Monday, August 29, 2011

Madeline Yale Wynne

On October 28, 1904, Frances Glessner recorded in her journal: “I went to call on Mrs. Wynne to arrange to take lessons in metal work.”  She had her first lesson in silver work on November 29, and soon after fashioned a salt cellar which she presented to her husband as a Christmas gift.  The salt cellar, pictured below, is engraved “Made by F.M.G. for J.J.G. Dec. 25th 1904” and is now in the collection of the museum.  Frances Glessner vigorously pursued her hobby for more than a decade, producing countless pieces of silverwork, most of which were presented as gifts to friends and family.

Frances Glessner’s teacher, Madeline Yale Wynne, was a distinguished metal worker and important proponent of the Arts and Craft movement.  She was born in Newport, New York in 1847, the daughter of the inventor of the Yale lock.  Her father possessed considerable artistic aptitude as a miniature painter, and as a child, Madeline spent countless hours in her father’s garden-studio.  She studied painting at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and later attended the Art Students’ League in New York, before advanced studies in Europe. 

Widowed at a young age, Wynne came to Chicago in 1893 and took up residence with her brother Julian in his home at 9 Ritchie Place (current address would be 1311 N. Ritchie Court).  The home soon became a Mecca for true lovers of art and literature, and the “imposing dowager” presided over a distinguished salon of Chicago artists and literati.  She and her brother also created a home workshop where they began producing unique and fascinating items of silver and jewelry.  Wynne’s designs, which frequently included enamels and semi-precious stones, were entirely original and usually featured obvious hammer marks (a trademark of Frances Glessner’s designs as well).  The examples below were illustrated in the June 1899 issue of House Beautiful.

Wynne was one of the 126 charter members of the Chicago Arts and Crafts Society when it was founded at Hull-House in October 1897.  Members included metalworkers, designers, potters, artists, writers, and architects, including Frank Lloyd Wright.  The Society’s constitution promised “to cultivate in its members, and through them in others, a just sense of beauty” particularly in the design and decoration of everyday articles.   Wynne was also a founder of the Deerfield Society of Arts and Crafts in Deerfield Massachusetts where she spent her summers for many years.

Wynne was a writer of some note and penned a short story called “The Little Room.”  The title was adopted by an important group of Chicago painters, sculptors, writers, and architects who formed themselves into an informal group in the 1890s which lasted well into the 20th century. 

After the death of her brother, she took a studio in the Tree Studio Building.  She died in Asheville North Carolina in January 1918 at the age of 70. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lightner Museum Moves to Florida, Keeps Ties to Chicago

In 1946, Otto Lightner moved to St. Augustine from Chicago on account of his health.  On an earlier visit, Lightner had noticed the long vacant Alcazar Hotel, the second of the great hotels in St. Augustine constructed by Henry Flagler in his attempt to create a southern resort city.  The hotel, completed in 1888, had been designed by the nationally prominent architectural firm of Carrere and Hastings.  Designed in the Moorish Revival style, the massive structure with a central courtyard was constructed of poured concrete with elaborate terra cotta ornamentation decorating the walls and roofline.  The hotel contained a huge indoor swimming pool, the first such facility in Florida, and also featured elaborate spa facilities, massage rooms, and much more. 

The Alcazar Hotel closed its doors in 1931, and was purchased by Lightner for just $150,000.  He, in turn, donated the complex to the city of St. Augustine with the understanding that it would forever house his museum of collectibles.  Since the early 1970s, the building has housed both the museum and city offices.

The Lightner Museum opened in 1948, the huge spaces providing ample room for Lightner’s collections including furniture, architectural fragments, mechanical musical instruments, natural history, fine arts, ceramics, glass, toys and much more.  Lightner died in 1950 and was buried in the courtyard just outside the entrance to the museum.

Although located in Florida for more than 60 years, the Lightner Museum continues to hold a fascination for those with an interest in Chicago history. A number of objects from the Potter Palmer castle on Lake Shore Drive may be found there including a stunning pair of Carrera marble columns and a throne chair, both shown below.

Items from Prairie Avenue homes include the dining room furniture from the Blackstone mansion (1912 S. Prairie Avenue) and a beautiful gilt Aesthetic movement chandelier from the home of Kate Buckingham (2036 S. Prairie Avenue), see below. 

Even the infamous Everleigh Club, located at 2131-2133 S. Dearborn Street
in the heart of Chicago’s Levee district, is represented with a flamboyant Venetian glass chandelier.

The collections at the museum are vast and varied from player pianos to buttons, and from an Egyptian mummy to brilliant cut glass.  Devotees of Chicago history owe a debt of gratitude to Otto Lightner for his efforts to preserve Chicago as it grew and thrived from the late 1800s past the turn of the 20th century.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Lightner Museum Preserves Prairie Avenue's Past

In 1934, Otto C. Lightner, publisher of Hobbies magazine, opened a unique museum in a former mansion at 2816 S. Michigan Avenue.  The museum was a treasure trove of objects collected over the course of years, many from the leading homes in Chicago, on Prairie Avenue, Lake Shore Drive, and elsewhere.  Lightner acquired the decorative objects, light fixtures, stained glass, and architectural fragments, from the grand old houses as they were being demolished.

