Archive for the ‘Paintings Prints and Photographs’ Category

“Everglades of the North” tells the story of the Grand Kankakee Marsh

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Filled with breathtaking motion, captivating photos and illustrations, compelling interviews, and dramatic re-enactments, “Everglades of the North” shows viewers how people have sustained and changed the Grand Kankakee Marsh.

What Grand Kankakee Marsh, you ask?   Exactly.  You’re like the lumberjack foreman who hired  only experienced ax-men:

“I’ve got a lot of experience, boss. I worked in the Sahara Forest.”

“Whaddya talkin’ about.  There ain’t no Sahara Forest.  There’s  only a Sahara Desert.”

“That’s right, boss.  Now.”

Well, as recently as 1900 there was a Grand Kankakee Marsh.  800 square miles of wetlands stretched from Momence, IL to South Bend, IN, more than 500,000 acres. For 12,000 years, the Marsh  supported countless beaver, otter, deer, frogs, ducks, geese, eagles and tens of thousands of native Americans.

Europeans began arriving in the 17th century. Some – like many French – melded happily into the timeless lifeways of the Marsh. But the 19th century brought waves of new settlers who saw the Marsh as an obstacle to a god they worshiped, a god named Progress. They took 70 years, but these new earth carvers  and river-straighteners successfully drained the Marsh. By 1920 only mini-marshes survived. What had been a beautiful river meandering through more than 2000 sandy bends for 250 miles progress-praisers morphed into an efficient, paltry 90-mile ditch.

In the last 20 years, however, the efforts of conservationists have awakened hundreds of persons in Northwest Indiana to the importance of the Marsh’s natural history and the possibilities of restoring the marsh to some semblance of its former glory.

Pat Wisniewski, Brian Kallies, Jeff Manes, and Tom Desch raised $100,000 and invested three years of their lives to make “Everglades of the North” the most important publicly-available contribution to this effort.  Everyone concerned not only with the destiny of the Grand Kankakee Marsh but with putting our lives into a more sustainable relationship with nature owes them a debt of gratitude.


Photographer David Plowden Publishes New Book

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

David Plowden, the renowned photographer of Midwestern landscapes, buildings, and people, has just published David Plowden’s Iowa.  It contains over 70 pages of photographs. A recent article about Plowden appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

Postcard History: Appreciating the Art Form and Discovering Midwestern Life

Monday, May 9th, 2011

This particular entry has a number of photos of postcards that I hope copy well in this blog. This particular entry is quite extensive but hardly comprehensive. I had fun tying pictures from actually places in the early 1900′s to present day places.

There are two entries that have extensive reference to two different Wikipedia sites. I am aware that Wikipedia does not always measure up to the standards of the academy but, in these two instances, they do a fine job of offering historical photos and generally, simple to understand explanations of how places in Chicago have changed.

Appreciating the Art Form and Discovering Midwestern Life

Grandpa Kleinhen died in 1978 and for a couple of more years, my grandmother lived by herself but, then her memory started to go and she moved to a nursing home. It was clear that she would no longer be able to live at home and it was time to go through their belongings and collections. I was in high school at the time but, knew even then there was a certain value to some of their belongings. Quite honestly, the value of these items was not measured in monetary terms. There was a greater appreciation on my part as to the role it had played in their life and hence mine. Grandpa was famous for collecting coins and, every once in awhile we would find his collection in the desk drawer, pull them out and look at them. They were old coins and for a few of them, he had a story to tell. Thanks to him, I have some coins from the turn of the century.
It was my grandmother and her brother, John, who were the real collectors. It is thanks to both of them that I have cancelled bank checks from the Wyoming Bank and obituaries from the Wyoming Post Herald dating back to the late 1800’s. The checks are interesting and give me a glimpse as to how they spent money and where they spent money for those larger ticket items. The obituaries actually have helped piece together some family history. However, it not the canceled checks or the obituaries that hold as much mystique as do the postcards I have from my grandmother.
These postcards were written to her, her father and, her brothers in the early 20th century. Unlike letters, the message shared on a postcard was extremely limited and consisted of no more than a sentence or two. Generally speaking, they were intended to communicate that the sender was thinking about the recipient.
It is fascinating to me that some 25 years later, my husband and I bought an old home in Valparaiso that had a stack of postcards left in it from the same time period. As today, they were used to send quick messages to family and friends but unlike today, there was an art to turn-of-the century postcards that has not come close to being duplicated today. There is no current postcard on the market today that comes close to the quality of card that was created in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Both sets of postcards are artistically amazing.
In fact, many times the artwork on the front of the card could easily convey the message the sender wanted to pass on without any further elaboration on their behalf. Postcards were created for every occasion and no occasion in particular. There were postcards for every holiday; some serious and some humorous. Businesses used postcards for marketing purposes. Postcards became the fastest way to share with family and friends back home where the sender was vacationing; a tradition that continues today. Some postcards were a bit on the risqué side of things, sharing messages that had a double entandra. Still others were practical and multi-purpose, hosting a snapshot of the latest family photo or their hometown. They all offer multi-faceted perspectives of life at the turn of the century.
Like many other commodities, postcards, at the turn of the century evolved into a huge industry that employed printers from around the world, photographers and artists. “The postcard market, in the first decade of this century, [the 20th century] was a very large business. Over $200,000,000 in pre-inflation dollars! This booming market drew the very best artists of the period, creating a wealth of quality material unmatched in the art world.” The designs are amazing and the photographs have stood the test of time.
The class on Midwestern Literature has inspired me to look more closely at the role of the postcard in society and in particular, the story of Midwestern life. It seems fortuitous that the two sets of postcards I have come from Midwestern families. The postcards I have from my grandmother, which will be referred to as the Tess Collection, were received while she and her family were living in Wyoming or the neighboring community of Castleton, Illinois. Grandma’s parents were not rich. They lived on a farm raising enough food for themselves with some livestock. Grandma Tess was the third of four children and, the only daughter. At the age of 13, her mother died and she was responsible for managing the house and her baby brother. Apparently, her father was adamant about the family staying together after her mother died so, Grandma, quit school and stayed home. The other set of postcards which will be referred to as the Griffin Collection, are from a family that lived here in Valparaiso in the late 1800’s and all the way through the 1900’s. This family socio-economic condition was better off than was my grandmother’s. Mr. Griffin was an Irish-American who had gotten into business and was fairly successful in his own right. He was a co-owner of the Chicago Mica Factory here in Valparaiso until he sold his interest and got into the liquor business after prohibition.
It is fascinating to note that despite the differences in their socio-economic life, these two families took part in the same popular mode of communication of the time which proved to be an equalizer of their social status. The cards in the Griffin Collection are no fancier or more expensive-looking then are the cards in the Tess Collection.
Academic books on postcards are virtually non-existent but, thanks to the internet and postcard catalogs, there is very helpful information for understanding the history of the postcard. “Deltiology, the official name for postcard collecting, is thought to be one of the three largest collectable hobbies in the world along with coin and stamp collecting.” 1
The history of postcards is divided into eight different eras. The two eras best represented in both collections comes from the undivided back era and the divided back era also known as the Golden Age. Nevertheless, it is important to see the evolution of this communication tool.
Pre-Postcard Era
Before the postcard, communication was done through letters and charged by per sheet. The way paying for postage works now seems only logical. However, requiring the sender to pay for postage in the 1840’s was a relatively new concept. Up until 1837, the typical policy was that the receiver was actually responsible for paying for postage. This presented quite a problem because often times, the recipient could not afford to pay for it. This policy changed in 1837 when in England, the Postmaster General posed a reform making the sender responsible for paying for the postage. Beginning in 1840, postcards became more popular. These postcards that came from lithograph prints, woodcuts and small cards.
Plain postcards were issued by individual countries and each had a stamp from their country. These were called “Postals”. They were used until the private postcard was developed by John P. Charlton of Philadelphia in 1861. The copyright was later transferred to H.L. Lipman. “The cards were adorned with a small border and labeled ‘Lipman’s Postal Card, Patent Applied For’”. “They were on the market until 1873 when the first Government Postcards appeared.”

