Archives For Gilded Age

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.

Frederick Walton, Gilded Age Inventor

Standing on the shoulders of the Industrial Revolution, the Gilded Age spawned an astounding number of inventions that profoundly changed life inside the American household. Those last few decades of the 19th  century will always be known as a great era of invention. Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb and built the first power station; he also gave us the phonograph for listening to music and the kinetoscope for watching motion pictures. Alexander Graham Bell created the telephone. Eastman Kodak produced the first camera for amateurs. Dr. John Pemberton sold the first bottles of Coca-Cola in Atlanta. John Kellogg accidentally discovered flaked cereal and changed American breakfast forever.

Frederick Walton isn’t as famous as Edison or Kellogg, but his defining invention is just as ubiquitous as Frosted Flakes. Walton, an inventor from England, gave the world linoleum.

Walton started his career working with his father and brother in a small family workshop where they manufactured India rubber (natural rubber made from the sap of the rubber tree, and a favored waterproof industrial material).

In 1855, Walton happened to notice the way a used can of oil-based paint would develop a thick, leathery ring around the lid. The flaxseed oil in the paint seemed to slowly oxidize and harden over time. “It occurred to me that…I could use it as a…waterproofing material, similar to [natural] india rubber,” Walton wrote. After figuring out how to fast-track the natural oxidization process by boiling the oil, he began to experiment with the material’s durability, attempting to dissolve the plastic-like oxidized oil in a solvent, or seeing how it took to water, oil, or heat. It was—as you know, if you’ve ever had a linoleum floor—impervious. It was also cheaper than India rubber.

In 1863, Walton took out a patent for the “Improvement of the Manufacture of a Wax Cloth for Floors”. He used straightforward Latin for the name of his new material—flax, also known as linseed (Latin: linum), and oil (Latin: oleum). The ingredients and process he outlined in this and subsequent patents—oxidized linseed oil mixed with coal dust, cork or sawdust and resin, and pressed into sheets with electric rollers—are almost identical to that of 21st-century linoleum. In 1864, Walton launched the Linoleum Manufacturing Company in Staines-Upon-Thames.

2008-02-22_092738-Treehugger-linoleum

Statue of linoleum workers on the high street of Staines-Upon-Thames, England, commemorating the workers of Walton's factory.

Statue of linoleum workers on the high street of Staines-Upon-Thames, England, commemorating the workers of Walton’s factory.

Factory workers inlaying linoleum flooring.

Factory workers inlaying linoleum flooring.

c09da9d0d84525166b71120ca96c57fe

Linoleum became increasingly recognized as an inexpensive and easy-to-clean decorative material for dining rooms, passages, and kitchens. This illustration from the 1920s advertises an attractively painted linoleum rug.

This illustration from the 1920s advertises an attractively painted linoleum rug.

Linoleum became increasingly recognized as an inexpensive and easy-to-clean decorative material for dining rooms, passages, and kitchens. So what was initially meant for commercial and industrial use—protecting factory floors, for example—migrated into European and American households. Subsequent linoleum companies hired artists to paint decorative designs on the flooring surface, eventually integrating pigments in the manufacturing process. Molds and stencils created texture and inlaid patterns for hallways or carpet surrounds, until the material hit the height of popularity as 20th-century kitchen flooring.

 

From Linoleum to Lincrusta

Linoleum may have been a practical material, but Lincrusta-Walton would be a beautiful one. Walton patented this material, thinner than linoleum and beautifully sculpted with artistic patterns, in 1877. Again, the term is Latin, lin for linseed oil and crusta for a hardened material like plaster or stucco.

LIN_02

Walton outlined a manufacturing process similar to that of linoleum—oxidized linseed oil  blended with wood fiber, gum, resin, and paraffin wax and spread onto a canvas or paper backing. But once embossed by rollers and skillfully painted after installation, this new material could pose as hand-tooled leather, repoussé metal, carved wood, or ornate plasterwork—all coveted top-end home finishes during the Gilded Age. (Business-minded Walton was well aware from the beginning of Lincrusta’s copy-cat abilities; the first patterns he designed were imitations of Cordovan leather, a Renaissance mark of prestige.) Lincrusta was far less expensive than what it imitated, and as a new middle class of Americans with disposable income began to design and build grand homes in New York, Boston, and Chicago, provided an expanded palette for interiors striving for extravagance. By 1885, Beck & Co.—a Connecticut firm licensed by Walton’s firm—offered 150 different patterns of Lincrusta inspired by Egyptian, Greek, Persian, Moorish, Japanese, Medieval, Renaissance, Louis XIV, and Eastlake motifs.

Lincrusta would be purchased unpainted in an embossed pattern.

Lincrusta would be (and is still today) purchased unpainted in an embossed pattern, such as this one featuring  acanthus leaves.

 

Lincrusta wainscoting painted to resemble wood in an 1890 Boston home.

Lincrusta wainscoting painted to resemble wood in an 1890 Boston home.

