Monday, December 30, 2013

All that glitters IS silver

On Saturday December 14th, the museum opened the newest restored space on its public tours – the dining room silver closet.  This space, located to the left of the fireplace in the dining room, had served as a simple storage closet since the Glessners died in the 1930s and was in need of some attention.  Thanks to a generous anonymous gift to the museum’s 125th anniversary fund, the space has been restored to its original appearance, and now showcases pieces from the Glessners’ large collection of silver. 

The restoration involved the work of several talented craftsmen:
Historic paint analysis – Robert Furhoff
Oak-framed glass enclosure – Kevin Welter
Lighting consultant – Peter Hugh
Electrical – Block Electric
Wood refinishing – Lee Redmond
Painting and wall repair – Shamrock Decorating

The display in the silver closet will change from time to time, as there are many more pieces of silver in the museum collection than can be displayed at any one time.  These include pieces owned by John and Frances Glessner, items owned by their daughter Frances Glessner Lee, and a wonderful collection from the Fisk-Botsford-Harvey family that moved into their nearby home at 2100 S. Calumet Avenue in 1885.  The display will also include several silver bags from Marshall Field and other dealers from whom the Glessners purchased their pieces.  Silver items would have typically been stored in the closet in bags such as these to prevent tarnishing.

Three items that will remain on permanent display in the closet are among the most special in the entire museum collection.  These three pieces were handcrafted by Frances Glessner in her silversmithing shop located in the basement of the house, directly beneath the dining room.

We know from her journal that she began doing her silver work in late 1904.  An entry dated October 28, 1904 reads “I went to call on Mrs. Wynne to arrange to take lessons in metal work.”  Mrs. Wynne was Madeline Yale Wynne, a highly talented metal worker and a charter member of the Chicago Arts and Crafts Society, founded at Hull-House in 1897.  (For more information on her, see the blog article dated August 29, 2011).  Frances Glessner also took lessons from Annibale Fogliata, a metal smith who taught at Hull-House.

She had her first lesson from Mrs. Wynne on November 29th and soon after made the salt cellar shown above as a gift for her husband.  The inscription on the underside of the piece reads “Made by F.M.G. for J.J.G. Dec. 25th 1904.”  It is one of the three pieces now on display in the silver closet, all of which display her trademark features – simple clean lines and visible hammer marks across the surface.

The largest piece on display is a calling card tray, measuring 8-1/2 inches in length and featuring simple curved sides.  For many years, the tray sat on the drum table in the main hall, allowing lady visitors to leave their cards when paying a call. 

The third piece is a charming silver bowl with an elegant scalloped edge.  Frances Glessner made the piece for her youngest granddaughter, Martha Lee, born in November 1906.   The inscription reads “Martha Lee from FMG.”  All three pieces were donated to the museum by this granddaughter, later Martha (Lee) Batchelder.

Frances Glessner’s silver mark features her initial “G” encircling a honeybee, the symbol of another of her favorite hobbies – beekeeping.  She actively pursued her interest in metal work for about a decade – making countless pieces and expanding to make jewelry as well, usually long chains set with semi-precious stones.  Her journal is full of letters from thankful recipients, and it appears that most, if not all, of the members of her Monday Morning Reading Class were among those to receive one of these special hand-made gifts.

Today, this exhibit of her silver work is another way in which we can interpret the life of this most fascinating individual.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Time of the Star

The museum collection contains nearly a dozen pieces by the famed French glassmaker, Émile Gallé (1846-1904), one of the major forces in the French Art Nouveau movement.  His pieces, which feature beautiful enamel work (as seen on this example) or cameo glass, received praise beginning with the Paris Exhibition of 1878.  At the height of his popularity, his company in Nancy employed over 400 artisans in his glass division alone.  The firm also manufactured ceramics, furniture and small objets d’art.

The hexagonal barrel-shaped vase, measuring 12-1/2 inches in height, dates to the late 1880s and was originally displayed on the mantel of the bedroom used by the Glessner’s daughter Fanny, as seen above.  (The vase stands at the far left end of the mantel shelf).  It is currently displayed on the dresser in the courtyard bedroom.

An overall design of snow laden bamboo branches, with two brown-toned birds is clearly influenced by Japanese art objects, which Gallé began collecting in 1872.  Gallé first saw nearly 2,000 pieces made by Japanese artisans at the Exposition Universelle of 1867 where he represented his father’s firm, Gallé-Renemer, purveyors of ceramics.  In 1871, still representing his father’s firm, Gallé traveled to London for the Exposition there.  During that time, he visited the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert) and saw their Japanese collection.

The process of creating a piece such as this began with the creation of the design which would be transferred to the body of the vase using a sepia-colored paint.  The piece was then fired at a low temperature to affix the design to the body, a process called “le petit feu,” or little firing.  Enamel was then applied following the sepia lines.  Two types of enamels were used - translucent enamels which could be fired at a medium temperature, and opaque enamels which required a much higher one.  A single piece might require several separate firings.  This piece features enameling in blue, gold, green, brown, and black.

If the piece was to be engraved as well, this process followed enameling.  Occasionally, a portion of the piece might be flashed (covered with a thin sheet of glass of a different color from the body) then engraved to let the underbody show through.  This can be seen at the base of the vase where the layer of “snow” is etched with the Gallé name. 

Gallé was a deeply religious man, and many of his pieces feature religious symbols.  This vase features the Chi-Rho, one of the oldest Christograms, consisting of the Greek letters chi (x) and rho (p), the first two letters of Christ in Greek.  Above the Christogram are found the Latin words “Tempus Stellae,” meaning “time of the star.”  The phrase is taken from the story of the arrival of the wisemen in Bethlehem to pay homage to the Christ child.  The Latin version of Matthew 2: 7, “Tunc Herodes clam vocatis magis diligenter didicit ab eis tempus stellae quae apparuit eis” when translated into English reads,  “Then Herod, privately calling the wise men, learned diligently of them the time of the star which appeared to them.”