Pioneer Era
Postcards issued before the Act of Congress in 1898. They carry instructions on the back, such as, “Write the address only on this side – the message on the other, or Nothing but address can be placed on this side, or This side for address only”. Grading Postcards
European countries were pioneers of this mode of communication. “It is said that the first postal card was recommended by Dr. Emanuel Herrmann, in 1869, and was accepted by the Hungarian government in the same year.
“The first advertising postcard appeared in 1872 in England. The first German card appeared in 1874. The Heligoland card of 1889 is considered the first multi-colored card ever printed. Cards with pictures of the Eiffel Tower in 1889 and 1890 gave the picture postcard a huge start on its way to mass popularity.”
“In the United States, the earliest known exposition card was issued in 1873, showing the main building of the Inter-State Industrial Exposition in Chicago. This card as well as other early advertising cards usually bearing vignette designs were not originally intended for souvenirs. Thus the first card printed with the intention of use as a souvenir were the cards place on sale in 1893 at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. During this period all privately printed cards required the regular two cent letter rate postage, the new government printed Postals required only one cent. The government cards had a preprinted bust of either Jefferson or Grant.”1

Private Mailing Card Era
1898-December 24, 1901

Undivided Back Era
December 24, 1901-1907

This was the beginning of the postcard phenomenon that was still working out some of the “kinks”. The postcard of this era was distinctively different than those that came later. During this era, the back was devoted to only two things, the place to put the postage and the place to write the address. One could only write a message on the front of the postcard. This is amusing if nothing else since during this time period, the need for complicated, long addresses was a non-issue. As you will note in looking at some of the postcards, the addresses consisted of the name of the person and the city and state in which they lived. The other dilemma duly noted was that any message on the front either had to be extremely short, non-existent or, covering the image, thereby marring it.

Griffin Collection
Look carefully at this postcard. It is postmarked twice. On the back of the card, it is postmarked in Chicago on November 26, 1906. The front of the postcard has a Valparaiso stamp dated November 27. This postcard is unique in that there is actually some white space on the front of the card for a message. Not all postcards had that feature
Message: Hello John,
Drop me a line sometime or come in and see me am working at Farwell’s is Pete C. in here yet? My address is Peter M Justin (?) 298 Erie St Chicago, Ills
Thanks to Google Maps, one can get see what this part of Erie Street looks like in 2011.

Here is another example of an undivided back postcard. Google Maps could not find Spring Haven in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Griffin Collection
The front of this postcard notes a series number as well as where it was printed. Many cards at this time were being printed in Germany because their technology was better especially as it related to those postcards done in color.
Message: Having a time here. Going home Mon. F.W. ?
Postmarked in August

Griffin Collection
Message: Try and be in for the opening dance. We will all be there. Hannah
It is interesting note the rich history of Jackson Park. It is likely that the history the park and grandeur of this pavilion enticed many visitors from the surrounding areas like Valparaiso, Indiana.
“History of Jackson Park
After the state legislature created the South Park Commission in 1869, the renowned designers of New York’s Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, were hired to lay out the 1055-acre park. Known originally as South Park, the landscape had eastern and western divisions connected by a grand boulevard named the Midway Plaisance. The eastern division became known as Lake Park; however, in 1880 the commission asked the public to suggest official names for both the eastern and western Divisions. Jackson and Washington were proposed, and the following year, Lake Park was renamed Jackson Park to honor Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), the seventh president of the United States.
In 1890, Chicago won the honor of hosting the World’s Columbian Exposition, and Jackson Park was selected as its site. Olmsted and Chicago’s famous architect and planner Daniel H. Burnham laid out the fairgrounds. A team of the nation’s most significant architects and sculptors created the “White City” of plaster buildings and artworks. The monumental World’s Fair opened to visitors on May 1, 1893. After it closed six months later, the site was transformed back into parkland. Jackson Park featured the first public golf course west of the Alleghenies, which opened in 1899. Today, two structures remain as impressive symbols of the World’s Columbian Exposition. The “Golden Lady” sculpture is a smaller version of Daniel Chester French’s Statue of the Republic which originally stood at the foot of the Court of Honor. The original Fine Arts Palace now houses Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. “
The building posted below is what the Chicago Park District has posted for this park. It is certainly does not match that which was there in the postcard sent in 1906.

