Monday, September 30, 2013

Harpist Enrico Tramonti

John and Frances Glessner were deeply involved with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from the time of its founding in the fall of 1891.  Their support went far beyond being merely financial – conductors Theodore Thomas and Frederick Stock were intimate friends, and many of the musicians in the orchestra enjoyed the Glessners’ hospitality at 1800 South Prairie Avenue through the years.  Perhaps no one benefitted from the Glessners’ friendship more than harpist Enrico Tramonti and his wife Juliette.

Enrico Tramonti was born in Palermo on the island of Sicily on October 3, 1874.  He began studying music as a young teen and had settled on the harp by the time he was 15.  In 1896, he made his debut before Queen Margherita of Italy and two years later performed for Queen Victoria.  He was married in 1900 to Juliette Oltramare (born May 8, 1880 in Geneva, Switzerland), and assumed the position of harpist with the Chicago Symphony in February 1902.  The Tramontis had two sons – Albert (born January 1901) and Jacques René (born May 1902). 

It is interesting to note that Enrico Tramonti was the exact age of the Glessners’ second son John Francis (who died as an infant), and Juliette Tramonti was two years younger than their daughter Fanny.  The fact that the four became close friends is not surprising – the Glessners frequently befriended individuals whom they respected for their talent and intellect, regardless of the difference in age.  In addition, Frances Glessner’s ability to provide a warm and inviting home for those arriving in Chicago is well documented in numerous letters from the Tramontis and many others.  

An excerpt from a letter written by Juliette to Frances Glessner in November 1911 is typical:

“Now, dear dear Mrs. Glessner you are spoiling us, you do so much for our happiness – what can we do for you?  Love you and Mr. Glessner with all respect and devotion – Yes, but this we have done for a long long time, and no presents could increase it.  Only it is awfully good to be spoiled!!  Especially when you are so far from home.”

In February 1903, Frances Glessner noted in her journal, “Today we had the Reading Class luncheon.  I had Tramonti, the new harpist in the orchestra come up and play for us.  I introduced him to the ladies and made up a French speaking table for him.”  Frances Glessner also invited Juliette Tramonti to become a member of the Reading Class, an honor which she greatly cherished.  The Tramontis took a flat at 2218 South Prairie Avenue and became frequent guests at the Glessners’ home, and their summer estate, The Rocks, in New Hampshire. 

Frances Glessner made sure to include the Tramontis in holiday events as well; aware of the fact they were far away from their home and family.  Her journal records numerous holidays where the Tramontis were among the small group of invited guests.   In 1911, Frances Glessner recorded the following entry, “Mrs. Tramonti came to breakfast on Sunday morning (Christmas Eve) and was here nearly all day helping to decorate the tree.”  The Tramontis also spent Christmas Day with the Glessner family.   Juliette Tramonti wrote the following letter of thanks:

“My dear Mrs. Glessner,
I have not thanked you half as much as I felt yesterday, for the beautiful Christmas you made for us!  It will be a long remembered one, the beautiful, inspiring tree, the fine family dinner, our beautiful present, and above all the sweet comforting feeling of being in a family (and such a one!) and being made almost to believe you belong to it – all that is above words, but I just want to tell you that we feel it deeply!
Thank you for all, dear Mrs. Glessner and believe me yours, all devoted
Juliette Tramonti”

The Glessners’ granddaughter Martha, born in 1906, remembered the Tramontis and their frequent visits to the family home.  No doubt the Tramontis felt closeness with the Glessners’ grandchildren, who were all about the same age as their own two sons.  Martha Batchelder recalled many years later:

“They were just plain nice people and fun of course.  He was Sicilian and she was Swiss.  They had two sons which they always left with the grandmother in Switzerland, so they were never in Chicago with them.  They went home in the summer to be with the children.”

Enrico Tramonti, in addition to being an accomplished harpist, was also a talented metal worker.  No doubt this connection strengthened the friendship between him and Frances Glessner, who was a talented silver smith.  Tramonti presented Frances Glessner with several objects including a beautiful trinket box now on display in the parlor, shown below.  The box displays masterfully crafted metalwork featuring a beetle at the center of the box.