Lincrusta lost none of the practical applications it shared with linoleum, however, and advertisements called it the “indestructible wallcovering.” Indeed, it proved waterproof, easy to clean, insect-resistant, and less prone to warping or cracking over time. Decorators and tastemakers enthusiastically recommended Lincrusta be applied to walls as dados, fills, and friezes.

 

Lincrusta at the Driehaus Museum

The Dining Room of the Nickerson Mansion (Fisher Period, ca. 1900).

The Dining Room of the Nickerson Mansion (Fisher Period, ca. 1900).

Lincrusta took the American nouveaux riche by storm, appearing in six luxury cabins aboard the fated ship RMS Titanic, in the White House, and John D. Rockefeller’s New York home.

For their new mansion in 1883, the Nickersons blended the latest in building technologies, such as fireproofing and indoor plumbing, with the latest in fashionable interior design.  Lincrusta featured prominently in the Dining Room and Smoking Room of the residence. In the Dining Room, the wall fill above the elaborately carved oak wainscoting emulates Spanish leather. Its design—embossed and scrolling leaves, painted burgundy and highlighted with gold by master artisans on-site—is inspired by the Renaissance. In the Smoking Room, the Lincrusta frieze featured a Japanesque pattern of red, black, and gold chrysanthemums.

When restoration of the Nickerson Mansion commenced in 2004, the Lincrusta in the Dining Room showed damage from objects hung on the walls, including framed paintings and stuffed animal heads.

When restoration of the Nickerson Mansion commenced in 2004, the Lincrusta in the Dining Room showed damage from objects hung on the walls, including framed paintings and stuffed animal heads.

 

Detail of the Japanesque chrysanthemum pattern on the Lincrusta upper frieze in the Nickerson Mansion Smoking Room.

Detail of the Japanesque chrysanthemum pattern on the Lincrusta upper frieze in the Nickerson Mansion Smoking Room.

During the 2004-08 restoration of the Samuel M. Nickerson Mansion, conservators found the Lincrusta had survived. But a hundred years’ worth of grime, salt, and nicotine stained its surface, and decorations (the Nickersons hung paintings, and the mansion’s second owners, the Fishers, displayed stuffed animal heads on the walls) had damaged it further. Late 19th-century advertisers had perhaps exaggerated Lincrusta’s strength; the material is actually more brittle and delicate than the hard materials it emulated. Care needed to be taken with cleaning so as not to damage it further. Parma Conservation, a Chicago firm, designed a unique solution to meticulously lift the grime without damaging the painted surface. Fill for missing areas was cast from molds taken from the intact Lincrusta, then painted to match. Today, the Lincrusta is luminous, complementing the sheen of the beautifully restored wood paneling in both rooms, as it did in 1883.

 

The Dining Room of the Nickerson Mansion after restoration.

The Dining Room of the Nickerson Mansion after restoration.

 

 

“Take one step inside the Nickerson Mansion and its splendor is obvious. Yet behind every architectural detail there are hidden stories. They are the stories of the craftsmen and artisans who created the carved mantles, tiled mosaics, scrolled marble capitals, and elaborately painted decorative schemes on the walls and ceilings within the house. It would be almost impossible today to find artisans capable of producing such exquisite details—the necessary skills are all but extinct.”  (Peter Schoenmann, Head Conservator of Paintings and Murals, Parma Conservation)

 

Resources
“Lincrusta-Walton: Can the Democratic Wallcovering be Revived?” Bruce Bradbury. The Old-House Journal, Vol. X No. 10, October 1892.
“Linoleum,” Bonnie Wehle Parks Snyder. Twentieth-Century Building Materials: History and Conservation. Edited by Thomas C. Jester (Getty Publications, 2004).
“Linoleum: A Chiswick Invention,” Ralph Parsons. Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal No. 5 (1996).
“Added Dimensions,” Lynn Elliott. Old House Interiors, Summer 2004.
“Conservation of Lincrusta-Walton Wall Coverings at the Nickerson House,” The Richard H. Driehaus Museum. http://www.driehausmuseum.org/pdf_documents/Driehaus_Museum_Lincrusta.pdf

This post is part of a series exploring the stories behind the Driehaus Museum’s latest exhibition, With a Wink and a Nod: Cartoonists of the Gilded AgeFor information on visiting the exhibition, click here

puck-logo

The Puck of Puck magazine isn’t exactly Bacchus from ancient myth. Nor does he really resemble the “knurly limed, faun faced, and shock-pated” creature from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Rather, he looks like cherub dressed as up a Gilded Age dandy—complete with a top hat and frock coat. The coat is left wide open to expose his chubby nude figure, and in his hands he holds the keys to Puck’s reign of American humor: a fountain pen and a hand mirror.

This is how Puck appeared in Puck magazine. This is also how he appears on the Puck Building exterior in New York City. Two gilded statues of this mischievous character still stand sentry outside the historic building, where, from 1887 to 1916, Puck turned out page after satirical page.

 

puck-statue

Statue of Puck above the Puck Building entrance. Image via The Bowery Boys: New York City History (boweryboyshistory.com), 24 April 2009.