Monday, December 16, 2013

Gesu Bambino

Among the many engravings on display in the museum is one entitled “Gesu Bambino,” the Italian name for the baby Jesus.  As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, we will take a look at the engraving, its artist and dealer, and how it came to be owned by the Glessners.

On November 27, 1880, Frances Glessner noted in her journal:
“French and literature classes in the afternoon.  Mr. Scott over to spend Sunday and look at engravings sent up by Mr. Keppel’s – Roullier.  We selected twenty one pictures.”

Frederick Keppel (1845-1912) appears to have been the exclusive dealer through whom the Glessners purchased their numerous engravings, which numbered nearly 100 by the time of John Glessner’s death in 1936.  Keppel was born in Ireland in 1845, emigrated to Canada, and later moved to New York to become a bookseller.  In 1870, he inadvertently became the first dealer in fine etchings and engravings in North America after acquiring some prints from a disgruntled London print seller who wanted to return to England and needed to dispose of the prints from his New York shop.  Keppel was educated by leading print collectors of the day, including the greatest collector at that time, James L. Claghorn, and was also an intimate friend of James McNeill Whistler.  He travelled regularly to Europe to buy prints and engravings and was the senior member of the art importing firm of Frederick Keppel & Co. with offices in New York and London.  He also lectured widely and wrote regularly for newspapers and magazines.  (Keppel presented the Glessners with a signed reprint of his important article, The Golden Age of Engraving, in 1878).  He died in 1912 at which time his firm donated collections of prints to several museums in his memory to encourage a better understanding of prints and engravings.

Although Keppel did not maintain an office in Chicago, he frequently exhibited here, at the store of Jansen, McClurg & Co., located at the northeast corner of State and Madison.  His representative, Albert Roullier, eventually went into business for himself and established his own store in Chicago around 1900. 

An article in the Chicago Tribune dated November 21, 1880 confirms that Keppel was exhibiting in Chicago at the time the Glessners viewed and purchased their twenty one engravings:

“Next week there will be exhibited at Jansen, McClurg & Co.’s, the Keppel collection of the line engravings, composed of specimens of the works of Morghen, Toschi, Longhi, and other masters of the Italian school, the most of them being in the early state, and once the property of Antonio Perfetti, the pupil of Morghen.  Another feature of the exhibition will be the greater portion of the fine engravings which adorned the gallery of ex-Queen Christine of Spain, who died two years ago.  This is particularly rich in specimens of the renowned engravers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries – Nanteuil, Edelinck, Massou, Drevet, Willie, Bervic, Strange, and Sharp.”

A series of fourteen receipts in the museum archives indicate that the Glessners were purchasing from Keppel as early as 1877 and as late as 1892.  The receipt for their purchase in November 1880 shows that they paid $3.75 for their copy of the Gesu Bambino.  It was the least expensive of the twenty one engravings, for which they paid a total of $596.50.  The receipt also shows pieces by Edelinck and Drevet, possibly those referenced in the Tribune article as being from the collection of Queen Christine of Spain. 

Mauro Gandolfi, Self portrait, 1785

The Gesu Bambino engraving was executed by Mauro Gandolfi, an Italian painter and engraver of the Bolognese school.  Based on an original artwork by Giovanni Zecchi, it shows the baby Jesus lying in a manger with outspread arms and beams of light illuminating from the clouds above.  Born in 1764, Gandolfi came from a family of artists – his father was the painter Gaetano Gandolfi, and his six younger brothers were all painters as well.  In 1794, he was made a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna and by the early 1800s he was focusing on engraving.  In 1801, he moved to Paris and engraved the works at the French museums.  He later returned to Italy to continue his work as an engraver.  He traveled to the United States in 1816 and published a series of illustrations depicting New York City and Philadelphia.  Gandolfi died in Bologna in 1834.

The exact date that the engraving in the Glessner collection was made is not known.  John Glessner presented it to his wife as a Christmas gift, and added the penciled notation “With Christmas compliments 1880, J. J. Glessner” in the lower right hand corner.  

Isaac Scott designed an elegant wood frame for the piece with simple reeded sides featuring small stylized flowers at each corner, each one of different design.  A wide beveled gold leafed inner frame surrounds the print itself; a broader velvet covered mat outside the glass fills the area between the inner and outer frames. 

Today the print hangs on the west wall of the hallway leading to Fanny’s bedroom. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Adoration of the Magi

One of a small number of objects on permanent display in the museum depicting scenes from the Christmas story is a plaster cast plaque showing the three wise men presenting gifts to the Christ child, set within a shadowbox created by Isaac Scott.  The piece is one of four fictile ivories hung over the mantel in the courtyard bedroom.  In this article, we will examine the story behind the original artwork as well as how the copy was made.

The original piece, entitled “The Adoration of the Magi,” was acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London in 1866 and is currently on display in their Medieval and Renaissance Gallery.  Carved by an unknown artist from the bone of a Rorqual, or Finner whale, it was created between 1120 and 1150 A.D. in northern Spain and measures 14.4” tall by 6.3” wide.

Courtesy of the V&A

The website for the V&A states the following about the original:
“The relief is one of the strangest surviving representations of the Adoration of the Magi and the largest surviving medieval carving in bone.  The artist’s love of decoration can be seen in the elaborately pleated drapery edged with geometric designs; even the area around the Virgin’s feet is filled by foliate scrolls and a small tree.”

It was originally thought that the relief was of English origin but subsequent research has linked it stylistically with other work executed in Northern Spain.  The level of craftsmanship is very high, and the depiction of the kings as pilgrims was very popular along the road to Santiago de Compostela.  Additional symbolism includes beasts fighting at the feet of the Virgin Mary, and an owl above, which some scholars have interpreted as reflecting the circumstances of “reconquista” in which the object was produced. 

