Monday, February 25, 2013

Venetian glass ewer

This elegant ewer was created in one of the many glass factories on the island of Murano adjacent to the Italian city of Venice.  Since the 10th century, Venice had boasted a proud tradition of decorative glass production because of its surplus of skilled craftsmen who emigrated there from Aquiteia and Byzantium, access to world trade and markets, and abundant raw materials.  As early as the 13th century many Northern Italian towns had developed glassmaking guilds, but Venetian craftsmen would dominate this industry for the next five centuries.  Glass production was exiled to the nearby island of Murano in 1292 to safeguard Venice from accidental fire.  The Grand Council of the city also ensured its exclusive domination of the glass industry by banning the emigration of glass artisans and the divulging of trade secrets – both crimes were punishable by death.

Venetian glassmakers used an enameling process developed in the 15th century to decorate vessels with complex, detailed figure designs, possibly reinterpreting nearby Islamic or Italian metalwork designs.  Other objects were decorated with Renaissance scenes usually inspired by classical Roman subjects.  Venetian artists perfected methods for making rich, refractive colors such as blue, opaque white, green, purple, red, and turquoise.  Techniques were invented for shaping and decorating glass by blowing shapes around molds, and decorating glassware with trails, threads, or blobs (prunts) of glass.  The fashion for profusely ornamented glass eventually overpowered the beauty, purity of color and light refraction of the glass itself in Venetian wares.

By 1832, Renaissance-era glass techniques were beginning to be revived in Venice.  Other European glass factories began to imitate Venetian glass products.  In 1864, the first exhibition of Venetian glass was displayed in Venice’s Palazzo Giustinia museum.  Two years later, Antonio Salviati established a glass furnace in the Palazzo Mula in Venice and began reproducing traditional Venetian glass objects on a large scale.  Other Muranese glassmakers followed Salviati in making ‘pastiches,’ or imitations of sixteenth and seventeenth-century Venetian glass for the tourist market.

This light green glass ewer’s gracefully elongated body, applied handle and large spout is decorated with polychrome enamel painted in Renaissance-derived scroll-shaped floral designs on a gold vermicelli background, above and below which are horizontal rows of gilt scales highlighted with tiny painted enamel dots.  The clarity of glass color, graceful body, and intricate colorful decoration of this ewer exemplify the finest of 19th century Venetian glassware. 

This ewer was a gift to John Glessner from his daughter Fanny in 1884 to honor her parent’s 14th wedding anniversary, as noted by Frances Glessner’s journal entry of December 7th: “Fanny gave her Papa a Venetian glass ewer . . .”  Her gift was placed atop a bookcase in the library of the Glessner home at 261 West Washington Street, and later on the mantle of the library in their Prairie Avenue home, where it is now displayed.  Certainly John Glessner thought of this object when describing the family’s “collections of Gallé and Venetian and other rare glass . . .” in 1923 when he penned his history of the house and its contents, The Story of a House. 

NOTE:  When the Prairie Avenue house was under construction, Richardson’s office ordered lamp globes for the main hall and parlor fixtures from Salviati’s firm.  The company, now known as Salviati & Sons, created reproduction globes for the new wall sconces that are now on display in these rooms.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Mrs. Ashton Dilke Visits the Glessner House

On April 8, 1888, Frances Glessner received a letter from a friend which she carefully pasted into her journal.  The letter is fascinating because of who wrote it, as well as the person introduced in the letter.

The letter was written by Sarah Hackett Stevenson, a long-time friend of Frances Glessner.   Stevenson, born in 1841 in Buffalo Grove, Illinois was an early female physician in Illinois.  After serving as the principal at the Mount Carroll Seminary (which later became Shimer College) she moved to Chicago to study medicine at the Women’s Hospital Medical College.   She obtained her MD in 1874, and two years later, while attending the convention of the American Medical Association as a delegate of the Illinois State Medical Society, was accepted as the first female member of the AMA.  In 1880, she co-founded the Illinois Training School for Nurses with Lucy Flowers.  She retired in 1903 and died in 1909. 

Dr. Stevenson was a frequent guest at the Glessner home, and often spent holidays with the family.  Both Dr. Stevenson and Frances Glessner were early members of the Chicago Woman’s Club and The Fortnightly, and it was probably through these organizations that they first became acquainted. 

In the letter, Dr. Stevenson indicated that she had just returned from Washington D.C. where she had treated Mrs. Ashton Dilke.  Having persuaded Mrs. Dilke to come to Chicago, Dr. Stevenson now sought a home where she could stay, and asked Frances Glessner to open her “lovely home” to Mrs. Dilke.  Dr. Stevenson goes on to say that in thinking of where her visitor could stay, she could “find no one who is really situated so beautifully as yourself to entertain such a guest.”