Tramonti also crafted two hanging telephone registers for holding names and telephone numbers, which the Glessners hung above their telephone table in the library.  The two pieces are now displayed on the library desk, and the brass tops of both are shown below.

Enrico Tramonti left the symphony in 1927 after 25 years of service and he and his wife returned to Europe.  He died in Geneva, Switzerland on August 10, 1928 at the age of 53.  The Tramontis move back to Europe and his subsequent passing the next year must have been difficult for the Glessners with whom they had enjoyed a quarter century of friendship.  Juliette Tramonti died in 1943.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Happy 175th Birthday to Henry Hobson Richardson

Sunday September 29, 2013 will mark the 175th anniversary of the birth of Glessner House architect Henry Hobson Richardson.  The event will be marked with a lecture on Richardson’s influence in Chicago entitled “H. H. Richardson and his Chicago Legacy” that afternoon at 2:00pm in the coach house of the museum.  The presenter will be architectural historian John Waters, who will explore Richardson’s body of work and the influence it had on architects including Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Henry Ives Cobb.  (As a special treat, attendees will receive a piece of birthday cake – the same celebrated recipe for strawberry shortcake that Richardson called the “best ever” when he dined with the Glessners in May 1885).  For reservations or more information, call 312.326.1480.

In celebration of Richardson’s birth, we present a brief biography and overview of his works from the exhibit “Henry Hobson Richardson: Architect of the Glessner House” on permanent display in the visitor’s center of the museum.  The exhibit text was written by James F. O’Gorman, professor emeritus in the Wellesley College Department of Arts, and the author of several books on Richardson and his contemporaries, including H. H. Richardson: Architectural Forms for an American Society and Living Architecture: A Biography of H. H. Richardson.

Church of the Unity, Springfield, MA

H. H. Richardson (1838-1886) is a pioneer figure in the development of an American style of architecture.  Born on a Louisiana sugar plantation, he grew up in the American section of New Orleans. His mother was the granddaughter of Joseph Priestley, celebrated eighteenth-century Unitarian clergyman and chemist often credited with the discovery of oxygen; his father was a dealer in real estate, cotton, and slaves. Turned down by West Point because of a stutter, he entered Harvard College, graduating in 1859. He proved an indifferent scholar but a popular classmate. Elected to the Porcellian, an exclusive collegiate social club, much of his subsequent career rested on the contacts he made at college including future clients Henry Adams and Philips Brooks.

In 1860 he became the second American architect to attend the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, then the leading architectural school in the Western world. The fall of New Orleans to Union troops in 1862 cutoff funds from home and prematurely ended his studies, so he found work at the office of Théodore Labrouste, an important government architect. Richardson’s Parisian education thus combined theoretical exercises with practical experience. He absorbed the French system of balanced planning but rejected its classical forms. 

At the end of the Civil War he returned to the States, married Julia Gorham Hayden of Boston, and moved into a mansard-roofed house of his own design on Staten Island, New York. He formed a partnership of convenience with Charles Dexter Gambrill, and designed his first building, the Church of the Unity in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1866. During this time he also collaborated with the pioneering landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, to prepare a master plan for Staten Island.

Richardson’s career lasted just twenty years, and from 1874 until his death twelve years later, he worked out of a studio behind his residence in Brookline, a suburb of Boston. There he set up an office on the French atelier system, drawing assistants from the recently established school of architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His office produced several prominent architects including Charles Follen McKim and Stanford White, two of the major architects of the next generation. A summer trip in 1882 to the Auvergne and other medieval sites in France, Spain, and Italy confirmed his choice of Romanesque as the basis for a personal style, which in time became known as Richardsonian Romanesque.  His fresh approach to those robust forms marked his later buildings, many of which were erected by Norcross Brothers of Worcester, Massachusetts.

Richardson was a hail-fellow-well-met, a man’s man who, as a New York Senator once stated, could “charm a bird out of a bush.” But his gargantuan appearance (John Glessner estimated his weight at 370 pounds) masked a deadly malady, Bright’s disease, which killed him at the age of forty-seven. Philips Brooks likened his passing to the “vanishing of a great mountain from the landscape.” The study of his life and work, written by Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer, appeared in 1888 and was the first book devoted to an American architect.  It did much to spread the knowledge and influence of the Richardsonian Romanesque far beyond New England.