Courtesy of the V&A

The largest figure is the Virgin Mary, seated beneath a Romanesque arch from which is hung an elaborately detailed drapery.  She wears a pleated head dress and a jeweled diadem.  The Christ child is seated on her left knee, with the three kings at far left, crowned and carrying staves, offering their traditional gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 

Courtesy of the V&A

The maker of the cast owned by the Glessners is unknown, but information from the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney Australia provides a possible source.  That museum owns a large collection of fictile ivories (the term for copies made from original ivory or bone carvings) made in England during the period in which John and Frances Glessner purchased their pieces.

Two Englishmen, J. O. Westwood and A. Nesbitt, made numerous casts of original artworks, which are described in a catalogue entitled “A Descriptive Catalogue of the Fictile Ivories in the South Kensington Museum” published in 1876.  (The South Kensington Museum was the original name for what is now the V&A.)  The process involved mixing wax and gutta-percha (a natural latex derived from a variety of trees in Malaysia) which was then flattened into a piece larger than the artwork to be copied.  The artwork was wetted with cold water or soap, after which the mix of wax and gutta-percha was placed upon it and pressed carefully so as to reach into all the deeper cut parts of the work.  After the mixture hardened and cooled, it was lifted carefully from the artwork, after which it was ready to receive plaster of Paris. 

The molds were used by Westwood and Nesbitt to create numerous copies, and other makers were allowed to use the molds to make their own copies as well.  Plaster casts in general became very popular in the mid- to late-19th century.  They were widely purchased for domestic use, but many museums also acquired large collections, such as the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney which acquired 650 casts during the mid-1880s. 

During the 1870s and 1880s, the Chicago Tribune featured several articles that discuss plaster casts as art, and how the pieces were made.  An article in 1878 mentions that the managers of the Interstate Industrial Exposition (which the Glessners attended each year) were assembling a large collection of plaster casts.  One prominent Chicago dealer was Anthony Equi, so it is highly probably the Glessners either acquired their casts directly at the Exposition or through Equi’s gallery. 

Frame detail

The four casts purchased by the Glessners were set into custom-made shadowboxes designed and executed by Isaac Elwood Scott, who created numerous other picture frames and pieces of furniture for the Glessner family.  The framed pieces show up in photos of the Glessners’ previous home on Washington Street, so were definitely acquired by them prior to their move to Prairie Avenue in 1887.

Today, the striking “Adoration of the Magi” and the other fictiles continue to impress visitors with their fine detailing, warm patina, and handsome shadow boxes.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Death of a President - Part III, William McKinley

This article looks at the third of three presidential assassinations to occur during the lifetime of John and Frances Glessner.   William McKinley was elected to the first of two terms in 1896; on March 4, 1897 he was sworn in as the nation’s 25th president.  Six months into his second term, McKinley visited the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.  He delivered his address at the fairgrounds to an audience estimated at 50,000 on September 5, 1901.

The next day, after visiting Niagara Falls, the President returned to the fairgrounds, where he was to meet the public at the Temple of Music.  A man by the name of Leon Czolgosz, who decided he needed “to do something heroic” after hearing a speech by anarchist Emma Goldman in Cleveland, came to the head of the line, and pulling a gun out from beneath a handkerchief, shot McKinley two times in the abdomen.  One bullet hit a button and was deflected, but the other entered the president’s body.

McKinley was taken by ambulance to the hospital on the fairgrounds.  Dr. Matthew D. Mann was unable to locate the bullet, so cleaned and closed the wound.  Ironically, a primitive x-ray machine was being exhibited at the Exposition, but was not employed to locate the bullet.  McKinley was taken to Milburn House where he convalesced for several days and appeared to be improving. 

On the morning of September 13th, his health quickly deteriorated; unknown to his doctors gangrene was growing on the walls of his stomach and poisoning his blood.   By evening, McKinley realized the end was near, and with friends and relatives gathered around his bedside, his last words were reported to be, “We are all going, we are all going, God’s will be done, not ours.”  He died at 2:15 am on September 14, 1901 and later that day Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as president.  Czolgosz was quickly put on trial for murder, found guilty, and was executed on October 29, 1901.

The president’s body was taken by train to Washington DC where it first lay in the East Room of the White House, and then in state in the Capitol.  It was then taken to the Stark County Courthouse in Canton, Ohio.  On September 19th, the funeral service was held at the First Methodist Church, and then the casket was taken to the McKinley house.  Mrs. McKinley, overcome with grief, did not attend the services in Washington or Canton, but did listen from an adjacent room to the funeral service at their home.   In September 1907, the McKinley monument was completed in Canton, containing the bodies of the president, his two daughters, and his wife who had died four months before the monument was dedicated.

Interestingly, Frances Glessner’s journal only makes two brief mentions of the assassination.  For reasons unknown, but possibly due to ill health, she made only brief sporadic entries in her journal during mid-1901.  An entry covering five weeks written at The Rocks dated September 14, 1901, notes only “President McKinley was shot” and then “Saturday the 14th President McKinley died.”

Thomas and Mary (Glessner) Kimball

The interesting connection between the Glessners and the McKinleys has to do with the McKinley house in Canton, Ohio.  That house had been built about 1870 by John Glessner’s older sister Mary and her husband Thomas Kimball.   Located at 715 Market Avenue North, the two-story frame house with broad front porch became famous during McKinley’s first presidential campaign in 1896.

According to the book Cabins, Cottages & Mansions: Homes of the Presidents of the United States by Nancy D. Myers Benbow and Christopher H. Benbow (Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications, 1995), the McKinleys were married in January 1871 and resided for a time in the St. Cloud Hotel in Canton.  Shortly thereafter, Mrs. McKinley’s father, James Saxton, purchased the house for the couple and they remained there until 1877, when they sold the house and moved to Washington D.C. upon McKinley’s election to Congress. 

In 1896, McKinley leased his old home in Canton and celebrated his silver wedding anniversary there.  As he launched his presidential campaign, he considered it inappropriate to travel around the country delivering speeches.  Instead, people came, by the thousands, to his home where he delivered speeches from the front porch.  It is estimated that McKinley gave over 300 speeches in his “front porch campaign” to nearly 750,000 individuals, something that had never before happened in U.S. history.

