Monday, October 28, 2013

The World's Columbian Exposition

Palace of Fine Arts, caryatid porch

On Wednesday November 6, 2013, the museum will present a lecture entitled “The World’s Columbian Exposition – a 120 Year Perspective.”  The speaker is Diane Dillon, director of scholarly and undergraduate programs at the Newberry Library and a frequent lecturer on Chicago’s two World’s Fairs.  A small exhibit of Fair-related objects from the museum collection will also be on display.  Tickets are $10 and reservations may be made by calling Glessner House Museum at 312.326.1480.

Marine Cafe

The World’s Columbian Exposition remains a truly legendary event in the history of Chicago and is even commemorated with a star on the official city flag.  The statistics on the Fair are almost unbelievable – nearly 200 “temporary” buildings spread across more than 600 acres of land, and more than 27 million visitors in just six months.   The fair grounds were dedicated on October 21, 1892 and officially opened to visitors on May 1, 1893.  The Fair closed very quietly on October 30, 1893 just two days after the city was shaken by the assassination of Mayor Carter Harrison Sr.  Only two buildings from the Fair survive in Chicago today – the Palace of Fine Arts (now the Museum of Science and Industry) and the World’s Congress Auxiliary Building (now the Art Institute of Chicago).  A few other structures were dismantled and rebuilt in other parts of the country.

The masterminds behind the Fair were architect Daniel Burnham and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, both of whom were close friends of the Glessners.  Due to that fact, the Glessners followed the design and construction of the fair closely and were afforded special access to the grounds both before and during the run of the fair.  Their son George also took a large number of photos, three of which are reproduced in this article.  We present a few excerpts from Frances Glessner’s journal indicating their interest and participation in Fair activities.


Inaugural Reception of the World’s Columbian Exposition - October 19, 1892:
“Wednesday I shopped and in the evening went to the grand ball at the Auditorium.  I wore a yellow brocade, the dress was made up after the fashion of a morning glory – the idea carried out all over.  There were forty one patronesses, about thirty three were there, all beautifully dressed.  We were taken to our places on one side of the auditorium.  The whole place was floored in back as far as the boxes go. . . Mr. Lathrop took me to my place.  The Vice President came in on Congressman Durborrow’s arm.  A military escort preceded him.  He was followed by members of the Cabinet, Senators, Judges of the Supreme Court, foreign diplomats – everyone in court dress, uniform, and full dress.  All presented to us.  Ex-president Hayes stood and talked a minute with me as others did.  After the presentation we were taken to our boxes where we had seats . . . I sat next to Mrs. Palmer.  We came home at half past eleven.  The ladies were each given a bouquet of red and yellow roses tied with red and yellow ribbons.”

Opening of the Fair – May 1, 1893:
“The weather was cloudy but it did not rain.  We drove out to the Exposition in the carriage.  When we went inside of the grounds we met Mr. and Mrs. Walter Peck and Mr. and Mrs. Rice.  We walked with them up to the Administration Building and a letter which Mr. Peck showed the guards took us to Mr. Higinbotham’s room and out of his window on to the grandstand where we had a full view of all of the crowd, the President, and all of the foreign officials – the Duke of Veragua, etc.  When President Cleveland opened the fair, the statue of the Republic was unveiled, the fountains played, the flags from every pinnacle and turret were unfurled, the orchestra played America.  It was a grand and touching sight.  It is estimated that there were three hundred and forty two thousand people there.”

Reception for Princess Eulalie – June 16, 1893:
“In the evening John and I went to Potter Palmer’s to a reception to the Princess Eulalie.  It was a very large reception.  The drawing room and reception room were separated by a red ribbon from the guests.  When the Prince and Princess came, Mr. and Mrs. Palmer met them at the door.  A heavy thunderstorm raged all the evening.  The Spanish party sat on a little dais in the parlor and the guests filed by in pairs and were presented.  We did not go.  After the presentation the royal party left at once.  Mrs. Palmer had set a supper for a certain number of distinguished guests but the Princess left – the party was shut off from the guests alone.  It was not a pleasant occasion.”

Japanese Ho-o-den

Private tour of the fairgrounds with Daniel Burham – June 17, 1893:
“We all went out to the Exposition to see the illumination and dine with Mr. Burnham.  We drove out then met in the service building.  Then we took Mr. Burnham’s launch.  We sailed around the lagoon – then some of the gentlemen got out but we declined – so they sailed around again.  They we drove in the wagonettes to the German village where we dined.  I sat between Mr. McKim and Frank Millet – besides these Mr. and Mrs. Peabody, Mr. and Mrs. Mead (architect), Mr. Coleman, Mr. Atwood, Kate Field, Mr. and Mrs. Burnham, Mr. and Mrs. Graham.  There were eighteen at table.  We had toasts.  After the dinner we drove again to the launch and sailed all of the evening.  It was a night to remember.  In the afternoon we all went by invitation to a glorious concert given in honor of Eulalie.  We were invited to the Thomas’ box.  Edward Lloyd sang.  The Apollo Club sang and the children’s chorus sang – the Princess came in for five minutes.  At the dinner that night Millet proposed the first toast, ‘down with royalty.’”