Trinity Church, Boston, MA

Richardson became the most admired architect in the country as the result of a number of significant buildings designed during the last fifteen years of his life. Five of his buildings appeared on an 1885 national survey of the ten best buildings of the United States picked by his fellow architects.  Trinity Church headed the list. He also found followers across the United States and as far afield as England, Finland, and Australia. He was the first American architect to have such a wide influence and respect abroad.

What Richardson called his free interpretation of the Romanesque style first occurred in his masterwork, Trinity Church on Copley Square in Boston, a commission he won in competition in 1872. Rejecting the thin walled Gothic Revival style with its pointed arches, then popular for Episcopal churches, he designed a vast open auditorium for the charismatic preacher Philips Brooks. The interior is a broad centralized space rising amid chancel, shallow transepts, and a shortened nave with round-arched wooden vaults. Its colorful thick walls, brilliant stained glass, and rich acoustics add to the special quality of the space. This shaping of the interior created an exterior that is a pyramid of rough hewn granite with contrasting sandstone trim capped by a massive, squat tower. The effect is that of a “mighty fortress.” It remains high on the list of major architectural achievements.

In following years Richardson created seminal works, both private and public, for cities, suburbs, and the commuter lines connecting them. For suburban or country houses he looked to geology for inspiration, piling glacial boulders into organic forms, or wrapping the structures in wooden shingles. His addition to the Robert Treat Paine house in Waltham, Massachusetts, looks as if it were emerging from the ground like an outcropping. His gate lodge for the Ames estate in North Easton, Massachusetts, seems a man-made glacial moraine. For small towns around Boston he designed granite faced public libraries and railroad depots, the latter capped with sheltering hip roofs that spread out to create ground-hugging shapes.

Among his later buildings, Richardson rated the Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as the most important. A major city commission built of granite with round-arched openings and a tall tower, it radiated the “majesty of the law,” according to a local historian. The unarticulated wall surrounding the jail yard may be the most impressive run of stonework in the country; its low sprung arch with its seven-foot voussoirs is among the most powerful ever built, and served as the big brother of the 18th Street entrance of Glessner house. 

Marshall Field Wholesale Store, Chicago, IL

Richardson’s influence on Chicago architecture was as strong as it was elsewhere. His major Chicago works, the Marshall Field Wholesale Store and the Glessner and MacVeagh houses, created powerful images of solid rusticated granite walls, round-arched architecture, and disciplined geometry in contrast to the caprice of the pointed Victorian Gothic. His example inspired many of the late nineteenth-century designers who shaped the architectural image of the city.

Just prior to Richardson’s death, he assigned his office to three of his assistants, and the new partnership, named Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, produced major commissions across the country as well as local iconic landmarks including the Art Institute and the former public library (now the Chicago Cultural Center). Under the name Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbott, the Boston-based firm continues to occupy an important place in contemporary American architecture

Louis Sullivan owned a copy of Van Rensselaer’s book on Richardson’s work, and his local buildings loomed large in Sullivan’s mind. The Marshall Field Wholesale Store had a great affect on him in particular.  In that building, Richardson conceived a blockbuster structure, a building which “in massiveness, simplicity of lines, and . . . blending of artistic beauty with adaptability to its purpose” was unrivalled according to a contemporary critic. The architect Rudolf Schindler said it stood out from nearby works “like a meteor from another planet.” A four-square block of red Missouri granite articulated with the architect’s signature half-round arches, it echoed the gridiron plan of the city.

 For Sullivan, it was an “oasis” among its neighboring buildings which seemed a “host of stage-struck-wobbling mockeries,” as he wrote in Kindergarten Chats. He adapted the scheme of its façades for his Auditorium Building (now Roosevelt University), and in later buildings such as the Stock Exchange, he continued to use the masonry arched forms of the Richardsonian Romanesque. The salvaged archway entrance to the Stock Exchange near the Art Institute is as much a tribute to Richardson’s influence on the architects of the city as it is to Sullivan.