The Austrian-born publisher of Puck, Joseph Keppler, commissioned the building in 1885. He’d launched an English-language version of his small German satirical magazine seven years ago, and Puck had become a milestone in the history of American humor, with circulation hitting 80,000 in the early 1880s and climbing to 90,000 by the end of the decade. Riding the tide of success, Keppler, along with printer Adolph Schwartzmann and lithographer J. Ottman went in together on a property on the edge of the great publishing district of New York City. They hired German-born New York architect Albert Wagner to envision what would become one of the most iconic buildings in Lower Manhattan. The seven-story structure occupied an entire city block. King’s Handbook of New York City called it “the largest building in the world devoted to the business of lithographing and publishing, having a floor area of nearly eight acres.”

Albert Wagner worked out a design for Keppler that reflected a distinctly German style of Romanesque and Renaissance Revival architecture, called Rundbogenstil. The repeating arches—Rundbogenstil literally means “round-arch style”—and intricate brickwork are hallmarks of this short-lived but popular late nineteenth-century style. Romanesque Revival’s popularity is tied to Henry Hobson Richardson (a New York architect known in Chicago for the Glessner House), but Wagner’s Romanesque Revival is different from Richardson’s. Richardsonian Romanesque is a tad heavier, with rusticated stone and squat columns, while Rundbogendstil has smooth facades and an elegant lightness.

puck building 1888

Puck Building Exterior, 1895, from King’s Photographic View of New York, via Daytonian in Manhattan. (daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com)

Haas Puckbldg sketch

Puck Building, Richard Haas, 1971. Image via The Old Print Shop, New York, oldprintshop.com.

puck building west

The massive brick building was constructed in three phases—the original structure was finished in 1885-86, expanded in 1892-93 to make more room for Puck printing, and altered in 1899 to make up for the intrusion of Lafayette Street into its footprint. Wagner closely supervised all three stages, giving cohesion to the building’s overall design. Seemingly endless arches of varying heights define three vertical sections of the façade, the richly colored brick contrasted by polished gray granite blocks, brownstone, and ornamental ironwork.

Little is known about Albert Wagner. He settled in New York in 1871 and worked for Leopold Eidlitz, a prominent Bohemian architect who may have passed his passion for Rundbogendstil on to his protégée. While Wagner never became as famous as Eidlitz, he kept up a busy stream of commissions for residential, commercial, and industrial buildings during his career. He died in 1898, leaving his firm and the final touches on the Puck Building’s last addition in the hands of his relative Herman Wagner.

The Puck team advertised their arrival in the neighborhood with typical tongue in cheek, topping off the building with statues of their mascot, larger than life and gleaming with gold leaf. Sculpted by Henry Baerer, the German-born artist known for his stern-faced bust of Beethoven in New York’s Central Park, the largest Puck statue stands above the building’s main entrance on Houston and Mulberry Street. (Another, smaller Puck is stationed above the Lafayette entrance.) The chubby sprite holds a hand mirror—the better to reflect society’s follies with—as well as a fountain pen. At his side hangs a book inscribed with his character’s jest in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “What fools these Mortals be!”

Puckbldg

Keppler, Udo J., , Artist. Puck: “Congratulations, Mr. President; they wanted you” / Keppler. N.Y.: J. Ottmann Lith. Co., Puck Bldg., November 9, 1904. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2011645584. Illustration shows Puck reaching from the Puck Building to the White House to congratulation Theodore Roosevelt for winning the presidential election; they are shaking hands.

NYU_Puck_Building (1)

The building housed the Puck editorial team and the J. Ottmann Lithography Company, which produced the groundbreaking full-color images for Puck ‘s front cover, back cover, and centerfold. They were joined by a number of other businesses, including a bookbindery, hat frame manufacturer, electrotyping company, and hat shop on the ground floor.

790px-Puck_Building

Puck printed its last issue in 1918. So what is the Puck Building today? In 1980, Kushner Companies acquired the building for office and retail space. And in 2011, they got approval from the Landmarks Commission to transform the upper floors of the Puck Building into six penthouses—think Italian marble baths, mahogany-framed windows, William McIntosh floor patterns, televisions inside the mirrors. Luckily, the renovation preserved elements of the building’s original identity. The barrel-vaulted brick ceilings and architectural columns were left exposed, and Puck Penthouse’s brand style even borrows from the magazine’s masthead.

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 2.58.06 PM

PuckPenthouses2

Puck Penthouses (Image via Curbed New York)

PuckPenthouses

Puck Penthouses (Image via Curbed New York)

 

Want to learn more about the magazine printed in the Puck building during its heyday? Puck‘s illustrations changed the shape of American humor. Join us for next week’s exhibition lecture with Janel Trull, curator of the exhibition With a Wink and a Nod: Cartoonists of the Gilded Age, on Thursday, September 8.

