Human figures appear on this important landmark of ancient Egypt, a stone temple dating back twenty-four centuries. Chicago architects and sculptors similarly participated in this very long and very human tradition of displaying people on the walls of prominent buildings. Temple of Horus, 237-257 BCE., Edfu, Egypt. Photograph image c.1930.
Silly vignettes, sometimes featuring the ancients, were popular forms of amusement during the last decades of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. In this Greek-based situation, a woman allows her water jug to overflow while seemingly mesmerized by a passing soldier. Curious incidents portrayed on the walls of Chicago buildings, though less overt, were equally amusing. Image c.1895. Carte Postale, Les Grecs, Republique Franciase.
This photograph depicts a dream-like narrative involving a dancing forest-based muse, a dwarf, and presumably a lost little girl. All of these were pop culture favorites in 1900, and seeing figures like these on building façades was considered quite appropriate. Image 1904. Uranotype, Neue Photographische Gesellschaft A.G., Steglitz. 1904.
Frolicking mermaids were a sight to behold—on advertising literature and on office buildings. Image c.1895. Advertising trade card, Dr. J. C. Ayer & Company, Lowell, Massachusetts.
The Greek mascaron or mask, a representation of a human head, has been used as an element of architectural decoration for over twenty centuries. Here a mask is positioned high on the wall of the Burnham Center (originally the Chicago Title & Trust Building, D. H. Burnham & Company, 1913) located at 111 West Washington Street. Shards of light make its presence fearful, yet strangely romantic.
Decorative elements, like the masks that march along the top of this eight-story building, were echoed on its interior. Macy’s Department Store (originally Marshall Field & Company, D. H. Burnham & Company, 1892), on the northwest corner of Wabash Avenue and Washington Street, still features elaborate cast iron newel posts with Renaissance-style masks mimicking those on its exterior.
This young lady personified beauty during the turn of the twentieth century. She possessed an outer innocence, an inner sweetness, and a vulnerability that many sculptors found irresistible; building façades were plentiful with carved images closely resembling this. A medieval headdress and gown completed this romantic package. Image c.1900.
Most sculpted faces of young women were portrayed on façades with qualities of gentleness and kindness. Here, mixed with those characteristics is an image of a woman—a Gibson Girl—with an inquisitive nature, an air of professionalism, and a dash of modernism. What seems to be a silly extravagance to 21st century sensibilities was her oversize hat; this accoutrement was her form of willful expression and an outward sign of middle class indulgence. Chicago sculptors often displayed women with similar forms of wild abandon: hairdos with fruit, crowns, tiaras, scrolls, flower arrangements, and leaves and twigs—all very Gibsonesque. Image 1909. G.L. Co., Paris. Series 2158/3.
An ancient warrior, possibly Greek, emerges from a delicate background of foliage. Featured on this battler’s breastplate is the image of a mask no doubt meant to represent a screaming and vanquished foe. Image: c.1885. Motifs de Decorations Interieure & Exterieures, Alfred Thiebault, Sculpteur. Pierre Bois Marbre Carton Pierre & Staff, Premiere Series–50 Planches, Paris-Auteuil. Plate 1, cover.
What was once the crisp carving of a schoolgirl has morphed into an almost indiscernible lump of stone. It has taken only eight decades of air pollution, harsh winters, and toxic rainwater to reduce a limestone (albeit probably not of the highest quality) carving to this. The youngsters who first saw this girl, those who were comforted by her watching eyes and reassuring smile, are gone—and soon will be this schoolgirl. (Ebenezer Lutheran Church Community House [completed in 1929 as the parish school], 1650 West Foster Avenue.) Image 2/19/2014.
The results of brutal winters and neglect have hastened the demise of much public stone sculpture in Chicago. Though crowned and wearing earrings—intact for now—this noblewoman’s future is in certain peril. She may be found upon the west façade of a house completed in 1902 and located at 1053 North Pulaski Road.
Upon the façade of a commercial building located at 3908 North Broadway, and completed c.1900, is the image of this arguably androgynous individual. The carved limestone figure is seen frontally; it is intact, fruit and all.
An elaborate bonnet draws attention to the striking woman concealed within, the epitome of Gilded Age propriety. This terra cotta bust was once located on the exterior of the Edwin S. Hartwell House, 14 East Pearson Street of 1885. Julius H. Huber was the architect.