Tess Collection
This card was written to my Great-grandfather, Fred U Tess. The message was from Bertha, likely a niece.

Tess Collection
This postcard is unique on several counts. First, the front of the card is one that is meant to be humorous, how subtle that humor is, is up to the viewer. It is also interesting to note that it seems to have been used to make some notes on the number of bushels of corn (41 ½) and oats (31). The back also seems to have been used for some calculations as well. There are several other features on the back of this postcard that are also worth noting. The place where the stamp is placed notes how much postage costs; one cent for domestic and two cents for foreign postage.
Since this card does not
appear to have been mailed it has no post mark. Therefore, the age of the post card is best determined by the fact that it has an undivided back, meaning it was bought before March 1, 1907. The photograph is from Wyoming, Illinois, the home of my grandmother and her family.
This photo was taken December 10, 2010 of the downtown area of Wyoming,IL.,+Wyoming,+IL&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&hl=en&tab=wi&biw=800&bih=435

Divided Back Era
March 1, 1907-1915~The Golden Age
It took six years before they figured out a way to allow for more writing space and still allow enough room for the address. As noted in the title, the practical name for this period of postcards became known as the era of the divided back. However, more sentimentally, this era is also known as the Golden Age of Postcards. While both Griffin and Tess collections do have postcards with undivided backs, it is clear from both collections that the bulk of postcards are from the Golden age beginning in 1907. “Collecting picture cards was all the rage in the early years of the 20th century. In fact the period from 1907 to 1915 is now known as the Golden Age of Postcards. During the peak of the craze, the U.S. Postal Service estimated that a billion penny postcards were mailed each year and many more were sent in letters or purchased to be added to collectors’ albums.”
These postcards were not all that different from those with undivided backs in terms of quality. The biggest difference is now there is space on the back of the postcard where more of a message could be written without disturbing the picture on the front of the card. It became somewhat of a challenge to see how small the writer could write in order to get the most in the message space.

Early Modern Era (aka: The White Border Period)

Linen Card Era
1930-1944 (some say 1945 or even as late as 1960)

Modern Photochrome Era

Just as postcards can be divided into eras, they can also be categorized by themes. It is no surprise that Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter and Thanksgiving postcard were the most popular themes. Another popular theme was humor. These humorous postcards did not just appear in one era but multiple eras. Several samples follow. It is interesting to note that the picture on the front does not necessarily correlate with the message on the back. In some cases, it is possible the writer chose the card to lighten the mood. This is the true of the following postcard.
This first postcard would appear to be from the early 20th century because it is has an undivided back. It was not sent so there is no postmark to verify its age.
Tess Collection

The following postcard certainly conveys a sense of humor and in fact, is meaningful because I believe it was written by my aunt. Using the message on the reverse side, I am jumping to the conclusion that she and my mother made a road trip to the Wisconsin Dells in 1958.

The copyright on this postcard is 1954. The postmark on the card is 1958. This is an example of a card from the Modern Photochrome Era, 1939-to present.

The message: Hi: It wasn’t quite that bad. We got here in fine shape. Roads nice, not much traffic and didn’t get lost once! Its cloudy but not too much cooler here, although got wonderful breeze! See you Friday. Gloria
The production and quality of this card is different from those printed in the first half of the century though the quality is still top-notch. That being said, it has held up well over time.

The next set of postcards is unique to the Second World War (WWII). The postcards are addressed to Bill Tess’s father, John U Tess. This first one was postmarked in 1943.

The Message: PVT W. F. Tess 3676.. Batt e-511th AAA?
Camp Edwards, ?
Rec’d your letter some time ago and will get it answered soon. We were camping out last week and go out again Sunday nite so I don’t have to much time. It is raining again today but after being in the army awhile you don’t even notice that. I’m still behaving pretty well and thats all. Love Bill

While the Tess Collection has some great humorous postcards, the Griffin Collection is rich with postcards from locations in the Midwest especially those from Chicago and Northwest Indiana.
One of the more interesting and intriguing postcards in the Griffin collection is of the West Side Ball Park in Chicago. This picture on this poscard, sent in 1909, is the predecessor of what ended up being the home for a few years of the Chicago Cubs. A quick search on Google helped illuminate the history of this ball park some of which I have included below. The message on the back, like other postcards, has nothing to do with the photo on the front side.
Message on the top front of the card: 11/18/09 Would like to hear how you are? J. A. Ambrosius
Griffin Collection
Message: Dear Friend and Bro, I have moved from Indiana Harbor now live 7010 Vincennes (in)? Chicago, ILL. If anytime find it convenient would be glad to have you call. Joseph A. Ambrosius.
The greeting of bro is a term of friendship. Joseph was not John Griffin’s relative.