In 1899, he repurchased the home for $14,500 with the plans of retiring there after concluding his term as president.  Mrs. McKinley remained in the house until her death in 1907, keeping it as a shrine to her late husband.  After she died it went through a long sad history.  It was used as a hospital and then a nursing home and by 1930 had been moved.  After plans to save the house were unsuccessful, the house was carefully dismantled with the idea of later rebuilding it.  But the parts were allowed to deteriorate and many were vandalized or stolen, making reconstruction impossible. 

An interesting newspaper clipping in the Glessner archives entitled “Drive to Save McKinley Home from Auction Fails” (pictured above) notes the following:

“This photo shows the home of former President William McKinley, inset, at Canton, Ohio, which faces the auction block because of a lack of funds for its rehabilitation and maintenance.  A movement to solicit $15,000 in subscriptions to save the home, scene of McKinley’s famous “front porch” campaign, failed and now it must be sold at auction unless federal aid can be obtained."

A note accompanying the article, written by John Glessner states:

“House built about 1870 at Canton Ohio by Thomas S. & Mary Glessner Kimball, & afterwards sold to the McKinleys.  The latter made all his speeches from these porches in his campaign for the Presidency.  And now in 1934 an effort is being made to raise money to repair & preserve it as a memorial.”

William McKinley has the dubious distinction of being the only President for whom no house in which he ever lived is still standing, except for the White House.  The site of the home is now occupied by the Stark County District Library.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Death of a President - Part II, James A. Garfield

In this week’s article, we look at the second of three presidential assassinations to occur during the lifetime of John and Frances Glessner.   

James A. Garfield was inaugurated the 20th President of the United States on March 4, 1881.  Less than four months later, on July 2, Garfield was shot while walking through the Sixth Street Station of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad station in Washington, D.C.  The assassin, Charles J. Guiteau, was a disillusioned Federal office seeker who believed that God had told him to eliminate the president for the good of the country.  Garfield was shot twice – one bullet grazed his arm, but the second fractured two ribs and lodged behind the pancreas; doctors were unable to locate and remove it. 

Garfield became increasingly ill due to a serious infection which weakened his heart.  By early September, he was moved to the resort community of Elberon at Long Branch along the New Jersey shore in the hopes that the fresh air would aid his recovery, but on September 19, 1881 he suffered a massive heart attack and died.  Guiteau was formally indicted for murder on October 14, and although his counsel argued using the insanity defense, he was found guilty on January 5, 1882.  He was executed on June 30, 1882.

Due to the extended period between Garfield’s shooting and his death, the event is mentioned on several occasions in Frances Glessner’s journal.  The first entry is dated July 2, 1881, the day of the shooting:
“In the afternoon we heard the dreadful news that Garfield our President has been shot by an assassin named Guiteau.  The whole country is in mourning.  We all hope he may recover.”
On July 3, she wrote “Garfield better,” but the next day, “Garfield worse.”  On July 10 she noted “Garfield still improving.”  The next journal entry to mention Garfield is dated August 17 when she wrote “The word is a little better from the President today.”

On September 19, Frances Glessner wrote:
“The last news from the President is that he cannot live.”  A few sentences later, “News came late this night that the President is dead.  Mr. Dinsmore gave me a telegram signed by Windom, Hunt & Jones.”

The telegram is pasted into Frances Glessner’s journal.  Dated September 18, 1881 from Long Branch, NJ, it is addressed to W. B. Dinsmore and was received at the Twin Mountain House in New Hampshire where the Glessner family was summering.  Written one day before the president died, it reads:
“The President had no vigor since yesterday at two-thirty.   He is resting quietly.  Those about him are assured he feels his usual courage and is clear in mind.”
It was sent by William Windom, Secretary of the Treasury; William H. Hunt, Secretary of the Navy; and Thomas L. James, Postmaster General. 

The next page of the journal contains a newspaper clipping entitled “Official Bulletin – What a Post Mortem Examination of the President’s Body Revealed.”  The detailed medical report, dated September 20 at 11:20 p.m. was prepared by the team of surgeons which attended upon the president.  Their post mortem investigation found that the elusive bullet had fractured the 11th rib, passed through the spinal column in front of the spinal canal, and fractured the first lumbar vertebrae.  The immediate cause of death was due to a hemorrhage in one of the mesenteric arteries adjoining the track of the bullet, resulting in significant blood entering the abdomen. 

On September 20, Frances Glessner noted that “we have our flag (at the Twin Mountain House) draped with black at the front piazza.”  The next day, while traveling to Goodnow’s Hotel, she noted “The different hotels were all draped with black.”

On September 26, the day of Garfield’s funeral, the Glessners were in New York on their way back to Chicago.  Frances Glessner wrote:
“The city is all closed and draped in mourning on account of President Garfield’s funeral, which occurred at Cleveland this afternoon at two o’clock. . . Everyone is sad – and poor Garfield’s picture is to be seen in every window – sometimes a bronze bas-relief, again an oil painting or plaster cast.  The church bells were all tolled at two this afternoon – the day was proclaimed one of national mourning by President Arthur – and all the churches held religious exercises.  The draping on the buildings was very effective often – notably Tiffany’s which was covered with crape over the whole front, only drawn aside for the windows to come through.”

An interesting postscript to Garfield’s assassination involves two items related to the event.  The objects were part of a huge collection of books and other materials donated by the Glessners’ daughter, Frances Glessner Lee, to the Harvard Medical School in 1934 when she founded the Magrath Library of Legal Medicine.  The first item, shown above, is a photograph, one of five taken by Washington photographer C. M. Bell after the autopsy on Garfield’s body.  The left lateral view of vertebrae shows the assassin’s bullet hole in Garfield’s spine. 

