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During the Gilded Age, the American traditions of New Year’s Eve started to transition from the folk celebrations of immigrants to the elaborate soirees we are more familiar with today, especially for those of a certain class.

New Year’s Eve in Chicago and at the Nickerson Mansion

Chicagoans in the Gilded Age celebrated New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in a similar manner to the way many Americans do today.  The week leading up to New Year’s was full of entertainment, with society leaders like Bertha Palmer and Matilda Nickerson hosting grand New Year’s Eve events where guests danced in the New Year to music played by Johnny Hand’s Orchestra, Gilded Age Chicago’s favorite bandleader.

Johnny Hand conducting his orchestra. Chicago Daily Tribune, “Round About Chicago: Johnny Hand,”. September 15, 1910. The paper noted, “Nobody that was anybody could think of  giving a party until they knew if they could get Johnny Hand to play.”

Johnny Hand conducting his orchestra. Chicago Daily Tribune, “Round About Chicago: Johnny Hand,” September 15, 1910. The paper noted, “Nobody that was anybody could think of giving a party until they knew if they could get
Johnny Hand to play.”

In 1890, the Nickerson’s “Marble Palace” was the site of a lavish New Year’s Eve Reception. The guest list of over sixty-five included the children of neighbors and other prominent Chicago families from both the North and South sides.  The Nickersons followed the common practice of featuring elaborate floral arrangements at receptions.  The marble hall was “decorated with calla lilies” and “the centre-piece on the dining-room table consisted of a bank of delicate pink carnations on a background of maiden-hair ferns.” (Chicago Daily Tribune, “Children Make Merry,” January 1, 1891).

The Chicago Daily Tribune, "Mrs. Nickerson's Party," January 1, 1891.

The Chicago Daily Tribune, “Mrs. Nickerson’s Party,” January 1, 1891.

Dressing Up for New Year’s Eve 

Just as it is customary today to wear something with plenty of glitz and glamour, guests also wore fashion-forward designs in the Gilded Age to New Year’s Eve events. Men wore formal “white tie” dress with black tailcoats while women donned glamorous evening gowns often designed by the preeminent House of Worth in Paris, and received great attention in the society pages of the newspapers.  According to one account, Bertha Palmer wore a “black velvet gown, the bodice studded with diamonds, and a diamond tiara in her hair” at her New Year’s Eve cotillion (“In the Society World,” January 6, 1901).

Left: Cover of Ladies Home Journal from January 1901 Right: Bertha Honoré Palmer. From Address and Reports of Mrs. Potter Palmer, 1894.

Left: Cover of Ladies Home Journal from January 1901 Right: Bertha Honoré Palmer.
From Address and Reports of Mrs. Potter Palmer, 1894.

New Year’s Eve at the Mansions of Newport

Newport, Rhode Island was home to some of the most fabulous mansions of the Gilded Age.  Although initially established as a quiet summer retreat for the newly-wealthy, as the nineteenth century progressed, Newport became a center for the affluent to gather not only during the summer but also during the winter holiday season.  New York society elites, like the Vanderbilts and Astors, threw lavish New Year’s Eve receptions and hosted sumptuous New Year’s Day events reflective of their newly established social status.  Newport celebrations continued to rise in prominence and eventually society reporters began travelling from New York City to cover these spectacular events. While across the nation prominent families of the Gilded Age hosted exclusive and extravagant New Year’s events, Newport was one of the most popular destinations.

Celebrating With Champagne

When attending a New Year’s Eve reception, guests enjoyed novel party favors, refreshments featuring the “delicacies of the season,” a light super (often featuring en vogue French cuisine) at midnight, and plenty of champagne.

moet-chandon

Chicago Daily Tribune, “Moët & Chandon,” December 16, 1901.

