Chicago Fashions and Bronze Peacocks

One of my chief reasons for visiting Chicago in 2018 was to see the works of Frank Lloyd Wright. My visit to The Rookery is detailed at Daveno Travels, with additional photos on Pinterest. A short walk from that building brought me to the Chicago Exchange Building, where I had hoped to go to the 5th floor gallery to view the trading floor. It’s one of the cases where the guide books are incorrect…

Later that day, I missed a “Gangsta Walking Tour” for my inability to find the start point, but happily stumbled into the Chicago History Museum. On display there was this ensemble – a coat and shoes worn by a trader on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade (the building that I could not access this morning). Traders and others on the floor of the Board of Trade could be recognized by their coats. I believe it dates from the 1950’s.

Also on display was this example of women’s swimwear from the 1940’s.

I found a collection of Bes-Ben hats here. Benjamin B. Green-Field and his sister Bes founded the firm together and sold hats from the 1920’s-60’s. Their more famous customers included Hellen Keller, Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich and Elizabeth Taylor. In the summer of 1936 they held a clearance sale that became legendary – Ben stood on his balcony and threw hats into the crowd that had gathered below. Hats valued at $425 could be purchased for $5 if you could catch one…

Chicago was also the home of the mail order catalog. You have Aaron Montgomery Ward and Richard Sears to thank for our current “buy off the internet”. Then as now, the practice forced smaller stores, many of them rural, out of business because they could not compete.

Near the History Museum, in the Old Town Triangle District, I was seeking Crilly Court, a residential area built in the late 1800’s and redeveloped after WWII. I was particularly interested in this area because many of the buildings were renovated by Edgar Miller.

Edgar Miller was a modern day Renaissance Man, working in sculpting, painting, batik, lithography, architecture, interior design and stained glass. He was an illustrator for Marshal Fields’ magazine and pioneered the use of modern art in advertising during the early 1920’s. He disliked repetition, considering it “the mark of an uncreative artist.” He used recycled materials to turn old homes into works of art, a practice he called “social adventure”, a practice that I found endearing and texturally interesting.

  • There are additional photos at Daveno Travels. To read more about this little known artist, I highly recommend “Edgar Miller and the Handmade Home” which is lavishly illustrated.

After dinner, I head back downtown for a drink / photo opportunity at the Palmer House. Rebuilt three times between 1871 and 1926, it boasts 24 floors, 2250 rooms, and a ceiling painted by an unnamed Italian artist.

C.D. Peacock Jeweler was the first business to incorporate in Chicago in 1834, and opened a shop here in 1927. It’s Peacock Doors were designed by Louis Tiffany and cast in bronze, and featured on the Palmer House Christmas card that year. I’m thinking of how to feature this on a hat.

And now, with visions of peacocks a’dance in my head, I’m back to the Pittsfield to retire to bed…

Postcards from Chicago

I’m publishing my full journal for this trip from 2018 at Daveno Travels, but I want to include some additional highlights here. I fear I’m becoming notorious for taking more notes and photos than a single blog can hold…

On my second full day in Chicago, I set out for the 1926 Building, also known as the Fine Arts Building, built in 1895 as a showroom for Studebaker carriages. It has housed artist studios since 1898, including Florence Ziegfield’s Chicago Musical College, the largest music college in this country at that time. It’s also the site of the American Medical Women’s Association, founded in 1915. The glass front elevator has a human operator, and like the Smith Tower in Seattle, gave me an unimpeded view of every floor as the elevator took me to the 10th floor, where I found placards marking the studios for L. Frank Baum (Wizard of Oz), Henry Blake (Cliff Dwellers) and Frank Lloyd Wright (architect).

The Monroe Building, designed by Holabird & Roche in 1912, has a beautiful Gothic – Italian Romanesque interior that’s covered with tile work made by Rookwood Pottery, one of the largest woman-owned businesses in the country at the time. It remains among the largest commercial installations of Rookwood tile in this country.

Upstairs is the Pritzker Military Museum. It’s small but houses a library, and an interesting collection of artifacts and wartime recruitment posters. I got a kick out of seeing this field sewing kit and a tin containing a military button polishing kit.