The second item is a leaf from a poem written by the assassin, Charles Guiteau, while in prison awaiting execution.  The poem was part of a small collection of letters, newspaper clippings, a diary, and other manuscript material assembled by the Rev. William Watkin Hicks of Washington, D.C.  Hicks served as Guiteau’s spiritual advisor in prison and was a staunch opponent of his execution. 

The James A. Garfield Monument, designed by architect George Keller, was dedicated on Memorial Day 1890 in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.  These two views, taken in April 2013, show the exterior of the impressive structure, and the ceiling of the rotunda.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Death of a President - Part I, Abraham Lincoln

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas.   The event has become a part of popular culture, and virtually all those old enough to remember the tragedy can recall where they were when they received the news that the president was dead.

It is interesting to note that John and Frances Glessner lived through the assassination of three U.S. presidents – Lincoln in 1865, Garfield in 1881, and McKinley in 1901.  In this article, the first of three to explore those events, we will explore the Glessners’ interest in Lincoln.

In 1865, John Glessner was 22 and his future wife Frances Macbeth was just 17.  Frances Glessner would not start recording events in her journal until 1870, the year she married.  As such, the only record of Lincoln’s assassination in the museum archives exists in two letters to John Glessner from his sister, Mary (Glessner) Kimball, and one to Frances from her mother Nancy Macbeth. 

The first letter to John Glessner is dated Sunday April 16, 1865, the day after Lincoln died.  After a lengthy discussion of selling her home in Canton, Ohio and preparing to move, Mary notes:
“Wasn’t the killing of Lincoln a dreadful affair?  Our church was draped in black for him today and Mr. Buckingham preached on that subject.  His text was ‘A prince and a great man has fallen in Israel.’  His sermon was very good.  He said he hoped the mantle of Lincoln would fall upon Johnson but he trembled lest it would not.”

The second letter, written one week later on April 23, makes brief mention of Lincoln’s funeral train:
“If I get an answer to a letter I wrote to cousin Laura and she invites me to go to Mrs. Child’s to spend a day or two, I will go; I would be there then the day Lincoln’s remains are.”
The reference is to Lincoln’s funeral train which entered Ohio early on Friday April 28th, making a stop in Cleveland that morning, and a longer stop in Columbus the next day, where it remained for eleven hours.  The train left Ohio early in the morning on Sunday April 30th

The letter to Frances (called Fannie by her family) from her mother is a bit more detailed in describing the reaction people had to learning of Lincoln’s death.  In a letter from Springfield, Ohio dated Sunday April 16, 1865, she wrote:
“Dear Fannie:  I know you are thinking of me this day and wondering how I felt under the terrible news of the death of our beloved President – and I am sure I cannot tell you – it would be hard to convey to your mind the sadness and sorrow that we all feel at this time – the loyal American nation is in mourning for this sad bereavement.  Our church was all draped in mourning, all the flags and everybody almost had on some token of the sadness they felt within.  Mr. Bower preached a regular funeral discourse and a very good one, too – Friday was a great day of rejoicing here as well as everywhere else, but alas how quickly our joy was turned into sadness.”
The rejoicing on Friday is a reference to learning the news of the end of the Civil War.

One of the most important objects visitors to the museum see during their tour is the bronze life mask and hands of Abraham Lincoln that is displayed on the partner’s desk in the library.  This is the story of how those relics came to be.

Chicago sculptor Leonard W. Volk first met Lincoln in 1858 during Lincoln’s historic debates with Stephen Douglas.  During that meeting, Lincoln promised to sit for the sculptor.  In April 1860, Volk saw a newspaper article announcing Lincoln’s arrival in Chicago to argue a case.  Volk went to the courthouse and reminded Lincoln of his old promise.  Lincoln readily agreed to begin sitting, paying a visit to Volk’s studio each morning for a week.  If he could take a mask of Lincoln’s face, Volk explained, the number of sittings could be greatly reduced.  At the session where the mask was made, Lincoln sat in a chair and carefully watched every move Volk made by way of a mirror on the opposite wall.  The plaster was carefully applied without interfering with Lincoln’s eyesight or breathing through the nostrils.  After an hour, the mold was ready to be removed.  Lincoln bent his head low and gradually worked it off without breaking or injury, although in the process he did pull a few hairs from his temples, causing his eyes to water.  Lincoln continued to sit for Volk for five days after the mask was prepared, Lincoln entertaining Volk with “some of the funniest and most laughable of stories.”

The next month, Volk was on the train to Springfield when he heard the news of Lincoln’s nomination by the Republicans.  He arrived in Springfield and rushed to Lincoln’s house, announcing to the astonished candidate, “I am the first man from Chicago, I believe, who has the honor of congratulating you on your nomination for President.”  Volk insisted that he now must execute a full-length statue of Lincoln, and Lincoln agreed to provide Volk with appropriate photographs of himself, while Volk would take his measurements as well as make casts of his hands.  Volk appeared at the Lincoln’s home on the next Sunday morning and set to work in the dining room.  He suggested that Lincoln should be holding something in his right hand for the cast.  Lincoln disappeared to the woodshed and returned whittling off the end of a piece of broom handle.  When Volk said that was not necessary, Lincoln remarked cheerfully, “I thought I would like to have it nice.”  Volk noticed that the right hand was still severely swollen from the handshaking of Lincoln’s latest campaign – a difference that is visible in the casts.  Volk commented on a scar on Lincoln’s left thumb, and Lincoln explained that it was a souvenir of his days as a rail-splitter.  “One day, while I was sharpening a wedge on a log, the ax glanced and nearly took my thumb off.”  After the casts were completed, Volk set off for Chicago with the molds, photographs, a black suit left over from Lincoln’s 1858 campaign, and a pair of Lincoln’s pegged boots.

Volk never completed the statue, and later gave the casts of Lincoln’s face and hands to his son Douglas, himself an artist, who later passed them on to a fellow art student, Wyatt Eaton.  During the winter of 1885-1886, Richard Watson Gilder saw the casts in Eaton’s studio and immediately grasped their significance.  