Under the influence of Sullivan and Van Rensselaer’s book on Richardson, the young Frank Lloyd Wright was also taken with the older man’s buildings, especially the organic qualities of his suburban work, which, although he was loath to admit it, Wright adapted to his own early domestic designs. His Heurtley house in Oak Park, for example, recalls the organizational scheme of Richardson’s Crane Memorial Library in Quincy, Massachusetts. As late as 1949, Wright’s entrance to the V. C. Morris Shop in San Francisco reprised the form of the interrupted archway of the 18th Street entry at Glessner house.           

Other Chicago architects also looked at Richardson’s accomplishments. The exterior of Burnham and Root’s Rookery reflects knowledge of his arched style, as does their now-demolished Masonic Temple. Massachusetts-born and M.I.T.-trained Henry Ives Cobb adapted the Richardsonian Romanesque to a number of local works, including the original Chicago Historical Society building (Dearborn and Ontario), the Newberry Library, and the houses at 1811 and 2110 South Prairie Avenue.

Richardson’s Glessner house is among his finest works. Begun in 1885 and finished in 1887 by his successor firm, Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, the house demonstrates the courage of John and Frances Glessner to commission such an unconventional house, for it was generally misunderstood and disliked by their neighbors when first completed.

John Jacob Glessner, one of the founders of International Harvester, a farm equipment company, was deeply involved in the civic and cultural affairs of Chicago.  He served as president of the Citizen’s Association, the Commercial Club, and Rush Medical College, and as a trustee of the Chicago Orchestral Association and the Art Institute. Frances Macbeth Glessner was active in Chicago as well.  Among her social and philanthropic commitments were Fortnightly of Chicago and the Society of Decorative Arts.  She was also an accomplished pianist, silversmith, embroiderer, and beekeeper.  An extensive search for an architect led the couple to Richardson, who provided them with an ideal winter home on Prairie Avenue in which they resided from October through May each year.

Clients and architect were ill-matched in personality; the Glessners were conventional while Richardson was flamboyant. Yet they became fast friends and formed a virtually perfect client-architect relationship.  While dining together the day after first visiting their Prairie Avenue site, Richardson quickly sketched the L-shaped plan of the house. With a few practical changes, that is the plan of the house as built. The ultimate design rested on Richardson’s interpretation of such European precedents as the tithe barn at Abingdon Abbey in England (a picture of which the Glessners owned), and the Manoir d’Ango in Normandy (a photograph of which the architect had on file).  John Glessner later recorded that “from what (Richardson) told me and what his young men said afterwards, I am convinced that this house of ours is the one of all that he built that he would have liked most to live in himself.”

The austere north side of Glessner house, with its minimal window openings, rises from the street-side edge of the property and provides a stark contrast to the courtyard elevation with its large windows that provide an abundance of natural light to the interior. Its exterior design marked it as unique among the homes on fashionable Prairie Avenue. The Glessner house sits low and solid on the ground while the other houses rose high and gaunt atop steep steps. The walls of rusticated granite laid in continuous horizontal courses stood in marked contrast to the numerous small-scale and polychromed details of the neighboring houses. Richardson’s delight in “massive and quiet” architecture found its full expression in the Glessner house.  

The library of the home was inspired by Richardson’s own office in Brookline. The interior appointments of the house reflect the dawning Arts and Crafts Movement inspired by the designer and theorist William Morris in England. Richardson had visited Morris in 1882 and became one of the bearers of this new movement to America. Textiles, wallpaper, and furniture by Morris grace the interior, while dining room furniture designed by Charles Coolidge of Richardson’s office and a piano case by Francis Bacon (all made by A. H. Davenport of Boston) stamp the house as a precursor to the flood of craftwork that was to mark the turn of the twentieth century.

Richardson dressed in monk's robes

“He was the most versatile, interesting, ready, capable and confident of artists, the most genial and agreeable of companions.  Everybody was attracted to him at sight. . . All of his work was stamped with his individuality.  It had great influence upon contemporary architecture and that which immediately followed, and his early death was a distinct loss to this country.”