This is one artist’s conception of a famous rescue, the saving of Andromeda from the clutches of a sea monster by the Greek hero Perseus. Greek myth had much influence upon the architecture of Chicago during the nineteenth and turn of the twentieth century. Image c.1895. Carte Postale (Bibliophile), France.
Fairies dancing about an angel figure make for a bizarre encounter. Some buildings in Chicago exhibit equally strange scenarios. People a century ago were accustomed to viewing such shenanigans in newspapers, books, advertisements, and on their buildings.
More is known of these creatures:
The original, powerful majestic Fairies of King
Arthur’s time have intermarried with humans and other elvish races, producing a smaller, less powerful
modern English Fairy. These can be seen throughout
England, dancing merrily in the meadows on moonlit
nights. During the day their night-time beauty is
transformed and they appear as ugly, wrinkled
dwarfs. Arrowsmith, 159
On moonlit nights, Chicago Fairies dance on the walls of buildings, both big and small! Sometimes, during the day, one may spot a “wrinkled dwarf” too, especially on LaSalle Street. Image c.1910. Emil Kohn, Kunstverlag, Munchen. Series 361/1.
Playful putti—here, there, and on every building. Image c.1895. Advertising trade card, Dr. J. C. Ayer & Company, Lowell, Massachusetts.
Decorative carved heads like this one were rather commonplace in London during the nineteenth century and before. This sculpture was originally affixed to the eastern façade of London’s Houses of Parliament (Charles Barry and Augustus W. N. Pugin, 1840-1870). This medieval-style artifact was donated to the Chicago Tribune for display upon the wall of its new headquarters building, the Tribune Tower (Hood & Howells, 1925). Depending upon the actual year produced, this carved, stone head can be considered one of the oldest of this type in Chicago—outside of a museum collection.
Especially during the Renaissance, architects employed putti—chubby and sometimes naked infants symbolic of innocence—as decorative devices for their buildings. This determined-looking putto (singular) was placed on the east façade of the Holy Name Cathedral Rectory (Henry J. Schlaks, 1914), located in the 700 block of North Wabash Avenue. A century of harsh winters and air pollution have rendered its once-smooth limestone surface a pitted ghost of its once pristine self.
Facing a rarely used alley may be found this nameless, decidedly lonely, spirit of the city. Almost forgotten, she appears from the shadows to be photographed…but only infrequently. (Virgin Hotel, originally the Old Dearborn Bank Building, 203 North Wabash Avenue, Rapp & Rapp, 1928).
There was no outward form of wild abandon with this figure, a caryatid from the south façade of the Field Museum of Natural History. Sculptor Henry Hering followed all the antique rules with this marble interpretation of a young, rather forlorn-looking Greek maiden. She possesses a countenance of a seer, an individual of knowledge gained through education and personal toil and hardship. She stands resilient, determined, and stoic. Her resolve is unshakeable, and she is indeed a person to be reckoned with.
A flying putto displays a panpipe and staff, both ancient symbols. This little guy is accompanied by birds and flowers—an altogether delightful but silly composition and one that was emulated in Chicago through uncountable permutations and for many decades. Image: c.1885. Motifs de Decorations Interieure & Exterieures, Alfred Thiebault, Sculpteur. Pierre Bois Marbre Carton Pierre & Staff, Premiere Series–50 Planches, Paris-Auteuil. Plate 35, “Louis XVI.”
A close-up view of the carving of an eye reveals much about the craft of stone carving. This detail is from a human face carved in 1890 and is but one sculptor’s attempt at accurately representing the human eye. It was fashioned from a limestone block and inserted into the façade of a Victorian period home located at 3210 West Warren Boulevard.
Portrayed on the façade of this Queen Anne-style home was the terra cotta image of a young mustachioed man, a rakish sort perhaps, as hinted so by his cocked cap. It has been suggested that this house and the home next door at #14 were built and gifted to the builder’s—Mr. Hartwell’s—son and daughter respectively. The Edwin S. Hartwell House, once located at 16 East Pearson Street was completed in 1885 to the design of architect Julius H. Huber. The house fell to wreckers in 2014.
A twin figure was originally carved for the same façade—separated by some thirty feet—about a century ago. This carving has obviously lost much detail, a potent example of neglect and improper maintenance, and spalling due to severe weather and certain atmospheric conditions like acid rain. The obvious and uneasily answered question remains: Why did one carving suffer so much damage while the other appears to have survived largely intact? Regardless of the answer, this image is a poignant reminder of the injury done to this city’s architectural sculpture exacted on a yearly—indeed daily—basis.