On February 1, 1886, Gilder, along with his friends Augustus St. Gaudens and Thomas B. Clarke, sent out a letter to a select group of individuals which read in part:
“The undersigned have undertaken to obtain the subscription of fifty dollars each, from not less than twenty persons, for the purchase from Mr. Douglas Volk of the original casts taken by his father, the sculptor, Mr. Leonard W. Volk, from the living face and hands of Abraham Lincoln, to be presented, together with bronze replicas thereof, to the Government of the United States for preservation in the National Museum at Washington.
“The subscribers are themselves each to be furnished with replicas of the three casts, in plaster or bronze.  If in plaster, there will be no extra charge beyond the regular subscription of $50; if the complete set is desired in bronze, the subscription will be for $85 . . .
“Those wishing to take part in the subscriptions will notify at once either of the undersigned.”

Subscriptions were apparently received rapidly.  Frances Glessner recorded the following entry in her journal on May 30, 1886:
Last week we got a bronze cast of Lincoln’s life mask and hands made by Douglas (sic) Volk – a few copies have been made to raise funds enough to give the originals to the government.”
The underside of the life mask contains the following inscription:
The stump end of each hand contains the following inscription:

Volk's plaster life mask and hands on display at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. beside the second life mask created by Clark Mills in February 1865.

In 1888, the original plaster mask and hands, together with the first bronze casts, were presented to the National Museum (now the Smithsonian Institution) along with an elaborate illuminated manuscript which read in part:
“This case contains the first cast made in the mold taken from the living face of ABRAHAM LINCOLN by Leonard W. Volk sculptor in Chicago in the year 1860.  Also the first casts made in the molds from Lincoln’s hands likewise made by Leonard W. Volk in Springfield Illinois, on the Sunday following Lincoln’s nomination for the Presidency in May 1860.  Also the first bronze casts of the facemold, and bronze casts of the hands.  Presented to the Government of the United States for deposit in the National Museum by Thirty Three Subscribers.”
The list of subscribers includes the name of J. J. Glessner, as well as J. Q. A. Ward, Frances Glessner’s first cousin, a talented sculptor who created the bronze standing Shakespeare on display in the library.  Ward and St. Gaudens were close friends, and it is possible that Ward suggested that St. Gaudens include John Glessner on the mailing list, when the original subscription letter was mailed in February 1886.

John Glessner was a Sustaining Member of the Lincoln Centennial Association, organized in 1909, and renamed The Abraham Lincoln Association in 1929.  His library contained over three dozen books and booklets on Lincoln, which he kept on a shelf in the southeast bookcase in the library.  The books include such standards as Carl Sandburg’s two volume Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, as well as more obscure titles, many of which were issued by the Association.  An interesting volume, of which only 750 copies were printed, is Abraham Lincoln in New Hampshire, which recounts Lincoln’s visit to that state in 1860.  The author, Elwin L. Page, was a friend of George and Alice Glessner, and Alice presented the volume to her father-in-law upon its publication in 1929.

John Glessner also owned a photograph of Lincoln.  The cabinet card, featuring an image taken at Eaton’s Studios, carried the following inscription:  “For Mrs. Lucy G. Speed, from whose pious hand I accepted the present of an Oxford Bible twenty years ago.  Washington, D.C., October 3, 1861.  A. Lincoln.”  Lucy G. Speed was the mother of Lincoln’s closest friend, Joshua F. Speed, and had presented the Bible to Lincoln during his visit to the Speed home in August 1841, in the hopes of relieving his depression and melancholia.  The original photograph remained in the Speed family until the 1990s, but copies were apparently made, one of which was purchased by John Glessner.  The photograph was donated to the Chicago Historical Society in April 1940 by Frances Glessner Lee.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Frances Glessner Lee and her "Baron Vitta" violin

On November 3rd and 4th, the Borromeo String Quartet visited the Chicago area to perform two concerts.  Of particular interest is the violin used by Nicholas Kitchen, first violinist of the Quartet - an extraordinary Guarneri del Gesu made in 1730 and known as the “Baron Vitta.”  From 1929 until 1958, that instrument was owned by Frances Glessner Lee.  This article will focus on that chapter in the long history of this celebrated instrument.

Frances Glessner, c. 1896

As a teen, Frances “Fanny” Glessner played the violin, as did her brother George.  A violin on display atop the piano in the parlor of the Glessner House Museum recalls this fact.  Although there is no evidence she played in later years, music was always a central part of her life, and she continued the extraordinary support of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra that her parents began at the time of its founding in 1891. 

The Baron Vitta in 1926

In early 1929, Frances Glessner Lee purchased the Baron Vitta violin from the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company of New York, dealers in rare old violins founded in 1856.  She paid $30,000 for the instrument and although the motivation that led to the purchase is not documented, she immediately entered into an agreement to loan it to Remo Bolognini, assistant concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Remo Bolognini

Bolognini, born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1898, is generally regarded as South America’s greatest violinist.  He began the study of the violin at the age of seven, and his first recital six years later made him well known throughout the continent.  After performing for three years with his brother Astor and Alberto Castellano at the Palace Theatre in Buenos Aires, he accepted the position of concertmaster of the Philharmonic Orchestra in that city.  In 1927 he came to the United States to assume the position of assistant concertmaster with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Frederick Stock.  After the conclusion of the 1928-1929 season, he left the orchestra and traveled to Europe where he studied under the Belgian violinist Eugene Ysaye and concertized extensively.  At one of those concerts he was heard by Arturo Toscanini, who engaged him to be the second concertmaster with his orchestra, the NBC Symphony Orchestra, formed in 1937.  He remained with that orchestra until 1954 when he became the assistant concertmaster with the Baltimore Symphony.  He died in 1977.

In 1939, Frances Glessner Lee requested that the violin be returned to her, and after an unsuccessful attempt to sell the instrument, she loaned it later that year to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which gave it to their concertmaster, John Weicher, for his exclusive use.  The violin attracted a great deal of attention in the media, one article referring to it as “one of the most valuable in the world.”