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Great Hurricane of 1938

Exactly 75 years ago this week, the Great Hurricane of 1938 caused extensive damage to the Glessners’ New Hampshire summer estate, The Rocks.  It remains the deadliest and most powerful hurricane to ever hit New England.  Property losses were estimated at $306 million ($4.7 billion in current dollars), ranking it second only to Hurricane Sandy in 2012 in terms of property damage.  An interesting statistic indicates that if New England possessed the same population and infrastructure in 1938 as it does today, the 1938 hurricane would have caused $39.2 billion in damage.  The death toll was close to 800.

The storm formed off the coast of Africa and was first observed on September 9.  By the time it approached the Bahamas on September 20, it had increased to a Category 5 hurricane.  An unusual set of circumstances prevented it from making landfall to the west or turning back out to sea to the east, forcing it directly north at a forward speed of 70 miles per hour, the highest forward velocity ever recorded for a hurricane.   By early afternoon on Wednesday September 21, the western edge of the hurricane hit the New Jersey coastline and New York City, and the eye made landfall at Bayport near the center of Long Island shortly after 3:00pm.  Within an hour the eye made a second landfall just east of New Haven, Connecticut.  The storm was a Category 3 intensity hurricane at both landfalls with sustained winds of 120-125 miles per hour.  It continued into western Massachusetts and by 6:00pm had reached the southern portion of Vermont and New Hampshire.  It continued north, crossing into Quebec at approximately 10:00pm

The storm had a devastating impact on the forests affecting more than one-third of the total forested area of New England.  Nearly two-thirds of the felled trees, representing 1.6 billion board feet of lumber, were eventually salvaged through the Northeastern Timber Salvage Administration (NETSA) specifically created in response to the hurricane. 

Throughout New Hampshire, the high sustained winds devastated forests and downed numerous power lines.  The town of Peterborough in the southern part of the state sustained extensive damage including the destruction of ten bridges.  Much of the downtown district was destroyed by fire when floodwaters prevented firefighters from getting to the blaze.  Mount Washington, located near the Glessner estate, recorded wind gusts of 163 miles per hour which destroyed part of a trestle on the Cog Railway.

The Littleton Courier, in an article dated September 22 entitled “Hurricane Lashes North Country” gave a clear picture of the devastation:
North Country people arose this morning to survey untold damage, and tired workmen continued their all-night labors to clear highways and establish communication with the outside world, following the worst hurricane to hit this section in the memory of the oldest residents.  Much more serious damage was indicated in the few reports that filtered in from other sections of New England.  The windstorm, that swept unabated for several hours, starting in the early evening, was a terrifying climax to a three-day rain that deposited over five inches in the area . . . Highways that were blocked because of washouts and landslides, became even more impassible because of fallen trees.  Electric and telephone lines that had survived the rain were rendered useless by the wind.  Thousands of trees were blown down.
Littleton Cut Off
The town of Littleton, like many other communities in this area, was cut off from the world as far as communication was concerned.  This morning there was no way of telephoning even nearby towns, and the telegraph service had been out of order since yesterday afternoon.  The local electric power was shut off at 7:14 p.m. yesterday, and all forms of existence depending upon that source of power stopped immediately.  There had been no trains since about 9 o’clock Wednesday morning. 
Schools Shut Down
Steady rain since Sunday made torrents of tiny brooks, tore out culverts, inundated and undermined roads.  By yesterday, there was three feet of water in Lisbon’s Main street, roads were being closed, and the Littleton and Bethlehem schools were shut down.  Travelers were stranded, while highway workers rushed to the various danger spots in an attempt to open the way for traffic.  Crawford notch, closed yesterday because of a landslide and damaged culverts, was made even more impassable by fallen trees which effectually choked the pass this morning.  Thrown together across the highway like jackstraws, this remnant of the high wind presents a barrier that will take some time to clear away.”

At The Rocks, records indicate that approximately 505 acres of forested land were blown down or severely damaged resulting in a net loss to the estate of at least $25,000.  Over the next year many of the downed trees were salvaged and sold to NETSA comprised mostly of white pine, fir, spruce, and balsam.  Nearly three dozen shade trees, including poplars, birches, maples and others were also lost on the property immediately around Frances Lee’s home and gardens.  There was some damage to barns and other structures on the estate, but those losses were minimal compared to the impact on the surrounding forests. 

