only a child then, it is true, but good company even then.  (Fanny Glessner was 15 years old at the time of the Fair).  There was the freedom of the house, a man might come or go as he pleased, he might talk or merely listen, he might read or merely sit and contemplate; there was a willing ear to hear and a heart to sympathize in their troubles, and there were creature comforts as well – always a good Sunday supper, and as with the proverbial stage or street car, there was at table always room for one more.  This house was a haven of refuge for many, the shadow of a great rock in a weary land, and these friends brought many amusing tales.  One gay young visitor came home one day from the Fair to say that going into one building she met an elderly man coming out who apparently had no one to talk with and who was oppressed by the size of the thing and the short time at his disposal, and perhaps encouraged by her winning smile broke out with, “I can’t see the damned thing in a month.” 

“And we had the World’s Fair architects – Burnham, and John Root, before his untimely death, and Charles Follen McKim, and Robert Swain Peabody, and William R. Meade, and (John Goddard) Stearns and George B. Post, and Charles Coolidge, who built the present Art Institute for religious and other conferences during the Fair, and who restrained his impatience one night until everybody else had gone that he might tell us of his love romance that had culminated in acceptance the day before in St. Louis.”

Monday, September 10, 2012

Wright's Root Exhibit Explores His Formative Years

On Tuesday September 18, 2012 at 5:30pm, Tim Samuelson, Cultural Historian for the City of Chicago, will lead a private tour of his newest exhibit “Wright’s Roots” at Expo 72 as a special fundraiser for Glessner House Museum.  Following his extraordinary exhibit on Louis Sullivan in 2010 at the Chicago Cultural Center, “Wright’s Roots” explores the early and often overlooked period at the start of Wright’s career, much of it spent working for Sullivan, whom he referred to as Lieber Meister. 

Since his death in 1959, the story of Frank Lloyd Wright’s life and career has become legendary – and has sometimes drifted into myth.  Many of today’s perspectives came from Wright’s own accounts of a professional career that spanned three quarters of a century.  His path to becoming a colorful public figure synonymous with modern architecture was filled with many little-known detours and diversions, but all contributed to his lasting fame and reputation. 

Using seldom-seen illustrations (including Wright’s unbuilt design for the Milwaukee Public Library and Museum, 1893, shown at top) and original artifacts to tell the story of his complex personal journey during the often-overlooked early period of his life and career, “Wright’s Roots” explores Wright’s formative years, ending with Wright building his studio in Oak Park.  As Samuelson stated in an interview on WTTW recently, “Wright has become legend – known as someone who pursued purely new, modern architecture.  But in trying to find himself in the late 19th century, he experimented with different historical styles.  It was both his knowledge of the past and his idealism for modernism that made him the great architect he was.  We tried to juxtapose his early and late buildings.  In telling his own story, Frank Lloyd Wright doesn’t talk about these early experimentations with style.  He claimed he was just trying to get work to feed his family during this period.  But when you look at his work, he had certain consistent habits.  He was truly searching.”

What did Wright know about Glessner house?  Although he doesn’t mention the house specifically in his writings, he no doubt knew the building.  The house was being finished just as Wright arrived in Chicago.  And given Sullivan’s interest in the work of Richardson (the evolution of his design for the Auditorium Building after seeing Richardson’s Wholesale Store for Marshall Field being a prime example), Wright would have been exposed to the house, both in person and through architectural journals of the day.

In his book Three American Architects (The University of Chicago Press, 1991), James F. O’Gorman examines the impact of Richardson on both Sullivan and Wright.  As an example, he points to the design of the Victor Falkenau houses in Chicago, for which Wright was the delineator of the sketch that appeared in the Inland Architect in June 1888.  O’Gorman points out that Wright may have well been the designer of the houses as well and mentions several features, “his rock-faced, horizontal ashlar wall, his semicircular arches, his mullioned and transomed basement windows, and his trabeated upper openings divided by chubby columns” as all being inspired by the Glessner house.  O’Gorman goes on to mention the plan of the dining room and the “Richardsonian breadth” of the staircase at the Blossom house at being further indications of the impact of Glessner house on a young Wright.  For his design of the Winslow House the counterplay between symmetry and asymmetry once again harkens back to Richardson’s Glessner house – a formal symmetrical fa├žade with a central entrance surrounded by axially balanced regular window openings, with the asymmetry created with the addition of a porte cochere to the left side.  Likewise, the asymmetrical and relaxed arrangement of the backsides of the houses echoes a similar attempt to create less formal family spaces. 

O’Gorman concludes by stating that “it should be clear that Wright’s appropriation of Richardsonian forms, at least soon after his initial experiments at the Falkenau houses and elsewhere, cannot be construed as copying.  With Sullivan’s tutelage, Wright quickly developed these characteristic features to his own ends, evoking their spirit while transforming their details as he sought his own vocabulary.  By the mid-nineties Wright had adopted Richardson’s emphasis on a disciplined architecture whose impact depended upon the integrated combination of elemental tectonic forms.  And by the end of the decade he was ready to generate out of this and other sources an architecture all his own.”

No architect works in a vacuum.  Both consciously and unconsciously they are impacted by the work of their fellow architects.  How they take that information and interpret it in their own works separates the “boys from the men.”  In “Wright’s Roots,” Tim Samuelson explores those early influences and shows how Wright’s genius took root in the architecture of his day, but soon led down a path that forever changed the face of American architecture. 

For tickets to this very special tour of “Wright’s Roots,” call Glessner House Museum at 312-326-1480.  Prepaid tickets are required and cost $25 each, with proceeds benefiting the museum’s House & Collections Committee Fund.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

200 Year Anniversary Commemoration of the Battle of Fort Dearborn

On Saturday September 8, 2012 at 2:30pm, a special ceremony will take place on the 1800 block of South Prairie Avenue in Chicago.  The event will commemorate the 200 year anniversary of the Battle of Fort Dearborn, which took place on that very site.  The Battle, which is memorialized with a small park around the corner at Calumet Avenue and 18th Street, was the only battle ever fought on Chicago soil and was a pivotal event in shaping the future history of Chicago and the history of the Native peoples that had called the area home for hundreds of years.

The ceremony will begin with a ceremonial honor guard provided by the Illinois National Guard.  Immediately following, members of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indian Nation will provide a Native American prayer, followed by a ceremonial smudging and drumming.  Russell Lewis, Chief Historian at the Chicago History Museum, will provide an historical overview of the event. 

An interesting element of the ceremony will take place when Colonel Thomas J. Purple, Jr., Joint Staff Director of Logistics for the Illinois Army National Guard, will read a dedication to Ensign George Ronan, one of the officers stationed at Fort Dearborn who lost his life during the battle.  Ronan was the first graduate of West Point killed in action.  George Ronan Park at 3000 W. Argyle Street is named in his honor.

The commemoration will conclude with 2nd Ward Alderman Robert Fioretti reading a Resolution of Reconciliation and Remembrance which he introduced before the Chicago City Council.

The event is part of the annual Festival on Prairie Avenue, sponsored by the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance and now in its sixth year.  The Festival runs from 12:00 to 6:00pm.  Suggested entry donation is $5.00 per person.  For more information on the Festival, visit www.pdnachicago.com. 
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