Assassination of Mayor Harrison - Saturday October 28, 1893:
“John and I went together to the Exposition.  We saw many things which we had not seen before.  John made an offer to John Wells for the beautiful silver tea set there.  John went to the Commercial Club dinner.  The dinner was interrupted and adjourned on account of the assassination of Carter Harrison at his home.”

Purchase of punch bowl – Monday October 30, 1893:
“I went to the Exposition with John.  We bought a beautiful punch bowl from Siam – silver and gold.”

The Fair is over – Wednesday November 1, 1893:
“We went to the Exposition.  It was exceedingly interesting to see the wonderful change that had come over everything.  It looked as though death had struck it.”

Monday, October 21, 2013

Chicago Time Machine films at Glessner House

On Tuesday December 3, 2013, WTTW will broadcast their newest documentary hosted by Chicago’s favorite tour guide, Geoffrey Baer.  In this new special entitled Chicago Time Machine, Baer will use his recently discovered “time machine” to transport viewers back in time to different places and eras in Chicago history, aided by archival film and photographs.  Baer provides a unique view of special moments of Chicago’s past that happened in places that many of us frequent today.  As the WTTW promo states, “it is Chicago as you’ve never seen it before.”

On Monday October 14, Baer and his producer Dan Protess were at Glessner House Museum filming in the beautiful restored parlor, as seen in the accompanying photographs.  The site was most appropriate as one of the segments in the program will discuss the “dark days” of Prairie Avenue after the original residents moved away and long before the neighborhood once again became a thriving residential community.

Geoffrey Baer was trained as a docent for the Chicago Architecture Foundation in 1987.  At that time, the Foundation still owned and operated Glessner (the museum became its own separate entity in 1994), and Baer was trained to give tours of both Glessner and Clarke House Museums.  During his visit, he enjoyed touring the house and seeing the many changes that have occurred over the past several years.


It was a privilege to welcome Geoffrey Baer “home” again and we all look forward to seeing him travel back in time to a very different Prairie Avenue than we know today.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Glessners' Siamese punch bowl

On September 21, 2013, the Chicago History Museum opened a new exhibit entitled “The Queen and the White City,” which celebrates the grand introduction of Siam (modern Thailand) on the world’s stage at the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893.  The exhibit features artifacts from the fair, returning to Chicago for the first time in 120 years, as well as an elaborately embroidered photo album in the Museum’s collection presented by Queen Savang Vadhana to Bertha Palmer, President of the fair’s Board of Lady Managers.  The exhibit runs through March 2, 2014. 

Glessner House Museum is fortunate to possess a beautiful artifact from the Siamese exhibit at the Columbian Exposition – a silver niello punch bowl - purchased by John and Frances Glessner when the fair closed 120 years ago this month.  Most people in the United States had seen few, if any, articles from Siam, so their exhibits proved to be of great interest.  The following description of the Siam pavilion in the Manufactures Building is taken from a guidebook published for visitors to the fair:

“Across the promenade from Hayti is the building of Siam.  It is a royal pavilion, erected by the Siamese government, from a design by a native architect. Native wood and other material and native labor alone were used in its construction.  It is a small building, twenty-six feet square, with a front elevation of thirty-two feet.  The wood used is teak, of the fine kind used in the building of the Malay proas, and the faƧade and roof have been beautifully carved and gilded.  These carvings, all done by hand, are exquisitely beautiful, and represent the work of the best Siamese artists.  Although her displays are not confined to this building, Siam here shows many exhibits of gems,  rosins, dyes, silks, cottons, grains and a very fine display of manufactured and leaf tobacco.  Some of the native boats are wonderful, and the work of the native women is very fine.”

Excerpts from an article about the pavilion, which appeared in the Chicago Tribune on May 29, 1893, provide further details:

“For concentrated splendor and condensed costliness, the Siamese pavilion and exhibit excel anything in the Manufactures building . . . its contents are estimated to be worth $300,000.

“The pavilion itself is a more than usually interesting one, as it was made in Siam, and is an exact reproduction of the garden house of the King, at Bangkok, and is the identical Siamese pavilion of the Paris Exposition, a little rusty in some places, but almost as good as new.  Its floor is elevated four steps above the dais on which it stands.  It is supported by several slender pillars, and is open all around.  On each of the four sides the roof is a sharp gable, and in the center is drawn up to a sharp point, and loaded with ornament.

“The material is wood painted red and yellow, and inlaid everywhere with bits of glass of various bright colors.  The effect is excessively bizarre, and the structure almost looks like a huge piece of jewelry.”

