Chicago – Historic Treasures – Part 1
October 15-16 we visited Chicago, for Open House Chicago, presented by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. It is a free public festival that offers behind-the-scenes access to more than 200 buildings across Chicago. Chicago is world-renowned for its architectural history and its contribution to the skilled crafts of designing and building skyscrapers.
After the devastation brought by the Chicago Fire of 1871, the central business district, known affectionately as “the Loop,” was rebuilt throughout the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s. This process gave birth to the skyscraper through the use of the steel structural skeleton. Today, downtown Chicago is famous worldwide for its innovative and iconic high-rises, boulevards and beautiful civic spaces such as Millennium Park. The debris from the fire was used as landfill to create the beautiful shoreline parks.
Our first historic treasure is the landmark Palmer House Hotel, where we stayed. The lobby is amazing. It is one of those places that being in the presence of such beauty and artistry makes you feel great.
We dropped off our bags and took the Orange Line to visit the company responsible for creating the artistry of the Palmer House Lobby, Decorators Supply.
Decorators Supply Corporation traces it’s history back to 1883 when the original founders, Simon Strahn and Richard C. Foster, established a partnership to manufacture “artistic decorative accessories”. An old lease document dated April 13, 1890 describes the company as a carving and guilders business. By 1893, Decorators Supply had blossomed into a manufacturer of cast ornamental plaster. They became one of the manufacturers of the mouldings that would adorn the buildings and halls showcased in the Columbian Exhibition of 1893. These buildings, embellished with ornamental plaster, became known as the “White City”. This World’s Fair of 1893 attracted a wealth of world class artists, sculptors, carvers and craftsmen to Chicago. Decorators Supply drew from this rich talent pool of German, Italian and Polish artisans who over the following four decades would create the artistic legacy seen today in their product offerings.”
In 1896 two key individuals joined Decorators Supply Corporation. Oscar Sprindler, a German born decorator and designer. Mr. Spindler headed up the design and art department and is credited with creating many of the beautiful designs you will find in their various catalogs. In the same year, William Grage Sr., the patriarch of the family who manages Decorators Supply today, began his career with Decorators Supply as an office boy. William Sr. rose through the ranks of the company, eventually becoming part owner and an officer of the company. At the end of World War II, William Sr. purchased Decorators Supply and with his three children, Elmer, Bill Jr. and Marie running the company until his death in 1978. Today the company is run by third generation family.
Pictures and videos of my Decorators Supply Factory Tour
Bill Denis in the vault where their huge collection of original carvings are stored. The proper storage of masters is a huge responsibility.
It was great to see the original carvings of some pieces we love like the Louis XIV headpiece.
Love this shell cartouche.
This image shows a Master, the Mould of the Master and a Plaster Casting.
The Wood Shop
Everywhere you look are beautiful pieces, like this framed board which was used to photograph ornament for their catalogues.
Love the large plaster header in this group.
Today Decorators Supply provides not only beautiful plaster ceilings and ornament but does a lot of restoration work led by highly skilled artisans.
Such as these damaged plaster medallions.
Repaired plaster medallion.
Another beautiful plaster medallion.
One of my favorite panels. Love this design so much I used part of it as the inspiration for a door I painted.
My Painted Door Design
The Panel in its entirety.
Panel #7554 shown in compo
Short video of creating a plaster medallion
The magic of compo. I loved seeing the compo go from dough to beautiful cast mouldings.
Compo Mixing Machine
Compo Dough – Looks like cookie dough doesn’t it.
The art of using the steam technique to apply compo to a capital. The best capitals are made with compo. The detail is so beautiful.
Here you go a magnificent compo capital.
Our next historic treasure The Art Institute of Chicago
One of our favorite exhibits was The Thorne Rooms. Narcissa Niblack Thorne was the wife of James Ward Thorne, sone of one of the founders of Montgomery Ward. She began collecting miniatures as a child. In the 1920s, after World War 1, the Thornes traveled extensively abroad where miniature collections were available for very low prices. Mrs. Thorne conceived the idea of showcasing them in shadow box rooms. In the early 1930s to 1940, she used the talents of master craftsmen, to assemble the collection now known as The Thorne Rooms. The 68 Thorne Miniature Rooms are constructed on a scale of one inch to one foot. The first 30 rooms used miniatures from her collection. In the second set of rooms she created a chronological history of European, primarily English and French, design from the 16th through the 20th century.
Here are some of our favorite images. The details are truly amazing. These pictures look like they are real rooms, not miniatures. For those interested in the collection in its entirety I have included the below youtube video.