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.

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