 

 

 

SOURCES
Finn, Robin. “Penthouses for the Puck Building.” The New York Times, Sept. 19, 2013.
Gaiter, Dorothy J. “Restored Puck Building Opens Today.” The New York Times, Apr. 20, 1983.
PUCK BUILDING, 295-309 Lafayette Street, Borough of Manhattan. Landmarks Preservation Commission, April 12, 1983, Designation List 164. LP-1226. Accessed via Neighborhood Preservation Center. (neighborhoodpreservationcenter.org/db/bb_files/1983PuckBuilding.pdf)
Puck Penthouses, puckpenthouses.com
“The Puck Building—Houston and Lafayette Streets”, Daytonian in Manhattan. 19 Jan 2011. http://daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/puck-building-houston-and-lafayette.html
Corie, Store Manager

Corie, Store Manager

First name? Corie-ann

What is your title and what role does your position play at the Driehaus Museum? Museum Store Manager – My job is to ensure the day to day running of the Museum Store.  I also choose and buy all of the merchandise and set up all of our displays.

How long have you worked at the Museum? I have worked at the Driehaus Museum for three years.

Where are you from/where do you currently reside?  I am originally from a small town just west of Boston.  I moved to Chicago in 2012 and I have loved every moment since coming here!  My husband and I live in University Village and we really enjoy all the new restaurants and stores that are starting to open in our neighborhood. It’s quiet but were still so close to everything downtown.  

What is your education/experience background? How or why did you come to work at the Driehaus Museum?  I went to the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth and received my B.A. in Art History in 2008.  I spent a semester studying at NYU in Paris and completed two internships at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  I was working outside my degree when I met my husband at the Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C.  He lived in Chicago and eventually I saw it as a great opportunity to move to a new city and get into the museum field.  I interviewed to be a volunteer at the Driehaus Museum and was hired to be a guide instead.  Three months later I was approached with the opportunity to open a new Museum Store for the Driehaus Museum and the rest is history!  

If you were a staff member of the Nickerson Mansion at the turn of the century, what role would you have and why? Could I be “Keeper of the Jewels”?  That is an official job title, right?  If not I would like to be the Ladies Maid.  I have some talent with hair and makeup and I like to think my fashion game is strong. 

If you were trapped in the Museum overnight, what would you do?  I would raid the refrigerator in the staff lounge and make up a lovely dinner for myself.  I would then set the grand table in the Nickerson’s dining room and eat my dinner there.  Since I have started working here I have always imagined what a dinner party would be like in the dining room.

What is your favorite movie?  Book?  I have a soft spot for Pixar Movies but period films tend to also draw me in.  I also read quite a bit but I always go back to Harry Potter every once in a while.

What is your favorite holiday/program or event at the Museum?  Anything tied to the holidays is my favorite.  Starting with the Murder Mystery event and then into our Christmas programming, it is the most fun time of year. I really can’t just choose one.  I do love having a pianist here during Santa Saturdays.  The house has so much energy when live music is being played.

What is your dream job? My dream job, ever since I was little, is to be an expert for the Antiques Roadshow.  I just need to choose a specialty and become an expert in that field.  Jewelry is my passion at the moment.

Tell us about one of your favorite moments during your time working at the Museum? The day the Museum Store opened was so special for me.  I had worked for over 6 months building the look of the store and buying new merchandise.  Seeing the store finally open and people shopping was so exciting and fulfilling!

Emily, Museum Guide

Driehaus Museum —  November 2, 2015 — 1 Comment
Emily, Museum Guide

Emily, Museum Guide

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? Emily

What is your title and what role does your position play at the Driehaus Museum? Tour Guide- meaning that I give tours, but also answer guest questions on the floor.

How long have you worked at the Museum? Nearly five months.

Where are you from/where do you currently reside? I grew up in the historic town of New Castle, Delaware, which I attribute to my early fascination with history. It was originally settled by the Dutch in 1651 and still has some interesting quirks, including a few cobblestone road that will raddle your brain. Prior to my moving to Chicago, my husband started a job in the city and I followed a couple of months later in June 2014.

What is your education/experience background? How or why did you come to work at the Driehaus Museum? I received my BA in History & German from the University of Delaware, where my research interests were in 18th and 19th century women’s and African-American history. During this time, I joined a digital humanities project called the “Colored Conventions Project”, which aimed at making a public database on Black organizing in the nineteenth-century. From this experience, I realized my interest in the education of the public and the importance it can have on a community.

Feeling unsatisfied with only four years of German, I decided to accept a fellowship at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the department of Germanic Studies. I continue to work on my master’s degree, which this academic year has extended into a Teaching Assistantship. My research interests have changed into gender and sexuality in German literature, particularly in 18th century works. I came to the Driehaus Museum wanting a practical application to my education and to gain experience in the museum world. I am excited to continue working and learning at this beautiful museum.

If you were a staff member of the Nickerson Mansion at the turn of the century, what role would you have and why? I would probably be a normal housekeeper, knowing that my cooking skills wouldn’t please the Nickerson’s.

If you were trapped in the Museum overnight, what would you do? If I could do anything, I would use years of classical piano training and play the Chickering and Sons piano in the Drawing Room.

