Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Lane Tech Murals

Margaret Hittle

In 1907, the Art Institute of Chicago invited all art teachers
across the state of Illinois to convene for the purpose
of improving the work of their students

or as they put it :

"to get more beauty in manual art products and more graphic art that is useful”

In response to that convention,
Thomas Wood Stevens (1880-1942),
a young instructor at the Art Institute,
began the mural painting class that two years later
would compete for the commissions sponsored by wealthy benefactor,
Kate Buckingham (she of "Buckingham Fountain")
to adorn the walls of the new Lane Tech High School.

As Stevens wrote:

"These hundreds of children must grope their way into American traditions, for the old world traditions of their fathers and mothers do not hold out long against the hard attrition of the American city. The children find in the paintings some hint of America in the making”


"We have encouraged the adaptation of subject pictures to decoration.. the student (artist) concerns himself little with matters of archeology and research and devotes himself to the composition and painting."

Stevens still has some reputation as a painter and muralist,
but primarily he is known for founding
the first theater department in America (at Carnegie Tech)

Clearly --- he was a bright guy
and probably a very inspirational young teacher
who got more out of his students
than they had in them.

From what I can tell, none of them went on
to successful careers in art.

But their works compare well
with what the large workshops
of earlier eras might have turned out.

And the four students chosen
represent the diversity
of the student body at that time.

Two were female, and
William E. Scott was African American.

(note: this was 60 years before
Affirmative Action -- and Chicago
was hardly a paradise of racial harmony,
as revealed by this
story about a model
who refused to pose for black students.)

William E. Scott

Yes -- I think this really is some hint
of America in the making

Gordon Stevenson

These paintings have
picked up the energy of the street

and have good, lively drawing

(I've got several images of this one,
none of them perfect,
so I thought I'd show them all)

They're all good,
but this painting by Margaret Hittle
seems especially inspired
(probably by the theatrical Mr. Stevens)

Dorothy Loeb

This is the famous "Lost Mural"
that was uncovered later.

It's called "The Primitive Forge"
and this artist
is the only one whose other work
can now be found on the internet.

Not that she had a big career,
but that she never stopped painting,
and lived in Mexico on a small pension
from her family.

O.K. -- maybe this is just
typical school text book illustration.

But there is a kind of fresh excitement about it
that gets lost when professionals
are cranking out another job.

Henry George Brandt (1862 - ?)

Six years later,
a much older student from the same class,
was commissioned to celebrate
native American life
on the walls of the new high school.
(and other high schools as well)

In a rather Romantic fashion,
as in the "Song of Hiawatha"

Not quite so gutsy
and ash-can realistic,

and more like the fashionable illustrations
of the day.

Henry George Brandt

Some of the details are sweet and dreamy


Anonymous marly said...

What you unearth is often so unexpected... a very interesting little article. I wonder what his theatre work was like, and if he did painted for the theatre as well.

October 21, 2008  
Anonymous marly said...


Here's a sculptor you haven't mentioned:

She is a poet as well...

October 23, 2008  
Blogger chris miller said...

A conceptual figure sculptor! Very funny - especially her "Fig leaves"

October 24, 2008  

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