French Champagne became a popular drink among wealthy Americans who enjoyed the perceived sophistication of the drink and its intoxicating effects. Beginning in the 1870s, Americans consumed champagne in “astonishing” large quantities and would often pay exorbitant prices for the imported beverage (champagne was subject to import taxes).  In 1894, for example, Americans imported over 70,000 cases of champagne, a significantly greater amount than just twenty-five years before (Chicago Daily Tribune, “Champagne Drank in This Country,” February 24, 1894). Etiquette manuals gave advice on how to host a “bachelor” Champagne supper, and champagne was the drink of choice for celebratory toasts- including on New Year’s Eve. French Brands such as Moët & Chandon catered to the luxury market, with advertisements persuading Chicagoans that the “ablest excerpts” pronounced the brand to be “without question, far superior in quality to any other brands” (Chicago Daily Tribune, “Moët & Chandon ‘White Seal’ Champagne,” May 1, 1900).

Alphonse Mucha, Menu, c. 1899, The Richard H. Driehaus Collection. For more information on this work by Mucha, visit L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters, opening February 11, 2017.

Alphonse Mucha, Menu, c. 1899, The Richard H. Driehaus Collection. For more information on this work by Mucha, visit L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters, opening February 11, 2017.

New Year’s festivities during the Gilded Age reflected the evolving expectations of celebrations, from the lavish receptions of the wealthy to the café and dancehall revelries of the middle and working classes.  Although at the time celebrating with champagne would have been reserved for society’s elite, champagne is a nearly obligatory part of New Year’s Eve rituals today. We still associate champagne with social status, sophistication, and prosperity. So when you raise your glass of champagne to usher in the New Year, you are making a gesture that is a nod to the past, while also celebrating the future New Year and all of its possibilities.

Sources:

Top image: Wikipedia

Chertoff, Emily. “How Rich People Celebrated New Year’s Eve in the Gilded Age.” The Atlantic. (2012). http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/12/how-rich-people-celebrated-new-years-eve-in-the-gilded-age/266663/.

Glover, Ellye Howell. “Dame Curtsey’s” Book of Etiquette. Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1909.

Sengstock, Charles A., Jr. That Toddlin’ Town: Chicago’s White Dance Bands and Orchestras, 1900-1950. Chicago and Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Chicago Daily Tribune, "Suppression of Vice: Organizing the Chicago Branch," September 27, 1879.

Chicago Daily Tribune, “Suppression of Vice: Organizing the Chicago Branch,” September 27, 1879.

“The object, purpose, and aim in view of the Society and its branches, as set forth in the constitution and in the brief but pointed talk which followed the making of the report, were to put down the vile traffic in obscene books, pictures, etc., by prosecuting those responsible for it either under the Revised Statutes or the State laws. The extent of the evil, which has shown its ugly head with peculiarly refreshing boldness of late, was dwelt upon to some extent, and the movement met with the unqualified moral and financial support of all present. The constitution was unanimously adapted…”

Right: Original ink drawing for "A Dreadful Predicament" by Samuel D. Ehrhart. Left: Anthony Comstock. By Photographer unknown; author of book Charles Gallaudet Trumbull [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Right: Original ink drawing for “A Dreadful Predicament” by Samuel D. Ehrhart.
Left: Anthony Comstock. By Photographer unknown; author of book Charles Gallaudet Trumbull [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Puck & Anthony Comstock

In the southwest corner of the “Social Commentary” Gallery of With a Wink and a Nod there is a small, unassuming cartoon featuring a woman in “a dreadful predicament” and the lurking figure of Anthony Comstock. The cartoon pokes fun at the woman’s hesitation in bending over to tie her shoelace- a rather innocuous activity that she is afraid Comstock will interpret as an action with lascivious intent. In 1873, Congress passed the Comstock Law, which was the first anti-obscenity statute to be adopted at the federal level. In effect, the law made it illegal to send “obscene, lewd or lascivious” materials and information through the mail.

Anthony Comstock was the United States Postal Inspector, which gave him the authority to enforce the Comstock obscenity law. He also became the leader of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice- and a notorious public figure. He was not just an arbitrator of morality, he had the force of law and order on his side. We may share in Puck’s amusement at the thought of Comstock over-stepping his purview as a regulator of morality, but the Comstock Act did have far-reaching (and even tragic) consequences. Not satisfied with the work being done in his native East Coast, Comstock and the Society for the Suppression of Vice set their sights on Chicago, a city with a notorious reputation.  One of the missions of the Chicago Branch of the Society of the Suppression of Vice was to “prosecut[e] those responsible” for the “vile traffic in obscene books, pictures, etc.” (Chicago Daily Tribune, “Suppression of Vice,” Sept. 27, 1879).