What is your favorite movie?  Book? All-time favorite movie is Jaws. Favorite English book is a series called Incarnations of Immortality by Piers Anthony. Favorite German book is a young reader’s book called “Momo” by Michael Ende, who more famously wrote The NeverEnding Story.

What is your dream job? Anything that would pay me to travel to unique places.

Laura-Caroline, Collections & Exhibitions Manager at the Driehaus Museum

Laura-Caroline, Collections & Exhibitions Manager 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?  Laura-Caroline

What is your title and what role does your position play at the Driehaus Museum?  I’m the Collections & Exhibitions Manager at the Driehaus Museum. I help care for and manage the historic interiors of the house and our decorative arts collection; and, in addition, I manage the planning, organization, and installation of our permanent and temporary exhibitions, like Maker & Muse and our upcoming Dressing Downton installations.

How long have you worked at the Museum?  I joined the team in May of 2014, so just a little over a year.

Where are you from/where do you currently reside?  Originally, I’m from Greenville, South Carolina. I live in Chicago’s exciting Logan Square neighborhood now and moved to the city about six years ago, by way of Memphis, TN and Washington D.C.

What is your education/experience background? How or why did you come to work at the Driehaus Museum?  I started working in galleries and museums at the age of 16 and never looked back. So, my art background is already a bit of a long one. I studied Art History at Rhodes College in Memphis (go Lynx cats!). When I finished, I received a year-long academic internship working in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s curatorial and registrar’s departments, organizing exhibitions and researching for exhibition catalogues. I eventually returned to Memphis to act as project coordinator for a public art organization called the UrbanArt Commission, taking care of the city’s art collection while planning new art projects throughout Memphis with local, regional, and national artists.

But, being a total nerd and missing school, I moved to Chicago to attend The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), where I received dual master’s degrees in Modern Art History, Theory, & Criticism and Arts Administration & Policy. While at SAIC, I worked as Chief Registrar for the Roger Brown Study Collection a house museum in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, I was curator for the school’s Creativity in the Workplace program, curating approximately fourteen exhibitions a year throughout Chicagoland, and for a year I served as the program coordinator for SAIC’s Visiting Artists Program before deciding to go back into exhibitions and collections management, which is how I found myself at the Driehaus Museum. Previously, my focus was in modern and contemporary art, so this Gilded Age collection is a new and exciting venture for me!

If you were trapped in the Museum overnight, what would you do?  While painstakingly installing 275 pieces of jewelry last January for our Maker & Muse exhibition, it sometimes felt like we WERE trapped in the museum overnight—these shows don’t install themselves, you know!

But, if I were not installing, had free reign of the place, and were allowed to break every collections-care rule in the book? I would absolutely post up in the Library’s (attributed to the Herter Bros.) chair under the gryphon lamp with a glass of scotch, a cigar, and a good book for the night. I also played piano for many years when I was younger, so I’d likely spend time on our Chickering & Sons piano in the Drawing Room. And, if friends are invited, then I wouldn’t pass up on a dance party opportunity in the Ballroom either. The house offers lots of great overnight possibilities, now that I think about it…

What is your favorite holiday/program or event at the Museum?  If you’ve never been to the Museum around the winter holidays, you really have to put it on your bucket list. We’re over-the-top, but tastefully decorated with holiday décor that—while wreaking havoc on the collections team for the amount of glitter that gets deposited everywhere—looks absolutely stunning and will immediately put you in the holiday spirit, even after a long afternoon of Michigan Avenue holiday shopping. Therefore, I’d have to go with Santa Saturdays being my favorite program at the museum. Because, who doesn’t want to have brunch with the jolliest man alive in such a lovely setting!?

Tell us about one of your favorite moments during your time working at the Museum?  I work with amazing colleagues here at the Driehaus Museum, so picking one favorite moment is difficult and with a job as multifaceted as this one, every day is an adventure! I’ll give two examples. The first is one of the most memorable, though perhaps not necessarily my favorite. Our second floor features an original water closet in between Addie’s and Mrs. Nickerson’s bedrooms, which now act as exhibition galleries for us. During my third week of working at the museum, it came to my attention that the non-functioning original facilities within that water closet had been put to use for their originally intended purposes. It was in the process of determining how to handle that situation that I realized that this new job would not be like any other I’d ever experienced…

One of the sweetest moments I’ve had yet came on the last day of installation of the Maker & Muse exhibition. Our team worked many late hours for two weeks to install this extensive exhibition. The last day of install in particular was filled with intricate installation needs and last minute touch ups, in preparation for Mr. Driehaus’s first viewing of the exhibition that evening. But, the team finished with about an hour to spare. That brief period, between putting the last necklace in its case and showing the exhibition to its first visitor, found our team sitting on the main hall steps, having the first moment in months to really absorb and observe what it was we’d all been working towards. That shared sense of calm, pride, and enthusiastic exhaustion was really very special.

Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection (1884), a beautifully bound two-volume set that brings to life William H. Vanderbilt’s monumental “Brownstone Twins” and their contents on New York’s Fifth Avenue, is now on view in the Sculpture Gallery at the Driehaus Museum.

The Museum’s new acquisition forges a special and important link between two prosperous late 19th-century businessmen and their devotion to collecting art. Samuel M. Nickerson may have lived in Chicago, while the name of William Henry Vanderbilt was synonymous with New York. But they were both enthusiastic parts of the same wave of artistic interest across America at the turn of the century, which resulted in real cultural phenomena: rooms like our Sculpture Gallery, private collections open to the public as a precursor to museums, and publications like Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection.

William Henry Vanderbilt I (1821-1885). Illustration originally published in Harper's weekly, v. 29, no. 1513 (1885 December 19), p. 845. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

William Henry Vanderbilt I (1821-1885). Illustration originally published in Harper’s weekly, v. 29, no. 1513 (1885 December 19), p. 845. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

William H. Vanderbilt was the eldest son of railroad mogul Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, and inherited the largest slice of his father’s massive fortune. He did a fine job in railroads himself, and nearly doubled his inheritance by the time of his death. In 1879 he embarked on a $3 million building project that would permanently etch the Vanderbilt name in New York brownstone and American architectural history. “Nothing so magnificent had before been attempted in New York in the way of a private residence,” The New York Times remarked afterwards.

Exterior. Corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty First Street, 1883. B/W negative, 4x5in. The Brooklyn Museum.

Exterior. Corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty First Street, 1883. B/W negative, 4x5in. The Brooklyn Museum.

article-2508324-1972EFC800000578-902_964x676

 

Fifth Avenue at Fifty-First Street, 1900.

Fifth Avenue at Fifty-First Street, 1900.

The Vanderbilt residence at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-first Street was technically two mansions connected by an atrium; his daughters lived in the second with their husbands. It was a feast for the eyes. The architect-decorators were Christian and Gustave Herter, German-born cabinetmakers favored by New York’s elite, and they worked with experienced architects Charles Atwood and John Snook to anchor their profuse decorative elements to a standing structure. No two rooms were alike, and all were exactly to the taste of the moment. Just like the original interior designers of the Nickerson Mansion, the Herter Brothers favored a creative pastiche of historical and cultural styles all arranged together in interesting ways. You had vast groupings of artistic objects heaped on fireplace mantels, walls divided into three or more sections before reaching the ceiling, elaborate carvings in exotic wood, and jewel-tone colors. One’s eye never quite knew where to land.

Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection is really a book of description. And just as we trawl through Curbed or Pinterest to see how tastemakers arrange their interiors or tune in on television for sneak peeks of celebrity’s homes, this description was hungered for by America’s new middle class and nouveaux-riche.

Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection, The Holland Edition, Volume I and II, by Edward Strahan, published by George Barrie, 1884. The Collection of the Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection, The Holland Edition, Volume I and II, by Edward Strahan, published by George Barrie, 1884. The Collection of the Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

DWVanderbilt41864_FULLSIZE_

 

Published in limited number—1,000 editions, of which the Driehaus Museum’s acquisition is #712—of beautiful materials, included richly grained and gilt-edged brown leather and deep blue silk inner linings, Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection offered entrance to the private world of the wealthiest man in America. The reader is treated to a vivid tour of the home, from the Boudoir’s ivory-inlaid ebony walls to the grand three-story Picture Gallery, as well as Vanderbilt’s private art collection, which included around 200 paintings.

 

BOUDOIR. Second Floor—North-East Corner. In the foreground, Turner’s Fountain of Indolence, “by far the largest and most important Turner in America. It was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1834, and was obtained in 1882 from the dealers Agnew & Sons.”

BOUDOIR. Second Floor—North-East Corner. In the foreground, Turner’s Fountain of Indolence, “by far the largest and most important Turner in America. It was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1834, and was obtained in 1882 from the dealers Agnew & Sons.”

V-Interior

The author, Edward Strahan (Earl Shinn), was an influential self-made American art critic who studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and returned with a mission—not to make art, but to write about it. He wanted to dazzle American eyes and minds with the wonders of great art, examples of which so few of them had seen. Even the publisher, George Barrie, seemed to emphasize the artistic quality with his beautifully bound books filled with lavish artwork. A year before coming out with Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection, Barrie put the visions of the 1893 Chicago’s worlds fair into people’s homes with an illustrated two-volume set, World Columbian Exposition MDCCCXCIII, Art and Architecture. He also collaborated with Shinn on a series called Art Treasures of America.