It is obvious by comparing the postcard picture with the pictures from the Wikipedia web site that this is the same place. The history of this ball park is rich and intriguing.
Excerpts from
The Second West Side Park (1893-1915)

Action at a Cubs-Sox exhibition series, 1905
In May 1893, the club opened their second West Side Park a few blocks west-southwest of the first one; on a larger block bounded by Taylor, Wood, Polk and Lincoln (now Wolcott) Streets. They split their 1893 schedule with South Side Park, then moved into the new ballpark full-time the following year. Some sources state that the club moved to this location to gain attendance from the World’s Columbian Exposition, as South Side Park was within walking distance of the 35th Street station of the then-new South Side Rapid Transit line, which reached the exposition grounds at Jackson Park.
The second West Side Park is now also sometimes called West Side “Grounds”, but during its active life, it was most often called a “Park”. Like the first West Side ballpark, the new facility was hemmed in by the streets around it, creating a somewhat rectangular playing area. The original grandstand was reportedly double-decked, and the park held about 16,000 patrons. As with other parks of the era, fans were often permitted to stand along the outer perimeter of the playing field itself, so the park frequently drew well in excess of its official capacity.
On August 5, 1894, during its first full season as home to the Cubs (by then known as the Colts), West Side Park suffered severe damage from fire during a game against the Cincinnati Reds. As the fire spread through the first-base side stands, panicked fans trying to escape pressed up against the barbed wire fence separating them from the playing field. Only quick action by several players in wrenching the fence open averted a major tragedy. The burnt stands were simply roped off, and the season resumed the next day. Despite that near-disaster, the club rebuilt the park out of wood.
Expanded left-side grandstand in 1908
As the park entered the new century, it featured a small covered grandstand behind home plate. Behind the home plate stands, the team and ticket offices were housed in a fairly ornate two-story brick building topped with statues of baseball players. Uncovered bleachers extended along both foul lines and into left field. Beyond left-center field, the bleachers gave way to a small clubhouse.
The second West Side Park was the home of the Cubs’ most successful teams of the 20th century. From 1906 through 1910, the Cubs won four National League pennants and two World Series championships. The 1906 World Series between the Cubs and the Chicago White Sox featured the first cross-town matchup in Series history. Although the Cubs had one of the most successful seasons in major league history, winning 116 contests against just 36 losses, they were defeated by the light-hitting White Sox four games to two. The Cubs finally brought a championship to West Side Park the following year when they swept the Detroit Tigers after ending the first contest in a tie. In 1908, West Side Park became the home of the first repeat world champions when the Cubs again bested the Tigers. After a one-year absence, the Cubs returned to the Series in 1910, only to lose in five games to the Philadelphia Athletics. The 1908 championship has turned out to be the franchise’s last World Series championship to date (through the 2010 season).
The ballpark expanded with the club’s rising fortunes. For 1905, several rows of private box seats were built on top of the original grandstand roof behind home plate. That same year saw the construction of a new two-story brick clubhouse structure, fronted by columns, out in far left-center. After just two seasons, jury-box bleachers were built directly in front of and over the clubhouse. During the 1908 season, the bleachers along the first and third-base lines were gradually covered and topped by more private box seating.
By the early 1910s the wooden ballpark was showing its age, in large part due to neglect by Charles Murphy, the unpopular owner of the Cubs (one of whose alternate, media-driven nicknames was the unflattering “Murphy’s Spuds”). In 1910, the neighborhood view beyond the right field outfield wall was blocked off by an enormous, unsightly billboard. By 1912, the left field view was similarly obstructed by a large billboard which also served as the new scoreboard. The enclosure of the park was completed with the installment of billboards in dead center. At this time, the jury box bleachers in left-center field were removed, adding to the new claustrophobic feel of the outfield. With gambling becoming an increasing problem in baseball, starting in 1911 the playing field was adorned with large signs (as with some other major league ballparks) reminding fans “No Betting Allowed.” Additionally, the dilapidated park found itself competing unsuccessfully with new steel-and-concrete baseball venues. The Chicago White Sox inaugurated Comiskey Park in 1910. Four years later, the upstart Federal League placed a franchise on the North Side and began play in Weeghman Park. By 1915, the Cubs were the third most popular team in a three-team city.
When the Federal League collapsed after the 1915 season, Charles Weeghman, owner of the now-defunct Chicago Whales, was allowed to buy a substantial interest in the Cubs. One of his first acts was to abandon West Side Park and move the Cubs to Weeghman Park for the 1916 season. Weeghman Park survives today as Wrigley Field.
West Side Park hosting “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” in 1916, the year after the Cubs moved across town to Weeghman Park.
West Side Park continued to host semipro and amateur baseball events for a few years. It even served as a setting for “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West,” thus converting the entire former ball field into a different kind of “bull pen”. The ballpark was torn down in 1920. Murphy sold the leftover lumber for scrap. The site is now occupied by the University of Illinois Medical Center.

Events can seem as to be independent of each other but quite the contrary; The West Side Ball Park was actually directly impacted by the Columbian Exposition. The Griffin Collection contains several postcards depicting scenes from the Chicago Exposition. Though the Exposition took place in 1893, the cards were sent in the early 1900’s.

Griffin Collection
Message: Got your card yesterday but have been working so hard – didn’t get a chance to answer until now – I am truly sorry but I won’t be home Sunday. I had made a “date” before I heard from you. F. M.
“As the end of the 19th century approached, a few exhibition parks – those inspired by the exhibits and midways of either the Columbian Exposition or the (later) Pan-American Exposition – started to appear. Before the end of the year 1900, White City amusement parks were making their appearance in Philadelphia (1898 – it was also known as Chestnut Hill Park) and Cleveland (1900). Soon, some long-established parks changed their names to White City upon the addition of amusement rides and a midway (Seattle, for example). As the American amusement park was increasing in popularity in the first few years of the 1900s, the success of the 1901 Pan-American Exposition (particularly its “Trip to the Moon” ride, featuring “Luna Park”) led to the first Luna Park in Coney Island in 1903… and an explosion of nearly identical amusement parks soon followed. There were roughly 250 amusements operating in the United States in 1899; the number almost tripled (700) by 1905; and more than doubled again (to 1500) by 1919 – and these latter figures do not include the amusement parks that were opened and permanently closed by then.[13]
There seems to be some inconsistency with what gets credit for being called the White City first. The following source claims that there were a number of places around the country that were identified as the White City. Yet, according to other sources including the book we read in class, The Devil in the White City ,by Eric Larson, the name actually derived from the color of the buildings that were created for this exposition taking place in Chicago.
“The name White City in Chicago was not the first one of that name, it was certainly one of the most fondly remembered. Within years of its 1905 founding, dozens of White City parks dotted the United States (with Australia and the United Kingdom having namesakes built by the 1910s). Although most White City parks were out of business by the end of the United States involvement in World War I, a few survived into the middle third of the 20th century. The Chicago White City lasted until 1946…”

Griffin Collection
The message on this postcard, post marked Sept 26, 1908 is hard to decipher. However, it is from a person who sent John Griffin other postcards.

