Monday, January 31, 2011

Who designed the leaded glass window in the house??

For years, the beautiful amber glass window in the curved door of the first floor main hall has been attributed to Donald MacDonald, a Boston glassmaker.  Recently, however, a newspaper article which appeared in the Chicago Tribune on May 31, 1903, cast some doubt on this attribution.  The article focused on the work of John La Farge, one of the great designers of stained glass windows in the late 19th century, and the chief competitor of Louis Comfort Tiffany.  In the article, La Farge's Chicago windows are listed, including the Crerar memorial window for Second Presbyterian Church (which had been destroyed in a fire in March 1900), a window for Trinity Episcopal Church (later destroyed in a fire), a dozen windows in the Chicago Board of Trade (later demolished) and "windows in the house of J. J. Glessner and of Franklin MacVeagh (later demolished)."

What was this La Farge designed window?  There is no other leaded glass in the house, and the Glessner journal and other documents make no mention of a La Farge window in the house, although they do mention a small painting he did for them.  Could the amber window be a La Farge, and was perhaps Donald MacDonald merely the fabricator?

A letter just unearthed in the archives appears to solve the mystery.  In a letter dated October 22, 1887, George Shepley (the architect who supervised construction of the house after the death of H. H. Richardson) tells John Glessner, "Shortly after you left I got a design from Mr. Grant LaFarge for the stained glass work in your hall which was not satisfactory, so I returned it with instructions to make another which I send you by mail today.  The design is I think very quiet and will be very successful.  I enclose with the design Mr. LaFarge's letter to me which will explain just what is intended by the drawings and in that he mentions the choice between two different kinds of clear glass, either of which I think would be saitsfactory, but I think it would be rather better to have it all jewels."  (Grant La Farge was the eldest son of John La Farge)

By November 21, 1887, John Glessner had apparently settled the matter, for in a letter of that date from George Shepley, he states "We received Mr. Bosworth's letter giving the measurements of the glass in the circular door in your hall and I will try to have the glass made as you direct.  The firm who made this glass for Mr. Richardson has gone to pieces but I will try to get what you want by sending in one of the windows and having it copied."

Finally, on December 10, 1887, Shepley writes that "We sent in one of the yellow glass windows to Donald MacDonald, a glass maker here in Boston, and he is making the light for your hall exactly like it.  We had a letter from him the other day saying he expected to have it finished in a few days."

So how did the mistake make it into the Tribune article, especially since there are several quotes directly from John La Farge.  The answer to that appears later in the article.  The reporter asks La Farge if he goes to see any of his work to which he replies, "Seldom.  You see I've made about ten thousand, and I've rather lost the run of them.  I hardly have any time to keep track of them.  I'm like Brigham Young, who, whenever he went into the streets, had to be told which were his grandchildren.  He couldn't keep tally on them himself."

So the mystery is solved.  La Farge did design a window for the house, but the design was rejected in favor of the window crafted by Donald MacDonald and installed late in 1887. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Welcome to the Official Blog of the Glessner House Museum!

The Glessner House is a National Historic Landmark, designed by noted American architect Henry Hobson Richardson and completed in 1887. Once the home to John Jacob and Frances Macbeth Glessner, it remains an internationally-known architectural treasure in Chicago. With its radical departure from traditional Victorian architecture, the structure served as an inspiration to the young Frank Lloyd Wright and helped redefine domestic architecture.

The mission of the Glessner House Museum is to engage diverse audiences in exploring urban life and design through the preservation and interpretation of the architecture of H. H. Richardson and the historic home of the Glessners. We work to increase public awareness, understanding, and appreciation for the history and architecture of Chicago as represented in the lives and home of the Glessner family and the surrounding Prairie Avenue Historic District.

Interpretation, Collections, & Programming

Glessner House Museum offers guided tours, lectures, and other special programs to interpret the themes of art, architecture, and social history which are inherent in Glessner House, the museum's collections, and the stories of its residents and neighbors during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

As one of the country's premier sites for the study and enjoyment of decorative arts, Glessner House Museum offers both the casual visitor and the serious connoisseur a unique opportunity to partake in the pleasures of the Aesthetic and English Arts and Crafts movements. The museum's conservation of the Glessners' remarkable collection of objects provides today's collector with a living workshop from which to take guidance.

Glessner House Museum helps illuminate the present by bringing the past to life with a wealth of subjects to study, present, dramatize, and celebrate—from the glamour of the Gilded Age, to the vast cultural changes surrounding World War I, to the excitement of the Jazz Age and Prohibition. Lectures, programs, and events attract diverse audiences for education and entertainment.

Join Us on a Historic Journey

In June 2011, we will be launching an 18-month celebration for the 125th Anniversary of the Glessner House. This blog will be a way for us to share this adventure with the world. We have a busy schedule planned, including a variety of programs and events, several interior restoration projects, new permanent and temporary exhibits, and fundraising activities. This will be the place where we can highlight our activities, announce upcoming events, and entice you to visit, participate, and enjoy.

And be sure to visit our website often for more information on touring the museum, renting space for events, and other upcoming programs. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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