They were proponents of a vast sort of gentrification campaign for young America taking place at the end of the 19th century, which needed men like William Henry Vanderbilt. You might call this a kind of Mediciean mindset. Many Gilded Age barons like Vanderbilt saw themselves as bringers of an American Renaissance in which the powerful and wealthy contribute to the public good and encourage the flourishing of the arts. So when Vanderbilt spent over $1 million to amass works by Alma-Tadema, Bougeureau, Corot, Daubigny, Delacroix, Dupré, Fortuny, Millet, Millais, Rousseau, Troyon, and Turner, he had more than his personal financial portfolio in mind. Upon the grand opening of his mansion in 1882, Vanderbilt hosted two receptions, “to one of which he invited other multi-millionaires of the town to inspect his treasures, and to the other poor artists who had never been able to see the great galleries of Europe.” Afterwards, visitors were admitted by card on Thursdays. This was, according to one publication, “an important element in cultivating the artistic taste of the metropolis.”

Gallery of Paintings

 

"Figures from 'Down to the River' by L. Alma-Tadema."

“Figures from ‘Down to the River’ by L. Alma-Tadema.”

 

DWVanderbilt41857_FULLSIZE_

Incroyables, by F. H. Kaemmerer.

 

Like Vanderbilt, Samuel M. Nickerson opened the Sculpture Gallery to art students and other interested Chicagoans, not only his personal guests. Art collections were viewed as public treasures, obtained by privilege but not to be hoarded. Rather, they were to be shared for the enjoyment and betterment of society at large. There was a deep belief during the aesthetic movement that exposure to exceptional beauty somehow elevated us, changed us, improved us as humans. Writing about that subject today, Alain de Botton puts it like this:

“What we seek, at the deepest level, is inwardly to resemble, rather than physically to possess the objects and places that touch us through their beauty.”

 

 

 

 

 

Resources
Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness
Bibliopolis, “Publisher: George Barrie”
Dictionary of Art Historians, “Shinn, Earl / Edward Strahan, pseudonym”
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, In Pursuit of Beauty: Americans and the Aesthetic Movement
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Library Table, Herter Brothers (1864-1906)
The New York Times, “Frick Remodeling Vanderbilt Mansion, Will Make Over One of Famous Brownstone Twins. Alterations to Be Costly: William H. Vanderbilt Built the Two Houses in 1880 at the Cost of $3,000,000—George Vanderbilt’s Tenure.” April 16, 1905.
The New York Times, “C. Vanderbilt Gets Mansion and Art, Property Worth $6,000,000 Reverts to Him by Grandfather’s Will on Death of George W. House Let to H. C. Frick. Stands at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-first Street and Cost $1,600,000—Art Valued Above $1,000,000.” March 10, 1914.
Nathan Silver, Lost New York, p. 121-122

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

Last December, Time magazine published an article on the psychology of gift-giving, addressing the questions that plague us each year as we search for the perfect gift for the perfect—or not-so-perfect—person in our lives.

For the Sake of HumanityThe questions, paraphrased: If I don’t know what to give my significant other, do I not know him or her well enough? What if I find just the right gift for a family member, only to find that he or she doesn’t like it? Is there anything wrong with an unsentimental gift? Am I bad for only buying gift cards? What about re-gifting?  With a new holiday season upon us, I turn to a Gilded Age-era writer at The New York Times for answers—a self-proclaimed expert in the fields of gift selection and reception.

My author declares his respect for the practice of gift-giving, citing benevolent roots, “Charitable people gave food to the hungry and trousers to the ragged, as the best way of celebrating the Christmas season.”  He takes issue, however, with the “unnecessary and purely complementary” notions of gift exchanges.  Now, the Gilded Age was a historical period shaped by a newly wealthy class interested in visual splendor and lavish displays of finance, which means that, to assert his views on gift exchanges as boldly as he did, my author was a brave man.

…or perhaps he simply had a dry and clever wit.

The main issue with Gilded Age gift-giving, according to my author:

“Men give their wives gifts that the latter do not want, and they themselves fail to receive the things which they need… There are men who like to receive an occasional cake of delicate toilet soap, but when eleven different sisters, sisters-in-law, and cousins are simultaneously struck with the happy thought of giving Mr. Smith a cake of toilet soap, the excess soap begins to wear the look of an objectionable practical joke.”

Shop EarlyHow, then, does one select the ideal gift, a present that elicits a desirable response from the recipient?

My author believes it improbable—a misuse of time, energy, and money.  Instead, he proposes a New Year’s Day gift swap for a “scientific and effective” exchange of gifts.  The procedure is simple: each person purchases and gives away, on Christmas, the gifts that he or she hopes to receive.  Once all of the gifts have been opened, each family member can rejoice knowing that he or she will trade all gifts received for gifts purchased in a week’s time.  This process, in my author’s opinion, should be the future “common law of Christmas.”

So whether you indulge in the holiday gift hunt or send out and receive mass emails in the Gilded Age spirit of buy-me-this, whether you find and receive show-stopping surprise gifts or end up collecting receipts and returning everything—remember that laughing with your eleven sisters, sisters-in-law, and cousins while opening eleven cakes of toilet soap (again) can sometimes be the most memorable and gratifying event of the season.

Toys for ChristmasHappy Holidays, from the Driehaus Museum community to your family, and thank you for sharing in this past year with us.

____________________________________

This holiday season, celebrate Gilded Age style.  Find information on programs and events at http://www.driehausmuseum.org/programs.