Souvenir Map of the World’s Columbian Exposition, Jackson Park, 1893. Hermann Heinz Source: Chicago Historical Society (ICHi-27750)

Chicago first drew Comstock’s attention during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, where he was (in particular) horrified by the danse du ventre famously performed by “Little Egypt” at the Egyptian Theater.

comstockblogimage2

Left: Portrait of Ida Craddock. Circa 1900. Source www.idacraddock.org.
Right: Little Egypt, the stage name of dancer Fahreda Mahzar. By The original uploader was Ratwod at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Anthony Comstock faces Ida Craddock in Chicago

While Comstock found so-called belly dancing to be indecent and obscene, author, High Priestess of Yoga, and leader of “peculiar religion” Miss Ida C. Craddock publicly and passionately supported the dance. In fact, Craddock supported many things that Comstock considered indecent- and he prosecuted her to the full extent of the law for “having circulated improper literature through the United States mails” (Chicago Daily Tribune, “Author Ends her Life,” October 18,1902).

Craddock was arrested in Chicago in 1899 and spent time in prison.  Instead of backing down from the expression of her beliefs, she continued to publish literature and speak to the public about sexual education. Comstock personally arrested her again in 1902, and when she was again convicted, Craddock decided to become a martyr for the cause of freedom of expression.

Ida Craddock’s court battles with Anthony Comstock ultimately helped shape the interpretation of the First Amendment, including freedom of speech and freedom of the press. In 1906, Theodore Schroeder, an attorney for the Free Speech League of New York, was set to debate Anthony Comstock at the Purity conference in Chicago. Comstock did not show, but Schroeder spoke on behalf of free speech to the crowd anyway.  Echoing Ida Craddock, Schroeder argued for the “development of healthy mindedness through sexual education” instead of the current suppression of anything deemed “obscene.” (Chicago Daily Tribune, “Purity Debate One-Sided,” October 11, 1906).

Puck, "A Dreadful Predicament," vol. 12, no. 570, February 8, 1888.

Puck, “A Dreadful Predicament,” vol. 12, no. 570, February 8, 1888.

“O, dear me, what shall I do? My shoe string has come untied, and there’s that dreadful Anthony Comstock just behind me!”

Anthony Comstock saw Gilded Age cities like Chicago as tarnished, and sought to suppress anything that continued to mar the city’s character. Ida Craddock, on the other hand, seemed to recognize that there was greater danger in suppression than expression. Unlike Puck, which just scoffed at the absurdity of the Comstock Law, she worked to combat it.

 

Further Reading/Viewing

For more on Ida Craddock and her crusade: http://www.npr.org/2011/07/15/131878498/a-wanton-woman-the-life-of-ida-c-craddock.

For a motion-picture filmed by Thomas Edison of a “belly dancer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxZoXJBILbc.

Claire, Museum Guide at the Driehaus Museum

Claire, Museum Guide at the Driehaus Museum

Our staff is always asked about our backgrounds and how they came to work at the Driehaus Museum.  So we wanted to share some of our amazing team with everyone.  And, as always, let us know if you have any other questions.

First name?  Claire

What is your title and what role does your position play at the Driehaus Museum?  Museum guide. I give tours of the Nickerson mansion to guests of the museum.

How long have you worked at the Museum? 8.5 Months

Where are you from/where do you currently reside?  I am from Minnesota and I currently live in Wicker Park

What is your education/experience background? How or why did you come to work at the Driehaus Museum?  I have a Bachelor’s degree from DePaul University in anthropology and art history. I also have a Master’s in Archaeology from the University of Glasgow.

If you were a staff member of the Nickerson Mansion at the turn of the century, what role would you have and why?  Probably something like a ladies’ maid because I hate doing dishes and laundry.

If you were trapped in the Museum overnight, what would you do?  Expect all of the objects to come to life.