Mrs. Ashton Dilke (1857-1914) was a prominent English suffragette and came to Chicago to speak on the subject.  Both she and her husband (who had died in 1883) were active in the suffrage movement, her husband being a member of the London National Society for Women’s Suffrage, and Mrs. Dilke, a member of the Executive Committee of the National Society.  In 1885, she had published a book entitled Women’s Suffrage.  In 1888, she traveled to the United States with Elizabeth Cady Stanton to attend the International Council of Women in Washington, which is where she met Dr. Stevenson.

Frances Glessner graciously agreed to host Mrs. Dilke during her three-night stay in Chicago, and recorded her arrival in her journal:

“Today (Monday April 16) the house was besieged by reporters to see Mrs. Dilke.  She came at 9:30.  Dr. Stevenson and John went to the 22nd St. station and took the train there and went on down town with her and then came home.  I gave her a hot supper.  Tuesday the reporters came before Mrs. Dilke was down stairs.  Callers came too by the half dozen.  I took her off for a drive, and then home to luncheon.  After luncheon I made her take a rest.  Then came my afternoon Tea – about seventy five ladies and gentlemen were here – and it was all very pretty.”

Three newspaper clippings pasted into the journal provide more details on the afternoon tea:

“Mrs. J. J. Glessner gave an afternoon tea Tuesday in honor of Mrs. Dilke and Mrs. Chant.  The beautiful new house was thronged with guests, and its artistic interior was brightened everywhere with aesthetic clusters of flowers, arranged in rare bowls and vases.  Mrs. Glessner received in her drawing-room, which is, perhaps, the handsomest salon in the city.  Among the guests were many gentlemen.  Tea was served in the breakfast-room, a small apartment exquisitely finished in the Romanesque style.”

“At Mrs. Glessner’s afternoon tea Tuesday, Miss Fanny Doane, Miss Fanny Locke, and Miss Harriet Monroe did the honors of the table.  The cloth was strewn with rose-buds, and the very dainty arrangement of bonbons, lozenges and glaces gave one the idea of bouquets.”

“Tuesday Mrs. J. J. Glessner gave a delightful 5 o’clock tea to about seventy-five guests in honor of Mrs. Ashton Dilke.  Mrs. Glessner received assisted by Mrs. Dilke, both ladies being attired in exquisite tea gowns.  The handsome house was decorated in the loveliest manner with roses and tulips.  The “tea” was served in the dining room and consisted mainly of English breakfast tea, English wafers and bread and butter and assorted cakes served on china of delicate Royal Worcester.  The ladies were all in lovely toilets of brocades, satins, laces and silks, and all wore dainty evening bonnets, while the gentlemen were in all the glory of evening dress and boutonnieres.”  (The guest list which followed was a virtual Who’s Who of Chicago, and included Mr. and Mrs. Potter Palmer, Mr. and Mrs. Robert T. Lincoln, Mr. and Mrs. Bryan Lathrop, Mr. and Mrs. Marshall Field, Mr. and Mrs. John B. Drake, as well as many of the Glessners’ Prairie Avenue neighbors).

Mrs. Dilke’s speech was scheduled for Wednesday.  Frances Glessner continued:

“Wednesday Mrs. Field invited us to luncheon and to the French Opera.  She gave Mrs. Dilke a profusion of flowers, one a large bunch of orchids which Mrs. D. wore when she made her address.  The Opera was very poor – but gave me a chance to rest.  We went to the meeting in Methodist Church Block and heard first, Mrs. Dilke on ‘Women in Politics,’ then Mrs. Ormiston Chant on ‘Working Women in England.’  After the speeches we brought Mr. Shortall home and left Mrs. Dilke and Mrs. Stevenson at his house while John and I came home, got the tray of supper for Mrs. D., took it up to Shortall’s and had a hot supper.”

The events of the week concluded the next day.

“Thursday Mrs. Sprague took pity on me and took Mrs. Dilke up to Mr. Hutchinson’s to see his pictures.  Then we went to a luncheon at Mrs. Fernando Jones, where we sat thirteen at table.  We had a very nice luncheon hurried by Mrs. Dilke having to take the 3:10 train for New York.  She had beautiful flowers sent to and given to her.  We went to bed early – tired out.”

And thus ended a busy week entertaining one of the first overnight guests in the Glessner’s new house on Prairie Avenue.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The stone capitals on Glessner House

The façade of Glessner House is dominated by courses of rusticated Braggville granite of various heights, creating the “fortress-like” appearance so often sited in books on American architecture and so representative of Henry Hobson Richardson’s mature style.  Upon closer examination, however, subtle ornamentation enlivens the façade in a few carefully selected locations – beautifully executed stonework that relates directly to the detailing which visitors find upon passing through the front door.

Among the details are a series of nine carved capitals terminating the dressed stone piers set between the second floor windows on both the façade and the north side of the house.  Each of the nine capitals is different, mixing and matching various motifs including the acanthus leaf, dentils, discs, diamonds, scrolls, and basket-weave designs.  Of particular interest is the capital located directly over the front entrance which features the monogram of Richardson, with its pair of mirror-image capital Rs set within a larger letter H, the whole contained in a large circle (see image at top).