 

Citations:
-          “Christmas Giving.” The New York Times. 28 December 1881. Print.
-          http://healthland.time.com/2013/12/06/do-you-buy-your-spouse-the-same-thing-every-year-what-your-gift-giving-habits-say-about-you/
-          Photo: “The First Christmas Card” from http://media.web.britannica.com/eb-media/43/99943-004-B3D19C4B.jpg
-          Photo: “Shop Early” courtesy of Library of Congress
-          Photo: “For the Sake of Humanity” courtesy of Library of Congress
-          Photo: “Toys for Christmas” courtesy of Library of Congress

By Avery Glassman — Early next month the Driehaus Museum Book Club will discuss the novel, I am Madame X, presented by its author, Gioia Diliberto. Ms. Diliberto’s novel is based on the scandalous portrait of Virginie Gautreau by American artist, John Singer Sargent.  He originally titled it, Portrait of Madame ***, in an attempt to conceal his voluptuous sitter’s identity. As far as Paris society was concerned, the woman’s identity was far from the only asset the painting failed to cover. First exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1884, Madame X would swiftly undo the reputation Sargent had worked years to establish.

Driehaus Museum Chicago

Portrait of Madame ***, John Singer Sargent, 1884.

Portraiture was Sargent’s business, but Madame X was not a commissioned painting. Rather, Sargent sought out Gautreau as his subject. In a letter to his friend Ben Castillo, Sargent writes, “I have a great desire to paint her portrait and have reason to think that she would allow it and is waiting for someone to pay this homage to her beauty. If you are ‘bien avec elle’ and will see her in Paris you might tell her that I am a man of prodigious talent.” Born in New Orleans but raised in Paris, Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau was known in international circles as a professional beauty; she transformed the Gilded Age conceit of socializing and its notions of femininity into an act of performance. Inspired by her dramatic looks but just as influenced by her social prowess, Sargent was convinced that one confidently painted portrait of Gautreau would be enough to solidify his standing as the premier portraitist in France.

At the 1884 Salon, however, the painting was ridiculed by critics and the public alike, as indecent, obscene, and even morbid. The original composition depicts the left strap of Gautreau’s gown hanging off her shoulder. “Hanging” is a misleading descriptor, however, as the strap appears tightly bound. Gautreau’s flesh puckers around the strap’s encrustations as her deltoid muscle flexes from her hand’s firm placement on the table. Were the strap to drape limply over Gautreau’s shoulder, the slippage would seem accidental and therefore innocent; the lady a mere victim of gravity. But the tension of the strap within the exhibited composition instead affirms intention, a purposefully daring modification to an already provocative outfit. To viewers at the Salon it was aggressive—certainly the last thing a woman in 1884 was supposed to be. Madame X’s dominant womanhood is just as thoroughly imbued in her assertive stance, haughty profile, and ambiguous, undomestic surroundings. It is for these reasons that Madame X continued to offend viewers, even after Sargent’s sartorial edit.

Gautreau, who had expressed satisfaction with the work in Sargent’s studio, was humiliated and irate after its unveiling. She and her mother demanded that Sargent take it down.  He refused until the bitter dispute escalated with their threats to forcibly remove the painting. Ultimately, Sargent was compelled to evade disparaging remarks in Paris by permanently relocating to London. Sargent donated Madame X to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1916, along with some instructions. To the museum director Sargent wrote, “By the way, I should prefer, on account of the row I had with the lady years ago, that the picture should not be called by her name, at any rate for the present, and that her name should not be communicated to the newspapers.”

Throughout his career, the largest faction of John Singer Sargent’s clientele was American. One wonders if Samuel and Matilda Nickerson ever considered investing in a portrait by Sargent. It is unlikely that they gave it much thought after 1884, as Madame X’s unembellished, revealing gown presents a stark contrast to the heavily embroidered, conservative frocks Mrs. Nickerson was reported to have worn. The couple would certainly have caught wind of the Madame X scandal and, since their tastes were relatively traditional (as their art collection suggests), the Nickerson’s would probably have kept themselves far removed from a portraitist so avant-garde.

 

Sources:

Centeno, Silvia, and Dorothy Mahon. “A Technical Study of John Singer Sargent’s Portrait of Madame Pierre Gautreau.” Metropolitan Museum Journal, 2005.

Diliberto, Gioia. “Sargent’s Muses: Was Madame X Actually a Mister?” New York Times, May 18, 2003. http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/18/arts/art-architecture-sargent-s-muses-was-madame-x-actually-a-mister.html?src=pm&pagewanted=1

Moss, Dorothy. “John Singer Sargent, ‘Madame X’ and ‘Baby Millbank’.” The Burlington Magazine, May 2001.

Ormond, Richard. Oxford Art Online / Grove Art Online entry on John Singer Sargent. September 27, 1999.

Sidlauskas, Susan. “Painting Skin: John Singer Sargent’s ‘Madame X’.” American Art, Autumn 2001.