Griffin Collection
Message: How is John? I sure would like to see the dear old boy. Am coming out to Valpo the last of next week to the girls in 60. So stick around cause I really would like to see you awful well. Maude Ullrich (?), Harvey, IL
Valparaiso, Indiana was not too far away from Chicago and for some people. It was a retreat away from the everyday grind of work in Chicago. The hotel on the front of the next postcard a “popular” hotel in Valparaiso in the early 20th century.
Closer to home is the Sheridan Hotel in Valparaiso, Indiana.

Message: September 20, 1910
Will look forward to seeing your smiling face Sat. night anytime well be all right for your final answer even unto the eleventh hour. Things are ____ at this end of the line. Am badly in love. Banta
It turns out that John ended up marrying a young lady name Jewel. She had grown-up in Hobart, Indiana.
The postcards posted for this blog are but a small sample of what each collection holds. Reading the postcard messages from postcards sent to the Griffins gives the reader a glimpse into their lives; especially the life of John before he got married. He seems to have been well liked by the young ladies.
The postcard messages in the Tess Collection are less interesting when it came to suitors. My grandmother was much younger then John Griffin was at this point in the early 1900’s.
No matter the age of the sender or receiver, these postcards were a primary form of communication for people in the United States of all ages. The additional benefit is that the art work on the majority of cards was impeccable and is a reason why so many of these cards still exist today. Postcards take a person on an excursion through time where family and friends were introduced, places were captured on paper and, life seemed uncomplicated.
Books, ARose. How to Determine a Vintage Postcard Date. 2010. (accessed April 14, 2011).
Hartfield, Ronne. Another Way Home: The Tangled Roots of Race in One Chicago Family. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.
Productions©, Emotions Greeting Cards© / VH. Grading Postcards, Postcard Preservation & Terminology. 2006. (accessed April 12, 2011).
Reed, Claudette, and Robert Reed. Vintage Postcards for the Holidays. 2nd. Paducah, KY: Collector Books; a Division of Schroeder Publishing Co, Inc., 2006.

The Isle of the Dead by Arnold Böcklin

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

The tall trees, the feeling of cold in the air, and the thickness of the woods have always reminded me of Northern United States, particularly Wisconsin and Michigan area.  That is not all, there is an engulfing power of death, solitude, and dismay that are accentuated by the extremely dark sky, the implied vast expanse of water, the monstrous cypress, and the larger than life cemetery made of rocks.  Arnold Böcklin composed a setting in his “Isle of the Dead” that was designed to give chills to the viewer.  “[It] is known for its near magical mystic appeal, so much so that its prints and reprints continue to command unparalleled popularity in Germany and throughout the world” (

Arnold Böcklin (1827 – 1901), although of a Swiss origin, was considered to be the leading German “Symbolism” painter of the 19th century. Böcklin led a troubled life, plagued by poverty, sickness, and the early death of several children. He began as a landscape painter, but the central theme of his works included fanaticism.  For instance, the subjects he painted were largely symbolic and mythological.  There were “mermaids, fighting centaurs, bat-winged apocalyptic creatures,” and much more (  The artist was also known for adding a dramatic spin to deep expressions.  In other words, “[h]is paintings carried a unique fusion of ‘Romanticism’ with the dark concept of ‘death,’ in a ‘Symbolist’ fashion” (

Böcklin’s style is perfectly exemplified in The Isle of the Dead.  As if in the middle of nowhere, a solitary rock rises straight up from a dead calm sea.  That same rock has formed a rounded enclosure, opening up toward the viewer (  Tomb-like openings are cut into the rock and in the center are tall cypresses.  A boat with veiled figures and a draped coffin approaches that same rock and eerie cypress formation.  It can only be assumed that the figure veiled in white is the widow, taking her husband in the draped coffin to be buried in this overpowering and remarkable burial ground.

When looking more closely at the funeral party approaching the island, it can be seen that the oarsman has his back to the viewer.  In other words, he is rowing in the wrong direction.  On the other hand, it is only appropriate that the identity of all of the figures in this work must be kept unknown in order to uphold the mysterious affect of the overall theme.  “The sight of a human face would break the atmosphere” (

There is a solemn mystery in the way the rocks and trees are formed.  It seems as though the empty water, enclosing rock, and the wood are fused together in an unknown effect.  One critic even compared it to a Russian doll, or an obscurity within obscurity.  Another used Churchill’s description of Russia itself: “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”  In reality, it’s not as mysterious as it appears to be, it is simply a “solid embodiment of the beyond, a lonely tomb-alter in the sea” (

Böcklin produced five versions of the same scene.  Freud had a production in his office, so did Lenin.  Strindberg used it as the final image of his play ‘Ghost Sonata.’  The Surrealist community admired it greatly and Hitler owned a later version of one (  Berna’s version of the forty three inches by sixty one inches oil on canvas hangs in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. A Contemporaneous version is in the permanent collection at the Art Museum Basel.  The third version was once owned by Hitler and then found a permanent place at the National Gallery of the State Museums of Berlin.  The last was painted on commission from the Museum of Fine Arts, Leipzig.  And the last was destroyed during World War Two.

