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.”

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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