FLW in Reverse

While the Wright Walk was my first Wright adventure of the summer, beginning with the Oak Park Home and Studio is most appropriate.  For FLW fans, this summer has overflowed with new Wright experiences:  the Laurent House in Rockford, the Johnson Research Tower in Racine, and the Inside Wright’s Studio Tour with a visit to the studio balcony.  (Sorry, no pictures.  I didn’t pop for the indoor photo pass and forgot to take a few outside shots.)

Wright used his home to solidify his architectural beliefs:  revising, reshaping, and ultimately abandoning that home and office.  During this particular visit, I was again struck by Wright’s ability to design at all eye levels.  Regardless of your height or sitting/standing position, your eyes feasted on shapes, colors, and ingenuity.  An hour exploring each room would still be insufficient time.  Cherie, our guide, pointed out the smaller details that we otherwise might have missed, like the reversed gender roles in the Native American murals in the Wright’s bedroom.

The excitement of the tour was seeing the studio balcony, previously not open to the public.  The bird’s eye view of the studio floor was entertaining; the fireplace was the only unobstructed view.  (Oh, FLW, I love your commitment to your causes.)  The hidden treasure is the ability to see the roof lines of the other wings of the house.  His evolution from a pitched roof to a flat roof was visible.  Again, even looking out the windows at the roof, the small architectural details and the art glass caught your eye.

The balcony also contained three electronic panels with information about the architects who studied with Wright – a welcome addition to the interpretation.  Our group eagerly reviewed the panels and would have loved more biographies.  Once again, Alfonso Iannelli was ignored.  The circumstances of Wright’s departure from Oak Park were also sidestepped – a common criticism of the Trust’s interpretation.  Your eyes are so busy that your brain really isn’t processing audio, which would probably delight FLW.

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NCPH Poster Preview

My poster Grave Markers as Protest Symbols:  Using Cemeteries to Interpret the Intra-Ethnic Conflicts of Chicago’s Bohemian Immigrants has been selected for the April 2012 NCPH poster sessionThe full conference schedule will be posted in early December.  Here is a sneak preview of the poster — using different trees.  Don’t want to give away too much.

Limestone tree grave makers allowed people to memorialize their ideals and philosophies on their graves.  These grave markers also preserve the intra-ethnic conflict between Catholic and Freethinker Bohemians. After the Catholic Church denied burials in Catholic cemeteries to Catholic Bohemians whose families had Freethinkers, the outraged Freethinkers founded their own cemetery.  The Freethinkers allowed people to personalize their grave markers with secular and/or religious symbols. The Catholic grave markers emphasized a person’s religious devotion and utilized crosses.  The limestone trees in Bohemian National Cemetery and St. Adalbert Catholic Cemetery remind present day visitors of this old conflict.

Let’s interpret the following example from Bohemian National Cemetery, the Prinz Family Tree:

BNC Limestone Tree

Common to all limestone trees is the broken branch at the top – symbolizing a life cut short.  The trees also have a space in the center where the bark is ripped off the tree to expose a spot for engraving the names of the interred.  The Prinz family tree contains five key symbols:  acorns, ivy, clasped hands, wheat sheaf, and mushrooms.  All but the mushrooms have secular and religious meanings.  The mushroom is significant to Bohemians as a symbol of ethnic pride.  If you are Bohemian, you understand the irrational love of the mushroom.  For the non-Bohemians in the crowd, we all have our quirks.

Clasped hands represent marriage if the sleeves are masculine and feminine or heavenly welcome if both sleeves are masculine.  These sleeves appear to be masculine and feminine.  Acorns can mean prosperity or spiritual growth from truth.  Ivy can represent The Holy Trinity or immortality.  A wheat sheaf illustrates a long life or the Resurrection.  Masons also use the wheat sheaf on their graves.  Since this tree lacks other Masonic symbols, we can probably reject the Masonic interpretation.

People buried in Bohemian National can be Catholic, Protestant, Freethinking, or agnostic/atheist.  We cannot assume a wholly secular or totally religious interpretation of the tree.  The sleeves are clearly secular.  The use of multiple symbols of fruitfulness/prosperity and of long life lean towards a more secular interpretation of the tree.  The family was proud of its success and lived long, productive lives.  The ceramic photograph and the tree (rather than a traditional headstone) suggest that the Prinz family had means.

A cautionary note:  acid rain has eroded the limestone, so other symbols may have evaporated or become indistinguishable.  Our next tree from St. Adalbert is undoubtedly religious.

Three Cross Tree

There may be 6 crosses on the tree.  The acid rain melted some elements on the Vachulka tree.  Jesus lost his head on the crucifix, too.  The inset crucifix scene, profusion of ivy, multiple Latin crosses, oak wreath, and rose on the right hand side all lend themselves to a 100% religious interpretation.  Christians believe that oak is one of the woods used to make Christ’s cross, and the rose either symbolized martyrdom or purity.  Given the crucifix scene, martyrdom is the more probable interpretation.  The Vachulka family stressed their piety and faith in their limestone tree.  Their own personal traits or values are subservient to their Catholic faith.