In the end, Böcklin became a great inspiration for veterans such as Salvador Dali, who also possessed the same obsession with fantasy and decay.  Today, The Isle of the Dead is considered to be among the most prized works in the history of art (  Real, photographed, or any version, Böcklin’s greatest work can still force out eerie and disturbed feelings in its presence.

The Potato Eaters by Van Gogh

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Since art is one of my greatest interests, I decided to do another blog about this subject.  I previously found that there are many Midwest American artists that spark my interest.  Recently I have also discovered that there are certain paintings that remind me of the Midwest even though they were painted by European artists about European lifestyle.  This only proves to me that life across the world, let alone the country, can be very similar.  My review of The Potato Eaters by Van Gogh is a perfect example of the crossover between European life and Midwestern life.

A working class family is sitting at a table, exhausted and visibly drained, enjoying a well deserved meal.  A single light above their heads is the only source of light, indicating that there is no natural light to rely on at this time of the evening.  The human figures do not appear awkward, but rather existing naturally, as Van Gogh intended them to be.

Painted in 1885, during the time when Van Gogh had just started painting, his technique was not yet perfected.  In fact, there is a sign of “gradual, technical, artistic development that has been followed out year by year.” There is even “evidence of the artist’s struggle with his medium.”  Van Gogh was said to have struggled with the nature of this piece, acting in despair and making this a revelation of his vision.  Despite all of that, The Potato Eaters was one of Van Gogh’s first great works of art.

There is a dark room, a light from an oil lamp, five figures sitting around a table eating potatoes.  This all seems simple and observable.  Truth be told, Van Gogh wanted to express what he saw rather than to produce a harmonious painting.  He wrote to Theo, his brother: “I have tried to emphasize that those people, eating their potatoes in the lamp-light have dug the earth with those very hands they put in the dish, and so it speaks of manual labour, and how they have honestly earned their food.”  His goal was certainly achieved; this piece is unlike any of his famous works.  It is not abstract or overly emphasized; it is observed, realistic, and raw.

The difference in the later style of his work is uncanny, especially in his use of color.  His later pieces were adorned with a full pallet of colors, while The Potato Eaters focuses on the cold side of the pallet, particularly the green, blue, and cool grey.  It is speculated that his color is not the result of a well thought-out scheme, but as an effort to group the light, and to hold it fast.  As a result, the image that was produced was so unique that it is unrecognizable as a work done by Van Gogh in color, composition, and brush strokes.

Further observed, one can almost feel the closeness of the people to each other and the exhaustion of their muscles and limbs.  Their dark attire and simple clothing is not the only thing that gives away the fact that they are of a working class.  The solemn expressions in their faces and the heavy feel of their bodies give away the fact that this must have been a productive day for the family.  There is closeness, obvious interactions between individuals, indicating that they are enjoying each other’s company and getting the best use of the last moments of the workday.  They could have been resting alone, they could have gone to bed early, yet they chose to gather around a table and enjoy a meal as friends, as family, as co-workers.

According to his words to his brother and the overall feel of this work, Van Gogh didn’t just want the observer to see the five figures at the table; he wanted the observer to feel the exhaustion in their bodies.  He wanted the observer to hear the clinking of the dishes and the soft conversations between individuals.  He wanted the observer to actually smell the potatoes shared by the family.  This piece does more than just communicate visually, with the use of Van Gogh’s observations and earthly pallet, it speaks to the observer in all senses.

As you can see, The Potato Eaters can easily be compared to a scene from a typical working family from the Midwest.  The feel of hard work, the exhaustion, the satisfaction, the connection with the land and it’s fruit is only some of the qualities that families from these two different parts of the world may have shared.  Overall, if I wasn’t familiar with the work or the origin of the artist, it would have been difficult for me to distinguish what part of the world this painting was representing.  Its raw nature has certainly made an impact on me and my opinion of the working class.

The Idlers: August by Karl Anderson

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Art has always been and always will be one of my greatest interests.  And although I find myself drawn to classical art by European artists, I have recently found interest in art painted by American artist, especially those of Midwestern origin.  I learned that art can be beautiful and diverse all at the same time. I write about my most recent artistic treasure find.

The sophisticated impressionist painting by the artist Karl Anderson (1874-1956) joined the Brauer Museum of Art’s collection of Naturalist American paintings in 1953.  The forty-nine feet by fifty-one feet piece is entitled The Idlers: August.  In March of 1993, in a letter from the Art Institute of Chicago, an archives member, Althea H. Huber informed the assistant curator at the time, Juliet R. Graver, that the piece was once in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.  It was also mentioned that it was later de-accessioned in April of 1950, sent to the Grant’s Auction Galleries in Chicago, and then sold in June of 1950.  Donated by Percy H. Sloan it is now part of the Sloan Collection in the university museum.

Karl Anderson, older brother to novelist and playwright, Sherwood Anderson, was born and grew up in Ohio.  Anderson studied at the Art Institute of Chicago for four years and then at the Academies Julian and Colarossi, in Paris.  After returning to New York, Anderson became a member of the Society of Illustrators and Salmagundi Club.  He later traveled back to Europe, touring Spain, Italy, France and England, soaking in the different styles of past artists.  Later, Anderson permanently settled in Connecticut in 1912 and became one the most renowned artists of his time.

The painting features two female figures: one painted in blue and rose, sitting and facing the viewer, while the other figure lies on her back, partially undraped.  The figure lying on her back is wearing a light colored dress that contrasts against the stark green coloring of the umbrella she is holding.  The development of impressionism is uncanny in this piece of art.  The vegetative hues in contrast to rosey fleshtones and blue clothing is a clear indication of the development in the artistic movement.  Furthermore, the influence of Pierre Auguste Renoir as well as Richard E. Miller can be observed in Anderson’s use of rich color to suggest visual depth.  In fact, the thickening appearance of the artwork gives the painting a  heightened emotional quality.