The capitals were carved in situ, as was most of the stone decoration.  Early views of the house under construction show the blocks of stone in place awaiting their decoration by the carver’s hand.  The Glessners’ good friend and designer, Isaac Elwood Scott, was asked to prepare designs for the capitals, but the Glessners were not pleased with the drawings he presented. 

A letter dated August 9, 1887 from George Shepley (the architect in the firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge who oversaw the completion of Glessner House) to John Glessner notes that “Mr. Evans started last week with his carvers for Chicago and St. Louis.” 

John Evans (1847-1923) was a Welsh sculptor who first worked with Richardson on the completion of the frieze atop the tower of the Brattle Square Church in Boston in 1873.  Evans also provided the sculpture at Boston's Trinity Church and later went on to found a nationally recognized sculptural studio in Boston.  In 1897, he became a member of the Society of Arts and Crafts in Boston, and a prominent member of Boston’s medieval “guild” of artists.  Richardson used Evans for the sculpture and carving on a number of his buildings, and Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge continued to use his services after Richardson’s death in 1886.

The receipts of the construction of Glessner House show that Evans, or more correctly his firm, Evans & Tomb, was paid $1,086.50 for the stone carvings, including the nine capitals. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Woman's Athletic Club of Chicago

The Woman’s Athletic Club of Chicago, celebrating its 115th anniversary in 2013, has deep Prairie Avenue roots.  Its founding can be traced back to a dinner party at the home of Mrs. Philip D. Armour at 2115 S. Prairie Avenue, and many of the early members and supporters were residents of the street as well.  On March 9th, the museum offers the exciting opportunity to tour the beautiful Club building completed in 1929 at 626 N. Michigan Avenue, including the elegant public spaces, as well as rarely seen behind-the-scenes spaces, truly an upstairs-downstairs experience.   For further information on the tour, call 312-326-1480.  Group size is strictly limited.

The idea for a Club where women could exercise and enjoy a leisurely meal with friends originated with Mrs. Paulina Harriette Lyon.  One night, while dining at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Philip D. Armour, she described her vision of the club.  Mrs. Belle Ogden Armour found the idea most intriguing and an important project for women of the city to undertake (unlike the men who thought it an “excellent joke”), and soon after pledged $50,000 to put the project in motion.   Such an idea was entirely new; it would become the first athletic club for women in the United States.   The Club was officially incorporated on September 13, 1898 and Mrs. Armour was elected president.  Several of Mrs. Armour’s neighbors quickly joined, including members of the Allerton, Caton, Drake, Hutchinson, Lowden, Pullman, Pike, and Smith families, and nationally prominent women such as Susan B. Anthony, Julia Ward Howe, and the wife of President McKinley accepted honorary memberships.

The first home for the Club consisted of three floors in a six-story building on Michigan Avenue north of Adams (now the site of the Peoples Gas Building).  The official housewarming took place May 24, 1899 and it would remain the home of the Club until 1909, when they moved to larger quarters in the recently constructed International Harvester building at 606 S. Michigan Avenue (where John Glessner had his office).   It was in that same year that Belle Armour was made honorary president for life (she died in 1927).

The Club had long dreamed of a building of its own and the opportunity came in the late 1920s when a site became available at the northwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Ontario Street.  Architect Philip B. Maher, just 33 years old at the time, was hired to design the building, and designer Marian Gheen the interiors.  North Michigan Avenue was undergoing a major transformation at the time, so the move north was considered most appropriate and timely.   When the building was designated a Chicago landmark on October 2, 1991, the report said in part:

The building’s architecture illustrates the sophisticated urban ambience of North Michigan Avenue, as it was originally planned and developed in the 1920s.  The modern French-style classical design, which is reminiscent of continental-style Parisian elegance, is one of the last standing links to the street’s formative years.

The building was dedicated and opened in April 1929, just a few months before the Stock Market Crash and the start of the Great Depression.  The Club struggled during those early years in their new building, but a persistent and dedicated group of members ensured its long-term survival, as other Clubs around them failed never to reopen.

Among the more interesting furnishings are the chandeliers in the second floor gallery and card room, made from two old gas chandeliers which once hung in the John B. Drake home at 2114 S. Calumet Avenue.  The nearby Ladies Powder Room contains several miniature rooms created by Mrs. James Ward Thorne, a resident of 1708 S. Prairie Avenue and a friend of George and Alice Glessner and Blewett and Frances Lee, who occupied the two houses immediately to the north.  The second floor also features a portrait of founding president Belle Armour (shown below), painted in 1939 by Charles Sneed Williams. 

Today, the Club serves as a thriving link to our City’s past and continues to provide an elegant oasis for its members amidst the hustle and bustle of North Michigan Avenue.
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