In addition to the financial losses, the greatest impact was felt by those who enjoyed the beauty of the estate.  State Senator John B. Eames wrote to Frances Glessner Lee on October 1, 1938, stating in part:
“I personally, and I know many others, have felt that the great damage in the so-called Glessner Woods was a loss not only to you but to our entire community.  Many times I have traveled with visitors to this section and always they have remarked that it was one of the beauty spots from Boston to Littleton. . . I have noticed you and Mr. Sullivan are beginning to bring order out of chaos and I know that in time all the wounds of this disastrous storm will be healed and we can once again point with pride to your achievement.”

Frances Glessner responded on October 11:
“I was greatly touched and pleased by your letter of October 1.  We have, indeed, all of us sustained severe losses.  The damage in the Franconia Woods affected me no more than it did all of my neighbors for that was a beauty spot to which all of us gravitated.  Just what the outcome will be it is too soon to say, but at least we shall do what we can to bring back in our lifetime as much of the beauty as possible.  Your expression of sympathy means much to me at this time.  Thank you for writing me.”

Eventually, the effects of the devastating hurricane began to disappear and by the time Frances Glessner Lee died 23 years later, The Rocks estate ranked once again as one of the great beauty spots in the North Country of New Hampshire.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Mies van der Rohe and Glessner House

The great modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe arrived in Chicago exactly 75 years ago this month to accept the position of director of the School of Architecture at Armour Institute (which became the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1940).  Mies served as the last director of the Bauhaus in German from 1930 to 1933 before it was closed by the Nazis and in 1937 he moved to the United States.

Frances Glessner Lee deeded her parents’ home at 1800 South Prairie Avenue to the Armour Institute in 1938 and classes were being conducted here by April of that year.  Not surprisingly, Mies was aware of the Glessner house from his training as an architect, so when he was negotiating with the Armour Institute, the discussion arose regarding the possibility of housing his new School of Architecture in the house.

As early as January 1938, correspondence between Mies and Dean Henry T. Heald, president of the Armour Institute, make mention of the Glessner House.  A letter in the Mies collection at the Library of Congress dated January 31, 1938 states:
“I shall be glad to show you the Glessner House, so that you may make a comparison between the possible alternatives of new quarters in the Art Institute and use of the outside facilities.”

A letter in the museum archives from Dean Heald to Frances Glessner Lee dated September 21, 1938 states in part:
“As you know, our School of Architecture is at the present time housed in the Art Institute, in quarters which are not entirely satisfactory.  Professor van der Rohe has shown great interest in the Glessner House since he arrived in Chicago two weeks ago.  He feels that the house is a ‘wonderful architectural document,’ and thinks it would be a fine place to house his School of Architecture. . . I still have definitely in mind the preference which you suggested for having the house used in connection with work in architecture, and, because of that fact, I thought you would be interested in van der Rohe’s reaction to that possibility.”

Frances Glessner Lee responded with pleasure on September 26 upon hearing the news:
"Your letter of September 21 has been received and I am delighted that Professor van der Rohe is now with you and there is the possibility of Glessner House becoming the home of your School of Architecture."

Just a week later, Frances Lee received an invitation to the reception and dinner held on October 18, 1938 to honor Mies as the new head of the Department of Architecture, sponsored by Armour Institute of Technology in cooperation with the Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the Illinois Society of Architects.  Speakers included Frank Lloyd Wright and Eliel Saarinen.  Lee, who was at The Rocks Estate in New Hampshire at the time, did not attend, and sent her regrets.

For reasons that have not been made entirely clear, Glessner House was not selected as the site for the Department of Architecture, although Armour Institute retained possession of the house for a number of years.  Mies however, continued to maintain an interest in the house.  A memorandum from Prof. D. P. Moreton of the Dept. of Public Relations at Armour to Dean Heald dated November 15, 1938 notes that Moreton transferred all the blue prints of Glessner House to Heald.  Written in pencil on the memo is the notation “11/15 These blueprints were loaned by H. T. Heald to Prof. van der Rohe.”  The blueprints and specifications for the house were still in Mies’ possession when he died in 1969, and in 1977 they were donated to the museum by the Illinois Institute of Technology.  