The piece projects feminine loveliness for the viewer, showing extreme elegance of the costumes.  The two figures sitting and lying in the sun appear almost unable to rise as they shield themselves with florid hats and the ever-present parasol.  The shimmering color of the clothing used by the impressionistic style is repeated in the greenery and the water featured around the two female figures.  The model lying down is nonchalantly revealing a breast as if in casual abandonment.

Karl Anderson had certainly utilized naturalism as the center of his practice.  Anderson understood color relationship as well as any artist living today.  Many characteristics of the naturalistic style can be observed in this piece of art.  There is a compelling and beautifully rendered environment.  There is Anderson’s highly diverse style, yet still remaining devoted to beauty.  There is quietness and gentleness in the mood of the painting.  There is the obvious presence of his knowledge of meticulous drawing that assimilated the sensuous organic rhythm of the French Art Nouveau style.

The Idlers: August was painted by Karl Anderson along the bank of the Epte or the Ru River in the summer of 1909 when he joined the American artist colony in Giverny, France.  That particular group of artist exhibited the same style of painting as Claude Monet, a French Impressionist.  In addition to that, they often painted elegant women in nature who were nude or wearing bright colored clothing.  In the case of The Idlers: August, the radiant scene occupied by the two women is created by Anderson’s use of thick brushstrokes and mix of contrasting colors.  The piece was featured the following year in the exhibition of Carnegie International in Pittsburgh, where it won a silver medal and labeled as Anderson’s masterpiece.

In observing this painting, viewers may find themselves in awe at the overall contrast of the work.  This contrast is not only seen in the drastic shift of colors Anderson used to illustrate the models and the environment around them, but also in the overall vastness of the piece in contrast to the individualized and precise brush strokes Anderson used.  For those reasons and more, viewing the work in real life is quite an experience.  The use of colors such as the rose and the blue does not do justice to its overall composition.  Most of all, once up close one can almost imagine the size of the brush Anderson used to apply the thick globs of paint on the trees and the grass.  In addition to that, the small and detailed brushstrokes used to illustrate the texture of the dress differs greatly from the large brushstrokes used to illustrate the floral arrangement on the young lady’s hat.  There appears to be a number of different techniques that Anderson followed and alternated throughout the piece because the result of his many different brushstrokes is very specific and detailed on a large and small scale alike.  One has to come close and stand back all together in order to appreciate the overall quality of the work.

The Idlers: August received the greatest amount of attention and acclaim.  Specifically, a writer for the New York Times praised it by saying that there is a combination of energy on the part of the painter without the compromise of gray.  He also mentioned that “the picture is both important and very beautiful with a same, robust beauty that will grow upon its fortunate possessor should it be bought for a private collection.”  I am in agreement.  It is quite satisfying to know that The Idlers: August is in the Valparaiso University permanent collection.

As you see from this review, beautiful art is not only found in well acclaimed museums of European cities painted by Italian or Dutch artists.  Beautiful art can be found in small towns, in university museums and painted by American bred artists.

Christina’s World

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

I noticed several posts about photography, prints, and paintings and I thought I would bring in my contribution.  I was thinking back on the visit with Gregg to the campus museum and I thought about those depressing photographs that were supposed to represent the essence of the Midwest.  I say depressing because they were; pale faces, deer carcasses, obesity, poverty, and plainness is good way to describe most of them.  But that is simply the reality of things.  I didn’t appreciate these images until I thought about it more and realized that one of my favorite artists is Andrew Wyeth, and one of my favorite pieces of art is a work done by him called “Christina’s Word.”

This piece defines Midwestern life, not just by my standards, but by the artist’s description.  The creator himself thought of this semi-dreary and depressing piece as a way to show how he viewed the Midwest.  For those are not familiar with the piece, it features a young woman, Christina Olson who suffered Polio and was left paralyzed from the waste down.  A house and a large barn is seen in front of her, and even though they appear to be relatively near where she is situated, her physical condition makes it much further away.  The position of her body and her overall body language gives the viewer an indication that the young woman is longing cross the large field to the house and the barn.

This particular piece holds almost every aspect of a Midwestern life.  The large barn located next to the house is a clear indication that the owners of the barn require a large working area and therefore are hard working themselves.  Midwestern workers are of course hard workers, dedicating their lives to their work on their land.  This may in fact be a very large leap for me to make in order to draw a conclusion between the characteristics of the people of that land to the size of the land, but it just simply makes sense.

Furthermore, there is the presence of the unique rural area.  There is the red and green tints of the land, the simple gray house and barn, a slight indication of a warm breeze, most likely smelling of fresh grass and dirt.  There is nothing urban about this vast field, in fact, I would not be surprised if the closest large city to this area is hundreds of miles away.   The land appears to be completely flat, like the plains of O Pioneers! It seems to go on for miles, alone, unpopulated, consuming the empty space around the house and the barn.  The indication of a calm and slow life on this land is only the obvious indication that this is an interpretation of a rural land.

There is also the presence of migration.  This may appear to be a stretch of an interpretation to make, but if explained, can be seen more clearly.  This house seems to stand on its own, no neighbors and no other signs of life occupying the nearby area.  The family of this house has moved away from a once occupied area and now made their home in this empty space, a space that may someday be fully occupied by other migrating families.  There is also a clear indication of the well-traveled road circling around the house and the nearby land indicates that migration has in fact taken place at some point or another.  Along with the assumption of the family migration, the subject of the painting is also attempting to migrate.  I realize that this is very literal interpretation to make, but I believe that her physical limitation and her need to reach the desired house are parallel to the migration of the pioneers in many Midwestern areas.  She possesses the drive and the desire to reach this area and is therefore struggling, like many who migrated to different areas of the country.

