Dec 21, 2008

Happiest of Holidays!

I want to send you all a very warm greeting for the holiday season from the freezing zone that is Chicago.  Hard to believe that we have any warm thoughts at all here!
I shared the season with a group of very close friends this Saturday afternoon,  along with our extremely close daughters (they have shared high school and have since separated to five colleges from California to North Carolina) at the historic Fortnightly Club of Chicago.  We have celebrated all of our daughters milestones over the last seven years and are attached at the hip. There will be no separation in the near future :)
 This club is one of the earliest and most steadfast of the women's clubs that have been called the "Light Seekers."  It was founded on June 4, 1873 after being a private home.  Among its earliest members were many women who have since become icons of the literature and organized work fame:  Jane Addams of "Hull House" notoriety and Mrs. Potter Palmer a distinguished Chicago philanthropist.  
It is one of the most gorgeous examples of an age gone by.  Amazing architectural detail that you just don't see in new construction and a bit of history that cannot be replicated.  
 We all felt so lucky to to be a part of an amazing day with fabulous friends and our beloved daughters.  What could be better than this?  Wishing you all heartfelt joy and happiness.  Tis the season!


magnaverde said...

Since I didn't recognize the Forntnightly's interiors by sight--I've only been in the place once--it was a shock for me to see a portrait of Rue Winterbotham Carpenter, Chicago's greatest unknown decorator & the second president of the Arts Club. 'What's she doing here?' Of course, after I read the caption, I knew. Rue decorated the place, and, fortunately, parts of her scheme still exist.

One reason that Carpenter's almost unknown--even here in Chicago, where she spent most of her life--is that unlike Elsie De Wolfe & many of her decorating contemporaries, she never wrote any books & only a few brief articles and she didn't advertise and therefore had no name recognition outside her small but exclusive social circle. The other reason is that none of her surviving interiors in the city are open to the public.

Carpenter's public jobs--her friend & Tribune critic Fanny Butcher's bookstore in the old Pullman Building & her gorgeously colored 1910 redecoration of Louis Sullivan's Auditorium Theatre--are long gone. Well, anyway, sort of. The Pullman building across from the Art Institute really is gone, torn down in the 195Os for the Borg-Warner building, but Rue's lost decorative scheme for the Auditorium was documented in 2000 (thanks to the careful work of historic paint analyst Robert A. Furhoff) as part of the Auditorium's ongoing restoration.
Underneath the recent recreation of Sullivan's original 1889 decor of gold-leaf ceiling stencils & subtly modulated paint treatments on the plaster relief of the stage's reducing curtain, Carpenter's striking scheme still exists, hidden below several decades' worth of subsequent overpaintings.

When, in 1910, Chicago finally acquired its own opera company, the theatre manager hired Rue Carpenter to revamp the place, and she came up with an orientalist fantasy suitable for the opening night's opera, which, of course, was Aida. Carpenter painted or glazed Louis Sullivan's elaborate plaster reliefs & panels in Carmine red, Pompeian Red, Lapis blue & Viridian Green, all of which glowing colors were set off with a Pompeian red curtain & upholstery and an arched ceiling entirely covered--not just accented, as Sullivan had done--with lustrous aluminum leaf lacquered to look like solid gold under the theatre's carbon filament bulbs. Paris had already been exposed to--and loved--such violent color contrasts in the sets & costumes for Serge Diaghilev's Ballet Russes the year before, but such schemes were brand new to Chicago. It must have looked like The Arabian Nights to those more innocent eyes.

Some of Carpenter's later schemes for private clubs included an all-black salon with white Directoire chimneypieces & furnishings, an Empire green ballroom--both with elaborate ruby red curtains in the Empire manner--a jade green dining room with dramatic concealed uplights, a faceted glass Art Deco fountain lit from within, black glass tables, gold chairs & lustrous black floor, in addition to numerous smaller rooms in various Modern interpretations of Biedermeier or Regency decors, neither of which had been seen in Chicago before Rue brought them into fashion. In New York, she redecorated Elizabeth Arden's salon, which probably owes its red door to her. And although the official company history makes it sound like it was done for a much more businesslike reason--one which cites the infamous & non-existent UIC study of the color yellow--according to Fanny Butcher, the reason Chicago's taxicabs were painted bright yellow was a friendly suggestion from Carpenter to John Hertz. I know which version I'm inclined to believe.

Anyway, that's the Cliff-Notes version of Rue Carpenter's career, but unfortunately, there are almost no photos. Some of her interiors for several private clubs were published in the 192Os, but only in small black-&-white reproductions. I have a color postcard that seems to show her multi-color scheme for the Auditorium & I also have a 192Os advertisement for Simmons Beds that shows a watercolor rendering of a bedroom she did for her daughter Ginny, but it has none of the flair of her more public works, and after Rue's death in 1931, she fell into obscurity, at least as far as the press is concerned. Only in the rarefied confines of the few private clubs where her interiors remain as fresh & glamorous as they were 8O years ago does Rue Winterbotham Carpenter's name still burn bright.

Thanks, anyway, for posting a photo of Rue's portrait in your post on the Fortnightly. I'd been meaning to do this for a long time. Magnaverde.

Julia Edelmann/ Buckingham Interiors + Design LLC said...

Oh my! I had absolutely NO IDEA of the magnitude or the history of this incredible woman's life or her brilliance. I am feeling pretty breathless in the aura that is "Rue."
I never cease to be amazed by the power of design and appreciation of what has come before.
Thank you, magnaverde, for sharing this!