What is your favorite movie?   My favorite movie is probably a tie between The Princess Bride and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

What is your favorite holiday/program or event at the Museum?  I liked working the Driehaus Prize event because we got to go into the Murphy Auditorium.

What is your dream job?  Something in the curatorial department in a museum dealing with art objects, artifacts, etc.

Tell us about one of your favorite moments during your time working at the Museum?  I thought it was pretty funny when someone asked me to explain hysteria during a tour.

Lindsay, Marketing Manager at the Driehaus Museum

Lindsay, Marketing Manager at the Driehaus Museum

Our staff is always asked about our backgrounds and why we ended up working for the Driehaus Museum.  So we wanted to share some of our amazing team with everyone.  And, as always, let us know if you have any other questions.

First name? Lindsay

What is your title and what role does your position play at the Driehaus Museum? Marketing Manager – I handle the advertising, marketing, social media, PR, as well as the website for the Museum.

Where are you from/where do you currently reside? I grew up in a tiny town outside of Houston, Texas.  In 2006, my wife and I moved to Chicago sight unseen and fell in love with the Lakeview area. We decided to try out downtown living in 2013, moved to the South Loop, and have enjoyed being able to walk to/from anything happening in the city such as the Pritzker Pavilion, Art Institute, Lollapalooza, Jazz Fest, etc.

What is your education/experience background? How or why did you come to work at the Driehaus Museum? I have a BFA in Graphic Design & Advertising, as well as minors in both English and Art History from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.  My dream was to work in an art museum, and tried on many occasions to get a job at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.  Each time I was told to start lower – interning, volunteering, or taking a small job such as in the store.

When we moved to Chicago, the job I was transferring with fell through once we got into the city which caused me to start a hunt for something new.  A position opened up as a supervisor in the store at The Field Museum and I easily got the job with my extensive retail background.  It only took about 6 months until I was promoted to the back office area helping out the buyers.  I stayed with the Field for over 8 years, holding several different positions, lastly in the Communications department. During my time at the Field, I went back to school and earned a Masters of Arts in Museum Studies, as I had finally decided that this was the career for me.

I decided I missed my art history roots, began searching out art museums in the city and happened upon the Driehaus Museum.  After reading about how new (in the museum world) it was and how the Museum was started thanks to Mr. Driehaus, I was shocked that more people in the city didn’t know about it.  And I wanted to tell everyone.  So when the position for the Marketing Manager came up I knew I had to jump on it so I could tell everyone about this hidden treasure of a museum!

If you were a staff member of the Nickerson Mansion at the turn of the century, what role would you have and why? Most likely the cook since I love cooking and entertaining for others.

If you were trapped in the Museum overnight, what would you do? If it was possible, I would light the fireplace in the Front Parlor, pull the sofa from the Drawing Room into the Parlor, bring in a bottle of wine, and read by fire light in the mansion as the city bustles about outside.

What is your favorite movie?  Book? Favorite movie is Jurassic Park.  Favorite book is a tie between Orlando by Virginia Woolf, The Princess Bride and any of the Harry Potter books (though Goblet of Fire has always held a special place in my heart).

What is your favorite holiday/program or event at the Museum? The Summer Servants tour.  I have never experienced a living history tour until coming to the Driehaus Museum.  It is a engaging and educational way to learn about the Nickerson family, the house, as well as the Gilded Age.

What is your dream job? Ever since I was little I wanted to be a paleontologist – but then I discovered you had to be decent at math, which is my worst subject.  So if they took that part out and just let me dig in the dirt all day I would be a happy camper.

Tell us about one of your favorite moments during your time working at the Museum? The day we announced the Downton Abbey exhibition to the public was so much fun.  Watching the press and social media grabbing onto to the news and being so excited about it made me smile.  Not to mention the amount of messages from my own friends wanting to come see it.  Sorry guys! You have to wait until October to purchase tickets just like everyone else! I cannot wait to see this exhibition in person when it’s installed inside the mansion.  It’s going to be very elegant and so enjoyable for fans of the show, myself included.

