Archives, Columns + Series, On Archives

Chicago Artist Archive, Part 3

While working on my last article about the artist group N.A.M.E., I couldn’t help wondering if there were files on other interesting groups in the Chicago area that were similar to N.A.M.E. I turned back to the Chicago Artists Archive blog and picked out a few groups at random: The No Jury Society, Chicago’s Women’s Club, Chicago Public Art Group, and the Independent Society of Artists. What I found were fantastic vignettes of Chicago’s art history.

The No Jury Society for Artists was formed in the 1920s as a response to the exclusion of many artists from the Art Institute’s various annual shows, in particular the “Chicago and Vicinity Show.”  The “Vicinity” exhibition was a particular blow to some artists who applied each year only to be turned away.  When the No Jury Society formed, their main goal was to accept all art with the only requirement being a small yearly fee for membership.  The Society’s showings were located in the department stores of downtown Chicago, with the most frequent show room being at Marshall Field’s.  Marshall Field’s would donate the space and allow the artists to curate as they wished.  In the No Jury Society’s file is a copy of their 8th Annual Summer Exhibition at the Mandel Brother’s Art Exhibition Galleries in 1950. There is also a 1927 article from Palette & Chisel about their fifth annual show at Marshal Field’s and listed 393 paintings and sculptures from 222 artists, 114 of whom lived in the Chicagoland area.  The show was said to be hung in alphabetical order, one piece from each artist (in most cases), and fell in line with the groups ideal of “No Jury, No Prizes”.   There is no information on when the group disbanded, but it makes me wish there was still an organization like the No Jury Society still around.

In the file of the Independent Society of Artists, there are only two sheets, each exhibition listings from shows. One is from 1917 and the other is from 1918.  On one of the copies, there is a note stating the Society’s first showing was on April 4, 1916.  Both of these shows took place in the Fine Art Building on Michigan Avenue and primarily featured paintings. There is no information on the group’s origin, mission, or meaning of their name.  I am left to assume the Independent Society of Artists was a response to the annual shows at AIC, like the No Jury Society.

The Chicago’s Women’s Club, whose members included Chicago notables such as Bertha Palmer and Jane Addams, was started in 1876 as a philanthropic and social organization.  In the beginning, these women pushed for one cent milk programs and better treatment of children with jailed mothers.  They also financed kindergartens until the public schools started footing the bill.  As the years progressed, the membership declined steadily.  In 1915, the Club had 1200 members, but by 1999 there were only 40 members, all of whom were quite elderly.  Aside from aiding the Chicago public, the Club also obtained a collection of art and antiques.  When the Chicago’s Women’s Club closed in 1999, they donated dozens of paintings, rugs, chairs and other valuables to Roosevelt University where they are kept in the Sullivan Room of the Auditorium building, which is quite a perfect fit.  Their file is so slim that there is only one article in the archive, but it is a great retrospective of a group that did so much for Chicago.

The groundbreaking of their club head quarters

The Chicago Public Art Group’s file is by far the most extensive, containing articles from The Reader, Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times, various donation brochures, and the organization’s information sheets.

The Chicago Public Art Group (CPAG) started in 1970 as the Chicago Mural Group.  The goal of the Chicago Mural Group was to fill blank spaces on the sides of buildings and create a sense of community where that may not have been the case.  One 1997 article was about a mural in Bridgeport that was trying to promote unity in an area of Chicago that has a long history of racial tension.  One of the young painters in the article voiced his initial concern of being an African American working on a mural in an area of town where attacks on African Americans were somewhat common.

From the article about the Navy Pier Mosaic Benches

Two other articles featured CPAG’s works that are well known with tourists: the “Millennium Mosaic” at the parking garage at Millennium Park and the mosaic benches at Navy Pier.  A fascinating 2001 article from The Reader went through the politics of murals and public/community art projects: neighborhood governments wanting to tear down a building with a mural to make way for new developments, neighborhoods not wanting/able to pay for restoration of murals, or the desire to use that wall space for advertisement rather than art.  The article also delved into the uncertain future of some CPAG murals and how they are working with communities to save these landmarks.  The featured mural was “Tilt: Together Protect the Community” (1976) on the wall of the Midas auto shop on Fullerton in Logan Square.  This mural was on the endangered list ten years ago because there were plans to tear down the Midas and Fireside Bowl to make way for a large park.  This hit home for me: I stare at this mural whenever I am waiting for the Fullerton bus on my way east and it has always been feature of the neighborhood for me.

From the Reader article

Another article discusses the restoration of “History of Packing House Worker” (1974) that was made possible by a $23,000 grant from the Chicago Housing Authority.  The restoration was done by Bernard Williams, who recently restored another CPAG mural in Hyde Park entitled “The Spirit of Hyde Park.”  This file is a great record of an organization’s growth and connection to the Chicago community.  I highly recommend taking a look at this file if you are a big fan of public art.

For next week’s final installment of my journey through the Chicago Artists Archive, I will be looking at some personal favorites in the Chicago art scene.