In each of these trees, the Prinz and Vachulka families memorialized their most important beliefs.  Ivy is the common element, used by both families to represent their individual interpretations of immortality.  The other design elements perpetuate the reasons why the families chose their respective cemeteries, perpetuating their beliefs into eternity.  Bohemian National Cemetery and St. Adalbert preserve these gravemarker weapons from an intra-ethnic conflict now forgotten.

*I used Douglas Keister’s Stories in Stone to interpret the design elements.

Deco Spirits

During the original Great Depression, Art Deco and Art Moderne were popular art/architectural styles.  Their futuristic tone encouraged people to believe that a better future would happen.  The current glass and steel Mies van der Rohe is a bit too sterile prison for inspirational purposes.  Let’s enjoy some decorative motifs from downtown Chicago and bemoan the current sad state of architecture.

The Burnham Brothers rebuke to Prohibition (Carbon & Carbide Building)  is now swamped by the glass Smurfit Stone Building.  The slashed diamond of the Smurfit Stone is quite stunning, so the brothers would probably be more upset that their building is now a Hard Rock hotel.

The obsession with glass is usually excused because the glass reflects the river and water.  Or you could go with seahorses on your building:

You get a tree and sailboat, too!  On the downside, there are a few creepy faces:

Let’s cleanse the palate with the Crain’s archway:

The Michigan Avenue bridge tower is pretty snazzy, too.

The prohibitive cost and the lack of artisans ensure that Chicago and other major cities will be glass and steel cages for another 100 years.  When you walk in your own downtown or visit other cities, appreciate the small artistic details that are forever lost.

For the cemetery fans, I will have another round of BNC photos soon and some St. Adalbart.  The battle of the limestone trees will occur next week.  I should also have some finished needlework photos.  I really need to finish some pieces into wall quilts and other items.  Next weekend is a holiday weekend for me, so the odds are good.

Let’s end with a contemplative Preston – trying to understand why he wasn’t selected for the Celebrating Greyhounds 2012 calendar.

The Art of Cemeteries

Cemeteries aren’t the first place that springs to mind when looking for art, especially nowadays when tombstone design is expensive.  Finding stonecutters can also be problematic.  In the 19th and early 20th centuries, renowned architects and sculptures did create works to memorialize a client or themselves.  These memorials were also a way to show that a family was prominent and deserved respect even in death.  Each cemetery can restrict the type of monuments or memorials allowed.  The art in Bohemian National Cemetery and Rosehill Cemetery reflect their founders intellectual and artistic beliefs.

Born from a battle where the Catholic relative of free thinkers was denied burial in a Catholic cemetery, Bohemian National maintains an inclusive attitude towards memorials, tombstones, and mausoleums.  The memorials contain examples of limestone statuary, photography, Art Deco imagery, and Chicago Cubs logos.

The limestone trees are the most striking memorials in Bohemian National.

Each tree is unique, although certain symbols are repeated.  A cluster of houbys appears at the bottom.  The bent branch references a life ended.  The oak leaves symbolize strength.

The mausoleums tend to reference Art Deco.  The most famous person buried at Bohemian National is buried in one such mausoleum:  Anton Cermak, the mayor of Chicago assassinated in 1933.

The torch imagery references a life snuffed out, as well as an eternal flame.  Bohemian National is replete with dual life/death images.   Clasped hands can mean “together forever” or “good-bye”.  A broken branch means a life cut short, but oak leaves and acorns symbolize life.

Porcelain ceramic photographs are also prominent on Bohemian National tombstones.  As long as the photographs are not broken, they withstand the elements quite well – better than the limestone statues.

Rosehill is a bit more staid.  Developed by Masons, Rosehill does contain its share of obelisks, including the legendary John Wentworth memorial.  If he could have created a monument larger than the Washington Memorial, he probably would have.

The sculptor Leonard Volk, known for his Lincoln life mask and hands, is buried alongside a statue of himself.

Rosehill was proud of its celebrity clientele, starting with General Thomas Ransom, killed in the Civil War.  Prominent Chicago families like Peck, Dick, Lill, and Kedzie have impressive plots.  One of the more unknown but arguably more consequential is George Bangs who created the post office mail train car.  George went with a limestone tree that included a train carving.

Before city parks existed, people would picnic at cemeteries.  The rolling lawns, peaceful settings, and beautiful sculptures are a prototype for the parks created by Olmstead and others.  Sculptors and architects like Thomas Boyington, Leonard Volk, and Anton Heller produced stunning works that are not trapped in museums or private collections. These are works meant to be appreciated and seen through the generations.