It’s finally summer in Chicago and you’ve done the usual:  baseball game, boat tours, street festivals and so forth.  It’s time to check out some of the gems of the city, some of which a lot of people don’t realize are right near them.  We are going back through the archives of the Driehaus Museum Blog to suggest some great places to bike or take the train over and explore!

The Other McCormickville: Lincoln Park’s Seminary Townhouses – Right off the Fullerton Train Station are historic townhouses preserving pieces of Chicago’s Gilded Age.

A Visit to Jackson Park – Did you know that the Museum of Science and Industry is housed in a building built for the 1893 World’s Fair? Or that nearby there’s a Japanese garden from the same fair?  Take a step back to 1893 all throughout Jackson Park.

Going to Graceland – Burnham, McCormick, Sullivan, Field, Glessner.  If you live in Chicago, you most likely recognize these last names.  A visit to the Graceland Cemetery is a must for anyone who appreciates Chicago history.

Do you have any other favorite little-known places to visit in Chicago?

 

 

 

 

By: Tasia Hoffman (with a little help from Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer)

World's Fair

The standard for the American mind, wrote M.G. Van Rensselaer, is to be “alive with mere curiosity as [much as] it is with a craving for instruction—pleased to look at anything, discontented only to think that other people are seeing things with which it cannot make acquaintance.” A perceptive and proactive woman, Mrs. Van Rensselaer published an article in Century Magazine that advised prospective visitors on how to best explore the 1893 World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago. She warned that the visitor’s mind must be strictly trained to adhere to her “plan of campaign” but, in return, promised that time, energy, and disappointment would be saved.

MammothOctoMrs. Van Rensselaer’s steps are summarized as follows:

1. The first day belongs to curiosity. This is the day to roam the Fairgrounds, admire scenic views, and determine how much exertion the body can sustain. To ensure the best experience possible, utilize all available means of transportation—railways, boats, and rolling-chairs—and avoid entering any of the buildings.

2. On the second day, the wise visitor will stay in bed, at home, all day, to recover from the first day.

3. The third day is for learning; one must seek out what one has come to the Fair to study. If consumption of that material becomes exhausting, allow the mind to relax by visiting an unrelated exhibit.

“The things you know least about, and care least about, will then seem delightful, for you will have purchased the right to idle, and only its purchasers know the whole of the charm of idling.”

4. The previous step may need to be repeated in order to complete one’s studies.

Mrs. Van Rensselaer recommended that one tackle her “plan of campaign” as a solo endeavor. She tried the hand-in-hand method of perusing the Fair herself and reported, “I do not know which is more exasperating—to drag an unsympathetic soul about with you…or to be an unsympathetic soul dragged about…”

Lunch1893Mrs. Van Rensselaer encouraged husbands and wives to part willingly in order to view ethnological antiquities, dolls documenting the history of fashion, sporting goods, and kindergarten methods, among other exhibits, under more amiable circumstances. She also urged women to separate from their friends, stating, “Every woman knows that two women shopping together do not ‘accomplish’ half as much as though they had shopped separately…[and] the crowded galleries of the Fair will be like colossal shops…” She reassured her readers, vouching for the Fair as a safe place, one so filled with people that it would be impossible to annoyingly follow and observe any single individual.

The Van Rensselaer program never pledged a comprehensive experience of the Fair. In fact, Mrs. Van Rensselaer acknowledged the Fair’s unattainability by way of its size, “…no one can see the whole of a Fair like this [one]…” She did state, however, that her pupils would leave the Fair enriched and contented, knowing that they were able to enjoy the Fair as a place of knowledge and scholarship as well as a place of beauty and amusement.

FruitBell2

Citations:
For article:
Burns, Sarah, and John Davis. American Art to 1900: A Documentary History. Berkley: University of California Press, 2009.
For images:
  • “Palace of Mechanic Arts and lagoon at the World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, Illinois”
        Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Fisher gallery picA young architect carved the distinctive lion heads on the lacquered-cherry wood fireplace mantel and the bookcases in the gallery of the Marble Palace. He was Robert E. Seyfarth, (Born 1878, Blue Island, Illinois) and an employee of both August Fiedler and George Washington Maher.