Next stop is the Art Institute, with its pair of life size bronze lions guarding its doors, a gift from Mrs. Henry Field when it was rebuilt after the Chicago Fire. I find the Textile Gallery closed (there’s always something closed!). The Decorative Arts gallery has a piece of office furniture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. I later found out that he also designed bric-a-brac for his homes, and even the gowns his wife wore …

Downstairs I find a room of miniature rooms, built by Mrs. James Ward Thorne for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933-34. She became an active fundraiser for organizations like the Women’s Exchange, which gave women the opportunity to sell handcrafts to subsidize their household income. The rooms are built to a scale of 1″=1′. The hats in the settees below are are less than an inch tall, hard to photograph both due to their size, the glass cases and the dim lighting. You can see more of these miniature rooms here.

I spent a lot of time in the Armor Room – my favorites are here. After escaping that room, I find small illuminations mounted in recesses in the wall of a hallway. This pair is from a “Lives of the Saints” circa 1250/1300, tempera with pen and ink on parchment, depicting Saint Lucy (a Roman martyr, at left) and Saint Scholastica, sister of Saint Benedict and a founder of female monasticism.

I resumed my self guided architectural tour along Michigan Avenue, which was a residential district on the waterfront of Lake Michigan until it was destroyed during the Chicago Fire. As the city was being rebuilt, debris was dumped and built over, similar to how Seattle was extended out into the Puget Sound.

The Gage Building was a trio of buildings built by the same architects in 1898, as a millinery factory for the three millinery firms – Gage, Keith and Ascher. It’s facade was designed by Louis Sullivan and recalls the Arts & Crafts movement of medieval revivalism that was popular at the time in both the US and Europe. The ground floor is now a restaurant.

The Singer Building dates to 1926, architects were Mundie & Jensen. It’s 10 stories tall but only 140 feet wide due to land speculation fever and subsequent prices in the 1920’s. It housed mostly offices and some repair facilities. I had to duck into the alley and reach above my head to touch the original building. The bottom floor is now a Subway sandwich shop.

Today I saw about a third of the sites on my list. I spent the evening paring down my ‘must-see’ list and reading up on The Rookery, the commercial building I would visit tomorrow morning. So much to see here …

Wright Design Elements

I spent a week in Chicago in May 2018 to see the architecture, especially the works of Frank Lloyd Wright, whose works I have admired for quite some time. In a reversal of my normal practice, I have posted the full-length text of this day in Chicago to Daveno Travels, and am using this post to share architectural elements from Wright’s home and studio, and the Unity Temple in Oak Park, that may inspire some of my future works.

Lotus patterned leaded glass window in the dining room. Patterned glass such as this and the diamond pattern you see frequently in homes of this era, allow light to enter, while providing privacy since the disruptions in the glass make it nearly impossible to see in from the outside.

The ceiling light in the dining room is thought to be the first use of recessed, indirect lighting. The grillwork in this ceiling light is stylized oak branches and leaves, and is the same size as the dining room table that sits directly below it.

Stencil in the master bedroom. Wright was American-born with Welsh ancestry. He reflected it in his work by incorporating Celtic motifs from the Tree of Life and the Book of Knowledge throughout his home. This is stencil graces the upper wall and continues all the way around the master bedroom.

A floor grate bringing heat from the central heating system.

The skylight in the Children’s Playroom is a fretsawed grille in a geometric pattern of prickly ash leaves and pods. I have already incorporated a motif from this grille into one of my hat designs.

A stained glass door leading to the street from the Children’s Playroom.

Glass skylights in the Reception Hall (where Wright received guests and clients before taking them into his nearby office). It is inspired by nature as were many of Wright’s designs.

Unity Temple, an exterior shot.

A ceiling light fixture / skylight in the Unity House, the common rooms adjacent to the Temple.

A window in the Unity Temple (in the worship area).

I have also started a board on Pinterest dedicated to the works of Frank Lloyd Wright that I visited in Chicago.