Monday, September 2, 2013

A new Morris & Co. carpet for the house

On August 27, 2013 work was completed on the installation of reproduction Morris & Co. carpeting on the front staircase.  It is an exact copy of the carpeting installed by the Glessners in 1887, and provides an inspiring view for visitors passing through the entry vestibule into the main hallway.

Original carpeting in 1923

The pattern is known as Lily and was designed by William Morris about 1875.  It was manufactured for Morris by Yates & Co. (later Wilton Royal Carpet Factory Ltd.) of Wilton, Wiltshire, England.  It is a fine example of the machine-woven Wilton pile carpets produced by Morris & Co. beginning in the mid-1870s and was made of 100% woolen pile on a jute backing.  Lily was one of 24 Wilton carpet designs available through Morris & Co. and this type of floor covering proved the most commercially popular of all those sold by the firm. 

The current carpet was made by The Grosvenor Wilton Company Ltd., located in Blakedown, Kidderminster, Worcestershire, England and is also 100% worsted wool.  It was sold through J. R. Burrows & Company, historical design merchants and is the gift of long-time museum member Robert Furhoff, in honor of the 125th anniversary of the house.  Installation was undertaken by Bryan Gfroerer of The Gfroerer Co. in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The company is nationally recognized for their installation of historic reproduction carpets, and prior projects include George Washington’s Mount Vernon and the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House.

William Morris’s first two designs for carpets were registered in December 1875, and five more were registered the following year.  Other designs used by Morris & Co. for carpets, including Lily, were not registered leading to other companies plagiarizing some of the patterns including Lily which was considered one of the best of Morris & Co. and one of the most popular.  Brochures issued by the company warned consumers to be aware of the copying of their patterns by other companies whose products were “of inferior make and colouring.” 

Morris & Co. employed five different techniques in the production of its machine-woven carpets – Kidderminster three-ply, Wilton pile, Brussels loop, Patent Axminsters, and ‘Hand-knotted’ Axminsters.  Lily is an example of the Wilton pile carpets, which were praised by the company in an 1883 brochure produced for the Boston Foreign Fair:

“Wiltons must be classed as the best kind of machine-woven carpets. . . If well made the material is very durable, and by skillful treatment in the designing, the restrictions as to color are not noticeable.”

Wilton Royal Carpet Factory

Wilton carpets were woven with a jacquard attachment on the loom enabling designs of two to six colors to be made.  The pattern was formed on the surface of the carpet by different colored looped warp threads of worsted yarns on a strong woven foundation of linen, jute, or cotton.  The carpets were woven at 50 – 150 tufts to the inch, and once the loops were cut, a soft velvety texture resulted.  (Brussels carpets are produced in the same manner, but the loops remain uncut).  Wilton carpets were available in four widths varying from 18 to 36 inches (the Glessner carpet consists of two strips 25” wide).  Patterned borders became very popular and when sewn around two or three attached widths of Wilton, provided an attractive carpet.  The carpet supplied for the Glessner house has a 13-1/4” border on all four sides, giving the impression of a large area rug placed over the stairs.

Lily is regarded as one of the finest of all the carpet designs produced by Morris & Co. and it was the first design used exclusively for pile carpets.  It epitomizes Morris’s love of and use of nature and its simplification to its purest form and features floral designs in white and pastel colors against a dark background.  The repeat is small and nearly square, measuring 9-1/2” by 8-3/4”, almost giving the repetitious appearance of floor tiles.  In reality however, the small repeats were due to the restrictions of the woven carpet technique itself.

Lily was one of several machine-woven Morris & Co. carpets used in the house and sat alongside hand-knotted carpets such as the huge Hammersmith carpet used in the first floor main hall (and later copied to provide the present wall-to-wall carpet).  Its installation helps provide visitors with a better sense of the wonderful variation of patterns and colors that the products of Morris & Co. provided for the “warm and inviting” interior of the home of John and Frances Glessner.


For more information on Morris & Co. carpets, see William Morris, edited by Linda Parry (Philip Wilson Publishers in association with The Victorian and Albert Museum, 1996) and William Morris Textiles by Linda Parry (The Viking Press, 1983).
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