Seyfarth studied at the Chicago Manual Training School founded under the auspices of the Commercial Club of Chicago.

It was a private secondary institution that taught drafting and shop as well as a regular high school curriculum. Located at 11th and Michigan, the campus was later moved to the University of Chicago where it was absorbed into the lab school program.

Chicago_Manual_Training_School_cropped

Illustration of the Chicago Manual Training School

first Seyfarth house in Blue Island_cropped

The first Seyfarth house in Blue Island

Seyfarth went to work as a draughtsman for August Fiedler after graduation in 1895. At the same time he joined the Chicago Architectural Club where he most likely met influential Prairie School architect George Washington Maher. By 1900, Seyfarth was involved in the redecoration of the trophy room and gallery of the home that Lucius George Fisher Jr. had recently purchased from Samuel Mayo Nickerson. Maher designed homes in Seyfarth’s hometown of Blue Island and that possibly helped to cement their relationship.

However by 1909, Seyfarth went into business for himself. Until the Depression, he had offices downtown. But the economic downturn forced him to relocate his practice to Highland Park, Illinois. No longer identifying with Maher’s Prairie School designs, the handsome homes Seyfarth created along Chicago’s North Shore and in the city have elements associated with Tudor and Colonial styles.Lawrence_Howe_House_Winnetkaarticle on Seyfarth

 

800px-Seyfarth_House_-2_Highland_Park_1911_photoFor a gallery of Seyfarth’s homes click here.  Much of Seyfarth’s work was photographed and he was a proponent of advertising as a means of marketing his practice. He would remain a vibrant and engaged member of the Highland Park community until his death in 1950.

 

Sources: http://www.robertseyfartharchitect.com/

 

 

Visitors to the Driehaus Museum often cite the gallery as a favorite room with its marvelous stained glass dome and massive wood-burning fireplace. Lined with lacquered cherry bookcases and featuring an iridescent mosaic tile Art Nouveau surround, it is the one room in the mansion that was completely redecorated in 1901 thanks to the second owner, Lucius George Fisher Jr.Gallery, The Richard H. Driehaus Museum_Photo by Alexander Vertikoff, 2011

Perhaps Fisher wanted to put his own stamp on the Nickerson’s distinctive décor? Or did he just want a grand showcase for his collection of rare books and hunting memorabilia? Whatever his reasons, he hired one of the great Prairie School architects of the day, George Washington Maher.

George W. Maher

George W. Maher

Maher was born in Mill Creek, West Virginia in 1864. But by the age of thirteen he was living in Chicago and apprenticed to the architectural firm of Bauer and Hill. Thanks to the Fire of 1871, Chicago had become a center for innovative building design. After a stint with Joseph Silsbee where he worked as a draughtsman alongside Frank Lloyd Wright, Maher opened his own firm in 1888. Influenced by the styles of H. H. Richardson and Louis Sullivan, Maher’s houses reflect the “form follows function” dictum associated with Sullivan’s work. But while fellow architect Wright would follow the elaborate ornamentation of Sullivan’s cursive elements, Maher would eventually lean towards the Arts and Crafts movement in the houses he designed.

ely house

Ely House, Kenilworth, Illinois

hart house

Hart House, Kenilworth, Illinois

roe house

 

Beginning in 1893 with his own home in the northern suburb of Kenilworth, Maher went on to design forty distinctive houses there as well as several homes in Chicago’s historic Hutchinson Street District in Uptown. At the same time, he became allied with the developer of the Edgewater community on Chicago’s lakefront, producing a series of homes that still stand today on Sheridan Road.

pleasant home oak park

Pleasant Home, Oak Park, Illinois

But the most influential commission Maher would receive was from John Farson. The house now known as Pleasant Home in Oak Park, Illinois would establish the tenets of Prairie School design for posterity. Its success was copied time and again by other architects of the period.

At the same time, Maher was developing a unified design concept known as the Motif-Rhythm Theory. By incorporating an element in both the exterior and interior of the building—say a local plant, a geometric shape—he created some kind of decorative element throughout that ties the whole project together.

Maher Coffee Set

Maher silver coffee set.