John Weicher with the Baron Vitta; Hans Lange (at left), assistant conductor, and
Frederick stock, conductor, look on, 1939.

John Weicher, Jr. was born in Chicago in 1904 and was the son of a violinist from Bohemia, who immigrated to Chicago in 1893.  In 1912, the father took his eight-year-old son to Prague where he spent four years studying at the conservatory.  They were forced to return to Chicago in 1916 due to the World War and in 1919, Weicher joined the Chicago Civic Orchestra, the CSO training orchestra, during its inaugural season.  During the 1920s he played with the Cleveland and Seattle orchestras and returned to Europe for further studies.  In 1929, he took over for Bolognini as assistant concertmaster with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and was elevated to concertmaster in 1937.  He remained in that position for 23 seasons, 1937-1959 and again in 1962-1963, serving as principal second violin from 1959-1962 and again from 1963-1969.  He died in July 1969 at the age of 65.

John Weicher attempting to "pawn" the Baron Vitta

An amusing anecdote in the history of the instrument took place in March 1940, when John Weicher attempted to pawn the instrument to several pawnbrokers in Chicago.  Weicher bet that pawnbrokers would recognize the violin was of great value; his friend Pence James, a reporter with the Chicago Daily News, said no.  Weicher took the violin to four pawn shops asking for a $100 loan, but three of the four didn’t recognize its value, one pawnbroker stating “A hundred dollars? I can’t give you that kind of money for a fiddle like this.”  The fourth pawnbroker did recognize that the violin had great value, but was suspicious of the whole transaction, thinking it was a gag.  An article about the incident was published in the Chicago Daily News on March 6, 1940.

Szymon Goldberg

The violin was returned to Frances Glessner Lee in 1949 at which time she consigned it for sale with Rembert Wurlitzer in New York.  The instrument was finally sold in 1958 to Szymon Goldberg for $15,000.  Goldberg (1909-1993) was a distinguished Polish-born American violinist and conductor, and founder and long-time conductor of the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra in Amsterdam.  He taught at Yale, Juilliard, the Curtis Institute and elsewhere and one of his young students was Nicholas Kitchen, first violinist with the Borromeo String Quartet, who now plays his teacher’s violin.  

Nicholas Kitchen

For more information on Goldberg and Kitchen and their history with the instrument, see the online article published November 5, 2013 by WFMT entitled “Music Outsourced Brings Wonders.”  To hear Kitchen’s 2009 performance of Bach on the instrument, click here.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Queen Victoria's 74th Birthday Celebration

On Wednesday November 6, 2013, the museum will present a lecture entitled “The World’s Columbian Exposition – a 120 Year Perspective.”  The speaker is Diane Dillon, director of scholarly and undergraduate programs at the Newberry Library and a frequent lecturer on Chicago’s two World’s Fairs.  Tickets are $10 and reservations may be made by calling Glessner House Museum at 312.326.1480.

Among the grouping of items in the museum collection relating to the World’s Columbian Exposition are several pieces for a banquet celebrating Queen Victoria’s 74th birthday on May 24, 1893.  The invitation, menu card, program, and place card will be on display along with other Glessner items from the Fair during the November 6th lecture.

The banquet was attended British citizens and leading Chicago businessmen, including John J. Glessner, invited by the Commissioners for the British Colonies at the World’s Columbian Exposition.   The Chicago Tribune gave the following report of the site of the event:

“One loyal subject for each year of her reign celebrated the seventy-fourth anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria of England by banqueting at the Virginia Hotel last night.  Under the auspices of the British Royal Commissioners and the Commissioners for the British Colonies at the World’s Columbian Exposition the banquet was given.  From facades to the pillared entrances the Virginia was decked in the ensigns of Britain.  Over the main entrance to the hotel were looped two Union Jacks.  Inside the hall music and perfumed floated on a sea of color.  All the perfumed buds and blossoms that summer holds were woven in graceful designs about the lighted hall.  Back of the main table and overlooking the entire hall was placed a life sized portrait of the honored Queen.  Above it hung a silken canopy decked with white blossoms and illumined with waxen tapers tinted and hooded in harmonizing color.  Silken ensigns interwoven formed the frame of this picture, which was the centerpiece of all the decorations.  Upon the main table, on either side of the presiding toastmaster, Walter H. Harris, was a floral picture.  American beauty roses made the red for the national design and violets for the blue background, where great stars of white narcissus were set with a star for every State.
The tables were formed in a hollow square, and here the simplicity of decoration was marked.  At intervals of a few feet Sevres vases were filled with great bunches of American beauty roses.  No other flower held a place in the table decorations.”

The menu consisted of the following courses:
Little Neck Clams, Olives, and Radishes (with Haut Sauternes)
Clear Green Turtle
Boiled Kennebec Salmon, Hollandaise Sauce, Cucumbers
Roast Saddle of Spring Lamb, Green Peas (with Moet & Chandon, Dry Imperial)
Braised Sweetbreads, Asparagus
Maraschino Punch
Broiled Golden Plover, Mushrooms (with Chateau Grand Puy Lacoaste)
Assorted Cakes, Fruits, Strawberry Ice Cream, Camembert and Roquefort
Coffee, Cigars, and Liquers
The feasting concluded at 10:10pm at which point the British Royal Commissioner, Walter H. Harris began the “post prandial exercises” with a toast to The Queen.   “God Save the Queen” was then played three times, each time followed by “cheers given with a hearty will.”  This was followed by toasts to President Cleveland and the World’s Columbian Exposition after which Lyman J. Gage gave a short address focusing on the close alliance between the United States and Great Britain.  Additional toasts were given to the foreign commissioners, Chicago, the press, and finally the host before the assemblage dispersed for the evening.