The house had originally been built for Charles W. Brega in the late 1880s.  The architect was Solon S. Beman, architect of the Town of Pullman and the Kimball mansion at 1801 S. Prairie Avenue to name but a few.  Brega was a prominent member of the Chicago Board of Trade and his elegant home on this fashionable section of Michigan Avenue reflected his business and social successes.  He lived there with his wife Fanny and their only child Louise, who later married a British army officer, Colonel Ralph H. James, and moved to England.  (Their son Charles James, became a well-known clothing designer in the U.S.).  After Brega died in 1906, his wife also moved to England, and the house was acquired by Franklin P. Smith, a prominent wire and iron manufacturer and one of the early settlers of Lake Forest. 

Lightner acquired the house from the Smith family in 1933 and immediately began converting the building into his museum.  The rooms were filled with fine objects from leading families – Potter Palmer, Edith Rockefeller McCormick, Victor Lawson, John Farwell, and many more.  Stained glass (including panels from the Chicago Board of Trade) filled the windows, furniture was crammed into every space, and countless curio cabinets were filled to overflowing with art glass and more.  The rooms were given themes and names – the Music Room, the Gold Room, the Textile Room, the Curio Room, the Egyptian Room, the Crystal Room, and the Oriental Room.  The museum also featured an especially fine collection of objects from the World’s Columbian Exposition.

Several objects from Prairie Avenue homes made their way into the museum including paneled doors from the Pullman house, a gold-plated chandelier from the Buckingham house, brass andirons from the Armour house, and a dining room – complete with glassware, china, paneling, furniture, and all – from the residence of Isabella Blackstone. 

As the collection grew, Lightner acquired the adjacent properties.  To the north he constructed a building to house his publishing business.  To the south, he planned a huge modern addition to the museum that would connect to the nearby Kohl mansion.  At the close of World War II however, due to ill health, Lightner made the decision to move to St. Augustine Florida and take his collections with him.  The publishing business was moved to 1006 S. Michigan Avenue, which still features a faded sign publicizing Hobbies Magazine on its side.

Next week: The Lightner Museum opens in St. Augustine

Monday, August 1, 2011

Encaustic tiles and President McKinley

Earlier this year, several hundred tiles on the kitchen, pantry, and servants’ hallway floors were reset, having broken loose from years of heavy traffic.  It had long been assumed that the tiles were English Minton, but an examination of the backside of one of the tiles revealed that they were American made encaustic tiles.

Encaustic tiles are tiles in which the pattern or figure on the surface is not a product of the glaze but of different colors of clay. They are usually of two colors but a tile may be composed of as many as six. The pattern is inlaid into the body of the tile, so that the design remains as the tile is worn down. Encaustic tiles may be glazed or unglazed and the inlay may be as shallow as an eighth of an inch, as is often the case with "printed" encaustic tile from the later medieval period, or as deep as a quarter inch.

The tiles in the Glessner kitchen are unglazed and in solid colors – terra cotta, tan, and gray.  The only pattern present results from the arrangement of the tiles, producing a checkboard pattern in the middle of the floor and a simple but pleasing border around the sides of the rooms.

The tiles were manufactured by the American Encaustic Tiling Company, at one time reported to be the largest tile manufactory in the world.  The company was founded in Zanesville Ohio (the town where John Glessner was born and raised) in 1874, initially operating under the name Fischer and Lansing Tile Company. The American name was adopted in 1876, and in 1881 they opened a showroom in New York.  In addition to dust-pressed encaustic floor tiles and standard utilitarian wall tiles, the company produced a wide variety of decorative art tiles as it rapidly grew and expanded its facilities.  

By 1890 an enlarged factory was required, and the founders, based in New York, wanted to build it in New Jersey. The people of Zanesville, anxious to keep the company (and jobs) in their town, responded by passing a $40,000 bond to purchase land for the company adjacent to the Muskingum River and close to the local railroad.

The new plant was completed in two years and dedicated on April 19, 1892 with a celebration the likes of which was rarely seen at that time. 20,000 people attended the festivities arriving by foot, train, boat and horse-drawn carriage. Governor William McKinley (later President of the United States) was on hand to congratulate the citizenry for their foresight in maintaining this great company, which remained a boon to their community for the next forty years. The firm produced the famous nursery tiles designed by Walter Crane, and later hired Frederick H. Rhead (a major figure in American ceramics history) to head its research.  The Zanesville plant closed in 1935, a victim of the Great Depression, and the assets were acquired by the Shawnee Pottery Company.  Although American Encaustic no longer exists as such, it can be traced through a series of mergers and takeovers to the present firm of Daltile.

An interesting side note – John Glessner’s sister Mary, married Thomas Kimball and they built their home (shown above) in Canton Ohio which they subsequently sold to William McKinley.  It was from this home that he accepted the nomination for President of the United States.  The home no longer stands.
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