Not only did Maher create plans for innovative and beautiful homes, he designed furniture, lamps, silverware and stained glass.

Many of his houses have distinctive windows that either he drew or commissioned from other firms such as Giannini and Hilgart, Healy and Millet, and Tiffany Studios.

Tiffany Window Winona National Bank

Maher designed Tiffany Window Winona National Bank

So the next time you visit the gallery, take a look at the detailed thistle frieze below the glass dome and the unifying design of the room with its carved lion heads by disciple and architect Robert Seyfarth. Take a moment to savor the genius of a unique artist, someone very much ahead of his time.

Resource: http://www.georgemaher.com/

“We strongly advocate the use of different styles in different rooms, to avoid the monotonous effect invariably produced by the fanatic apostles of the so-called Eastlake or Modern Gothic. For the same reasons it will be necessary for articles of luxury, as Easels. Hanging Shelves, Cabinets, etc., to use motifs from the Mooresque, Byzantine, Japanese, etc., though diametrically opposed to the prevailing style of the room.” – August Fiedler

fielder pic

William August Fielder

The principal interior designer of the Nickerson Mansion was William August Fiedler. He was German, born at Elbing in 1842. August Fiedler as he would later come to be known studied architecture in his native country but immigrated to the United States in 1871. Like many of his fellow countrymen, he found his way to Chicago, taking advantage of the post Chicago Fire building boom. A perfectionist in his pursuit of quality, Fiedler began his career the way many architects of the period did–as an interior designer.

 

 

fieldler advertBy 1877, he had his own furniture business, A. Fiedler and Company at 24 - 26 Van Buren Street. As a decorator, Fieldler would leave behind a lasting legacy in the richly carved details of the Hegeler Carus Mansion in downstate LaSalle, Illinois, built between 1874-1876. The high finishes of his custom woodwork and furniture attracted the attention of Samuel Mayo Nickerson who hired him to design some of the rooms for his new home at 317 Erie Street in Chicago (now the Richard H. Driehaus Museum at 40 East Erie). fiedler dining room

Fiedler’s impeccable attention to the smallest elements of style shine. He created unique parquet flooring and architectural flourishes with such precision and beauty that he went bankrupt by not charging his wealthy clients enough to compensate for the quality work he produced.

Visitors to the Hegeler Carus Mansion will recognize many similarities between that home and the Nickerson’s Marble Palace. The hand turned columns and cornices of the two homes are reminiscent of each other as are the ornate carvings that surround the fireplaces. Fiedler’s innovative use of turned wood spindles, decorative mantels and wainscoting are common to both interiors.

millwork hegeler carus mansion

Millwork detail, Hegeler Carus Mansion

carved sideboard hegeler carus

Fiedler carved sideboard, Hegeler Carus Mansion

800px-Hegeler_Carus_2_August_Fiedler_interiors

Parlor with parquet flooring and custom millwork, Hegeler Carus Mansion

Germania_Club,_August_Fiedler_arch

Germania Hall now the Germania Club at Clark and Germania Place.

But August Fiedler also began to design buildings here in Chicago and around the Midwest. He completed the Germania Hall in 1888 along with fellow architect John Addison and built private homes in Blue Island and Milwaukee.

 

Moorish_palace_labyrinth,_august_fiedler_archIn 1893 when the World’s Fair drew the curious multitudes to the White City, one of the standout buildings was Fiedler’s Moorish Palace, patterned after the Alhambra of Spain. It was one of three pavilions Fiedler designed for the Colombian Exhibition.

Long time Chicagoans will remember Henrici’s Restaurant on Randolph Street, another Fiedler project. On the city’s Gold Coast, 1547 North Dearborn Parkway is another of his sumptuously detailed interiors replete with lavish woodcarvings in an 18,000 square foot city estate.

In 1893, Fiedler was named the first Chief Architect for the Chicago Board of Education. He supervised the construction of fifty-eight schools and designed many including Burley, Goethe, Eugene Field and Pullman.

800px-Goethe_school,_August_fiedler_arch

Fiedler was elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. He died in Chicago in 1903.