NOTE:  The site of the banquet, the Virginia Hotel, was located at the northwest corner of Rush and Ohio streets.  Completed in 1891, the brick building was 10 stories in height and had been designed by architect Clinton J. Warren.  Leander J. McCormick had lived on the site since 1863, and was also the builder and owner of the hotel, where he died in 1900.  It was demolished in May 1932 to make way for a parking lot.  In 1999, the firm of Solomon Cordwell Buenz & Associates designed the current multi-level parking garage on the site.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The World's Columbian Exposition

Palace of Fine Arts, caryatid porch

On Wednesday November 6, 2013, the museum will present a lecture entitled “The World’s Columbian Exposition – a 120 Year Perspective.”  The speaker is Diane Dillon, director of scholarly and undergraduate programs at the Newberry Library and a frequent lecturer on Chicago’s two World’s Fairs.  A small exhibit of Fair-related objects from the museum collection will also be on display.  Tickets are $10 and reservations may be made by calling Glessner House Museum at 312.326.1480.

Marine Cafe

The World’s Columbian Exposition remains a truly legendary event in the history of Chicago and is even commemorated with a star on the official city flag.  The statistics on the Fair are almost unbelievable – nearly 200 “temporary” buildings spread across more than 600 acres of land, and more than 27 million visitors in just six months.   The fair grounds were dedicated on October 21, 1892 and officially opened to visitors on May 1, 1893.  The Fair closed very quietly on October 30, 1893 just two days after the city was shaken by the assassination of Mayor Carter Harrison Sr.  Only two buildings from the Fair survive in Chicago today – the Palace of Fine Arts (now the Museum of Science and Industry) and the World’s Congress Auxiliary Building (now the Art Institute of Chicago).  A few other structures were dismantled and rebuilt in other parts of the country.

The masterminds behind the Fair were architect Daniel Burnham and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, both of whom were close friends of the Glessners.  Due to that fact, the Glessners followed the design and construction of the fair closely and were afforded special access to the grounds both before and during the run of the fair.  Their son George also took a large number of photos, three of which are reproduced in this article.  We present a few excerpts from Frances Glessner’s journal indicating their interest and participation in Fair activities.

Inaugural Reception of the World’s Columbian Exposition - October 19, 1892:
“Wednesday I shopped and in the evening went to the grand ball at the Auditorium.  I wore a yellow brocade, the dress was made up after the fashion of a morning glory – the idea carried out all over.  There were forty one patronesses, about thirty three were there, all beautifully dressed.  We were taken to our places on one side of the auditorium.  The whole place was floored in back as far as the boxes go. . . Mr. Lathrop took me to my place.  The Vice President came in on Congressman Durborrow’s arm.  A military escort preceded him.  He was followed by members of the Cabinet, Senators, Judges of the Supreme Court, foreign diplomats – everyone in court dress, uniform, and full dress.  All presented to us.  Ex-president Hayes stood and talked a minute with me as others did.  After the presentation we were taken to our boxes where we had seats . . . I sat next to Mrs. Palmer.  We came home at half past eleven.  The ladies were each given a bouquet of red and yellow roses tied with red and yellow ribbons.”

Opening of the Fair – May 1, 1893:
“The weather was cloudy but it did not rain.  We drove out to the Exposition in the carriage.  When we went inside of the grounds we met Mr. and Mrs. Walter Peck and Mr. and Mrs. Rice.  We walked with them up to the Administration Building and a letter which Mr. Peck showed the guards took us to Mr. Higinbotham’s room and out of his window on to the grandstand where we had a full view of all of the crowd, the President, and all of the foreign officials – the Duke of Veragua, etc.  When President Cleveland opened the fair, the statue of the Republic was unveiled, the fountains played, the flags from every pinnacle and turret were unfurled, the orchestra played America.  It was a grand and touching sight.  It is estimated that there were three hundred and forty two thousand people there.”

Reception for Princess Eulalie – June 16, 1893:
“In the evening John and I went to Potter Palmer’s to a reception to the Princess Eulalie.  It was a very large reception.  The drawing room and reception room were separated by a red ribbon from the guests.  When the Prince and Princess came, Mr. and Mrs. Palmer met them at the door.  A heavy thunderstorm raged all the evening.  The Spanish party sat on a little dais in the parlor and the guests filed by in pairs and were presented.  We did not go.  After the presentation the royal party left at once.  Mrs. Palmer had set a supper for a certain number of distinguished guests but the Princess left – the party was shut off from the guests alone.  It was not a pleasant occasion.”

Japanese Ho-o-den

Private tour of the fairgrounds with Daniel Burham – June 17, 1893:
“We all went out to the Exposition to see the illumination and dine with Mr. Burnham.  We drove out then met in the service building.  Then we took Mr. Burnham’s launch.  We sailed around the lagoon – then some of the gentlemen got out but we declined – so they sailed around again.  They we drove in the wagonettes to the German village where we dined.  I sat between Mr. McKim and Frank Millet – besides these Mr. and Mrs. Peabody, Mr. and Mrs. Mead (architect), Mr. Coleman, Mr. Atwood, Kate Field, Mr. and Mrs. Burnham, Mr. and Mrs. Graham.  There were eighteen at table.  We had toasts.  After the dinner we drove again to the launch and sailed all of the evening.  It was a night to remember.  In the afternoon we all went by invitation to a glorious concert given in honor of Eulalie.  We were invited to the Thomas’ box.  Edward Lloyd sang.  The Apollo Club sang and the children’s chorus sang – the Princess came in for five minutes.  At the dinner that night Millet proposed the first toast, ‘down with royalty.’”

Assassination of Mayor Harrison - Saturday October 28, 1893:
“John and I went together to the Exposition.  We saw many things which we had not seen before.  John made an offer to John Wells for the beautiful silver tea set there.  John went to the Commercial Club dinner.  The dinner was interrupted and adjourned on account of the assassination of Carter Harrison at his home.”

Purchase of punch bowl – Monday October 30, 1893:
“I went to the Exposition with John.  We bought a beautiful punch bowl from Siam – silver and gold.”

The Fair is over – Wednesday November 1, 1893:
“We went to the Exposition.  It was exceedingly interesting to see the wonderful change that had come over everything.  It looked as though death had struck it.”
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