Siam also exhibited in the Transportation, Ethnological, and Forestry Buildings, but it was their extensive exhibit in the Manufactures Building that attracted the most attention.  In The Official Directory of the World’s Columbian Exposition published by the W. B. Gonkey Company in 1893, a full 2-1/2 pages are devoted to listing the various articles on display, amongst which were the following:
-Rice, sugar, potatoes, dried fish and meat
-Cigars and tobaccos
-Cotton, hemp, silk
-Agricultural implements and farmers’ tools
-A large exhibit of teak, bamboo, and other woods
-Bones, tortoise shells, elephant tusks plain and carved, horns, antlers
-Siamese fruits in wax and in paintings
-Waxed flowers
-Objects made of rattan, and many examples of basket work
-Vegetables and seeds
-Fishing equipment
-48 varieties of floor matting
-Clothing made of silk, cotton, and embellished with gold thread
-Silk penungs, prince’s state robe and girdle, doublets
-Fancy needlework including large screens and historical scenes
-Precious gems
-Model boats and houses
-Wax model of a palace
-China rice bowls, powder cups, tea cups, spittoons
-Earthen stoves, goblets, jugs and figures of animals
-Fancy scent bottles
-Carvings in ivory, wood and other materials
-Metal work with red or blue enamel work, many set with diamonds
-Gilded water bowls, trays, cups, betel sets
-Silver article including bowls, trays, spittoons, urns, vases, toilet articles, and picnic cases
-Brass articles including fruit knives, utensils, seed picks, eating services
-Copper rice pots, cake pans, and water pots
-Pearl inlaid work including salvers, trays, boxes, plaques and cases
-Lacquered boxes and bowls
-Tiger, leopard, armadillo, python, rhinoceros and other skins
-Gold-beaters' anvils, hammers and other tools
-Native instruments
-Bead work including tea cozies, biscuit boxes, frames, chess sets, and baskets

When the Fair closed in October 1893, some objects were shipped back to Siam but many remained in Chicago.  The next month, Frances Glessner recorded in her journal that “we bought a beautiful punch bowl from Siam – silver and gold.”  Most of the items from the exhibits were donated by the King of Siam to the newly created Columbian Museum, according to an article entitled “Give to the Museum” in the Chicago Tribune dated November 18, 1893:

“The Columbian Museum enjoyed its usual good fortune yesterday, and was the recipient of the following important donations . . .

“King Chululakorn of Siam – All the Siamese exhibits, with their pavilions in the Manufactures, Transportation, Ethnological, and Forest Buildings.  The forestry exhibit, consisting of over 150 beautiful specimens of Siamese woods, though important, does not admit of description.  The ethnological exhibit consists of a great variety of Siamese costumes, household and mechanics’ utensils, weapons of warfare, and models of houses.  The transportation exhibit consists of a complete set of Siamese methods of travel, such as sedan chairs, ox carts, and boats.  The greatest interest attaches to the manufactures exhibit and its gorgeous and well-remembered pavilion.  The articles of manufacture, which must be numbered by the thousand, cover every phase of Siamese life, but running more particularly to jewelry and jewelry boxes.”

Exactly how the Glessners came to acquire their punch bowl, and why it was not included in the gift from the King of Siam to the Columbian Museum is not known.  The ensemble - consisting of a large presentation bowl, three-footed stand with pointed scallop edging, and oversized ladle - is composed of hammered silver with applied gold leaf.  The surface is covered with niello - a black mixture of copper, silver, and lead sulphides - which is used as an inlay to fill in the intricate designs cut into the surface of the pieces.  Siamese artisans were known for their excellent niello work, dating back several centuries, although the process was also used by craftsmen in various parts of Europe since the Iron Age.

The intricate decoration of the punch bowl includes all-over foliate motifs with squirrels and birds amidst flowering boughs, with frolicking rabbits among leaves and hillocks at the base.  The central reserve on the bottom of the bowl (shown above) features a fanciful tiger on cross-hatched hills against a background of stylized rosettes and leaves.  Ironically the beautiful detailing of this section was never visible when the bowl was in use. 

An interesting side note is that a pair of especially fine gilt silver niello teapots, with decoration similar to the punch bowl, was presented to President Franklin Pierce in 1856 by Siam’s King Rama IV.  They are now in the possession of the Smithsonian Institution. 


John Glessner noted of the punch bowl in The Story of a House that “Sir Purdon Clarke of the British Museum said (it) was a museum piece so fine that our Art Institute should keep an eye on it and never let it get away.”  Ironically, the Glessner descendants did donate the pieces to the Art Institute in 1971, but ownership was transferred to the Glessner house in 1972.  Today it continues to occupy a place of honor on the side table in the dining room, exactly where the Glessners displayed it for their guests to enjoy and admire.


NOTE:  During a visit by representatives from the Thai government on March 8, 2014, it was noted that the “punch bowl” is in fact a rice bowl.  Specific designs, including the tiger on the underside and the peonies, indicate that it was originally made for the royal household and then sent for display at the World's Columbian Exposition.
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