 

For information about our upcoming trip to the Hegeler Carus Mansion on Wednesday, June 4, please visit our website.

 

 

Sources:

A. Fiedler and L. W. Murray, Artistic Furnishing and House Decoration, (C. H. Blakely & Co., printers, 1877)

http://chicagohistoricschools.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/william-august-fiedler/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Burnhamandroot/Sandbox

 

 

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The Driehaus Museum is excited to introduce its first Book Club series.  We begin the series with Sally Sexton Kalmbach’s book Jewel of the Gold Coast: Mrs. Potter Palmer’s Chicago. The Jewel of the Gold Coast book clubs take place on January 30th and February 5th.  Here is a brief selection from the book, as well as a conversation with Anna Wolff, Driehaus Museum Educator.

 

An Excerpt from The Jewel of the Gold Coast

On a warm day in late July of 1870, Bertha Honore married Potter Palmer at her parents’ fashionable limestone home at 157 Michigan Avenue, across the street from today’s site of the Art Institute of Chicago. The tree-lined residential street was filled with carriages depositing the forty relatives and close friends who attended the wedding ceremony. At 6 p.m. a pastor from the First Christian Church performed the ceremony. A wedding supper for seven hundred followed the service, catered by Kinsley’s, one of the most celebrated restaurants of the day. Noted for its oysters shipped from the East Coast, Kinsley’s was located on Washington Street between Dearborn and State, not far from the Honore home.

The petite 5’5″ dark-eyed woman of 21 was dressed in a gown of white satin and rose-point lace designed by Charles Frederick Worth, a designer who dominated Parisian fashion in the later half of the nineteenth century. Orange blossoms were arranged in her brown hair. Her small waist was encircled by a corset, an item of clothing in vogue throughout most of her life.

Potter Palmer was a happy man. At the age of forty-four, he was the most eligible bachelor in Chicago. He had illustrated his business acumen by amassing millions, traveled extensively in Europe, sown his wild oats, and now he was marrying the intelligent and graceful woman who had captured his attention eight years previously.

Her wedding present was the new Palmer House Hotel, valued at $3,500,000, and just being completed at the time of their marriage.

After the ceremony, the newly married couple departed for Europe, but Paris was not part of the itinerary because of the Franco-Prussian war raging in France. This was Bertha’s first journey to Europe, but her introduction to Paris and the Impressionists lay in the future.

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What do you hope participants will get out of joining in the discussion?

Anna Wolff:  I see the book club as a relaxed way for our guests and members to further engage topics related to the museum.  We’ll be discussing Gilded Age fiction, biographies, and history with the authors and will expound upon the book from a literary perspective as well as discuss the larger historical context of its content.  Our Book Club is a great way for patrons to get to know each other better in an informal setting over shared interests.

How did you decide which books would be used for the first book club?

Clara_and_Mr_TiffanyWolff:  March’s Book Club will feature Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland.  This was a natural fit for us since Ms. Vreeland will speak in an informal lecture earlier that week.  With our current exhibition “Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection” we chose a book that celebrates that time period.

People are always very interested in Bertha Palmer. Since the book, The Jewel of the Gold Coast: Mrs. Potter Palmer’s Chicago, sells well in our Museum Store we knew many visitors and members would be interested in discussing the book and meeting its author in an intimate setting. For the winter series we found it very fitting to have one historic fictional novel and one more rooted in fact.

The first book featured is Jewel of the Gold Coast by Sally Kalmbach. What has it been like working with her on this new project?

Wolff:  Sally is a wealth of knowledge that is always eager to share information.  She will be bringing historic documents, images, and illustrations to further explain who Bertha Palmer was.

What did you find most interesting when reading The Jewel of the Gold Coast: Mrs. Potter Palmer’s Chicago?

Wolff:  I found it particularly interesting to learn about Mrs. Palmer’s life as an art collector.  I gained an understanding of who she actually was as opposed to her legacy as an art collector.  The process of her becoming an art collector is far different than I ever expected.

What’s next…what are some books you would like to include in future book clubs?

Wolff:  I would love to feature Devil in the White City or Death in the Haymarket both have a strong connection to Chicago history and are fascinating reads.