There is also the presence of the ties to the landscape that both the subject and the author have.  The author, Andrew Wyeth, painted this piece from the landscape of a home that he actually owns.  Just as writers write about things that have value to them, artist paint things that also have value to him.  This land was obviously important enough to include in his life’s work, and therefore possess specific ties to the landscape.  On a different note, the subject, the young lady, also has ties to the landscape.  The intimate way that Christina is connected with the ground seems to indicate a metaphorical connection with the land as well.  She feels comfortable on this land because this is her home.  Mostly, she trusts the land and looses herself in it, despite her delicate physical state.  This ultimately indicates that there is much more than a physical tie to this landscape.  Both the artist and the subject are part of this land, and it is part of them.

Lastly, the artwork displays the characteristic of set ways, or some may call it persistence.  The young Christina is frail and weak, consumed of energy from the disease that she suffered, yet she is yards away from her home, connecting with her beloved land.  Nothing was going to stop her from feeling the light breeze through her hair, the scratchy grass in between her fingers, and the soft earth beneath her body.  This is where she felt she belonged, and no amount of physical limitations was going to interfere.

Although I may be making make assumptions, based on my own opinions, art can be objective and personal based only the slightest amount of information on the history and the artist.  I may only know the basic information of the creation of this work, but there is so much more that can be interpreted just by studying the human subject, the positioning of the images, the color use, and the importance of this creation to the artist.  To me, this work is the Midwest: valuing family, exhibiting hard work, presenting migration, ties to the landscape, and showing persistence in character.

Small Space, Big Impact

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Backyard Reese Street Hammond, IN 1999

Last Tuesday, during our VUCA field trip, Professor Sponberg stated, “the things we take for granted are worthy of artistic treatment.”  This statement was made in reference to the question of whether or not the photography of the Midwest is worthwhile.  This caught my attention.  As we viewed various pieces of art presented by Gregg Hertzlieb, one specific photograph took my breath away.  The photo hit home.  I immediately thought about my childhood.  Having grown up in Hegewisch, a small town on the far southeast side of Chicago, I directly related to the backyard in Gary Cialdella’s “Backyard – Reese Street, Hammond, IN, 1999.  The homes situated in the Calumet region all have one thing in common:  a small backyard.  The homes rest right on top of one another, and since alleys exist in these areas, the space for a large backyard is simply not feasible.  Living in the Midwest, we understand that we have maybe 6 months out of the year with weather friendly enough to permit us to truly enjoy the outdoors.  When I was a child, my family spent the majority of our summers in our backyard, hosting parties, swimming, playing (working on our tree fort!), and gardening.  We utilized every inch of our “patch” of backyard and many others often turned their yards into an oasis of sorts.  Jill, my best friend growing up, and her two brothers begged their parents for a swimming pool.  Every kid aches for a pool, but in those neighborhoods, sometimes it just was not achievable due to the lack of land.   Having owned a 25 foot by 18 foot “stretch of land,” Jill’s parents decided it was possible to put up a 15 foot pool in order to give their children a place to play and entertain their friends.  Along with the pool, their backyard consisted of a tomato and cucumber garden and a strip of grass that served two purposes:  a slip-and-slide platform and, when the slip-and-slide was pushed to the side, a lounging area for the family dog, Lucy.  Talk about making the most use out of a small area!  We could not sit anywhere, but at least we had that coveted pool. 

Cialdella’s photograph captures the necessity to utilize space and create that haven of happiness longed for by everyone in the surrounding neighborhoods.  The teeny-tiny cement patio with its two chairs makes a nice seating area to enjoy the tranquility of the stone fish pond.  The shrubbery, potted plants and fake deer add to the owner’s need to create a space of their own that would reflect their imagination and their value in outdoor living.  This beautification is an extension of the homeowner’s pride in their home, and also serves its purpose in creating a little sanctuary for spending time outdoors in the gorgeous September weather in the Midwest.  Having the opportunity to view this photo reminded me of our backyard, and the yards of our neighbors, friends and family.  It allowed me to remember how something I often do not think about really played a huge part in my life.  We never took for granted the fun we experienced in our backyards, but I think the true magnificence of that space was taken for granted.  To those not familiar with the importance of these backyards, their beauty and splendor could easily be taken for granted.  By capturing the inspiration of one family’s backyard retreat, Cialdella reproduced that feeling of childhood happiness in me. 

I had my parents get online to check out Cialdella’s photographs of the Calumet region.  The memories that surfaced by simply viewing the photos caused a reaction from my parents.  They reflected upon their childhoods, growing up on the south side of Chicago.   Even though we grew up in different areas, the backyards were the same.  Listening to their stories and how their parents made every effort to craft their own special backyard retreats exemplified just how important the little things are.  This photo, and the reactions that resulted, truly helped me to recognize that “the things we take for granted are worthy of artistic treatment.”

Visual Representation of the Midwest

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

As fascinating and important as the written word is in communicating, the power of the visual is equally as important. That was confirmed for me tonight through our class,  with both the in-class presentation on the life of a voyageur and the different representations of Midwestern artists and places. I am now even more intrigued by the postcards that I found in the house we live in.  When we bought the house, we inherited a wonderful collection of postcards from the early 1900′s. My grandmother also kept a number of postcards that are from the late 1800′s and early 1900′s. They offer a picture of the past, literally; many show actual locations around the country but in particular, of the Midwest. They also are a display of incredible art work. Add to that, some even carry a message. Postcards were the multi-media tool of the day. I have attached one just as a sample.

Message on Ft Wayne Postcard

Grant Wood Re-framed in New Biography

Friday, October 29th, 2010

The life and works of painter Grant Wood (1891-1942) receive extended treatment in a new biography by R. Tripp Evans, professor of art and art history at Wheaton College in Massachusetts (not the one in Illinois).  Art Winslow’s review of Grant Wood: A Life in the Chicago Tribune can be read here.