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Behind the Scenes Library/Archives

Connecting Orson Welles to the Milwaukee Art Institute

Orson Welles.  Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection. Reproduction number, e.g., LC-USZ62-54231
Orson Welles. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection. Reproduction number, e.g., LC-USZ62-54231
Born on May 6, 1915 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Academy Award-winning filmmaker (George) Orson Welles’ childhood was a Hollywood story of its own.

His father, Richard Head Welles, was a successful inventor and businessman who made a fortune inventing a carbide bicycle lamp. His mother, Beatrice Ives, was an accomplished pianist and spoken word performer. By the age of six, his parents were separated and Welles moved back to Chicago with Beatrice where she had family. Not long after they arrived in Chicago, however, his beloved mother would die of jaundice when Welles was just nine years old. His father, losing his battle with alcohol, would die when Welles was only 15.

In the wake of Ives’ death, Dudley Crafts Watson (1885-1972), a native of Wisconsin and a cousin of Beatrice Ives, became Welles’ guardian in Chicago. Watson, a vocal advocate for the arts, was the very first director of the Milwaukee Art Institute–which was renamed from the Milwaukee Art Society shortly after Watson’s arrival, and is known today as the Milwaukee Art Museum.

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Art Library/Archives

Vive “Verve”

VERVE The French Review of Art Volume 2, Number 8 (September-November 1940) Printed in France Gift of Lillian Schultz
Matisse’s cover, VERVE The French Review of Art Volume 2, Number 8 (Sept-Nov 1940). Printed in France. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Lillian Schultz. Photo by Beret Balestrieri Kohn.

Imagine having your favorite artists, authors, philosophers and others ready at your beck and call for any project you desire.

What would you have them do?

Published by E. Tériade, “Verve: The French Review of Art” was a legendary quarterly art journal with that kind of seemingly-limitless access to legendary artists.

From 1937 to 1975, Tériade (real name Stratis Eleftheriades, French 1889–1983) was an art critic, patron, and publisher that commissioned artists and philosophers, including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and André Derain to produce works for his prestigious journal.

This particular issue of “Verve” (Vol. 2, No. 8, Sept—Nov 1940), devoted to the “Nature of France”, features a luxurious dark dust jacket after Matisse’s paper cutouts.

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Art Library/Archives

From the Library: “Men Who Own Big Libraries”

Scrapbook of Mr. Charles Mortimer (1824-1911) Milwaukee Art Museum, Institutional Archives
The cover (a reused ledger book) of Mr. Charles Mortimer's scrapbook. Milwaukee Art Museum, Institutional Archives. Photo by the author.

“Men Who Own Big Libraries: Milwaukeeans Who Delight in Collecting All Manner and Kind of Books” (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, June 18, 1901).

A title not to be passed up, wouldn’t you say? Who are these men, you ask? I had to read the 1901 article and find out …

I found this article, that goes on to describes the book collections of several wealthy Milwaukee attorneys and local leaders, housed alongside a scrapbook in the Museum’s Institutional Archives. The scrapbook was compiled by a man mentioned in the “Men Who Own Big Libraries” article. This man was not exactly a wealthy Milwaukee industrial titan, he was more of an odd man out–a mechanic whose unique collection provides a special surprise for anyone interested in Milwaukee’s early art scene.

Categories
Art Curatorial Library/Archives

From the Beautiful Box: Tarbell and Hand-Painted Glass Slides

Edmund Charles Tarbell, Three Sisters - A Study in June Sunlight, 1890. Oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Montgomery Sears. Photo credit Efraim Lev-er.
Edmund Charles Tarbell, Three Sisters - A Study in June Sunlight, 1890. Oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Montgomery Sears. Photo credit Efraim Lev-er.

In my last blog post, I shared with you the secrets of a lovely wooden box which contained a collection of glass lantern slides from about 1920.  While most of the slides are black and white, a few colorful slides rest as jewels among them.

In the early 20th century, photography was principally a black and white experience.  Color photography, an experimental practice at best, was not a terribly viable practice for mass consumers/audiences until the 1940s.

Categories
Art Curatorial Library/Archives

From the Brooks Stevens Archive: “Looka’ that slide, isn’t she a honey!”

elephant from MJS 1938
Design rendering by Brooks Stevens (American, 1911–1995) as pictured in The Milwaukee Journal, December 19, 1938.  Article included in the Brooks Stevens Archive, Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the Brooks Stevens Family and the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.

One of my job responsibilities is to be the curatorial liaison with the Museum’s Brooks Stevens Archives, a repository of renderings, photographs, and ephemera from Milwaukee’s preeminent industrial designer.

Today I was searching for information on a custom Packard “woodie” wagon that Stevens designed in 1940 for the Stratton Family, and I turned up nothing useful to an inquiring researcher.

However,  turning lemons to lemonade, while thumbing through Stevens’ press clippings from the late 1930s, I found something unusual and fantastic to share on this blog!

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Behind the Scenes Library/Archives

Beautiful boxes often hold beautiful things…

Wood lantern slide box with brass pull and glass lantern slides, early 20th century. Milwaukee Art Museum, Institutional Archives.
Wood lantern slide box with brass pull and glass lantern slides, early 20th century. Milwaukee Art Museum, Institutional Archives.

I’ve always felt that beautiful boxes should hold beautiful things, and that is the case for one small, graceful box stored in the Audio Visual Library at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Made of a dark, lustrous wood and elegant enough to be exhibited on its own, the box immediately caught my eye when I first came upon it.  With a squeal of excitement, I gently pulled off the lid and inside was a small collection of lovely glass lantern slides.  The box and lantern slides spoke instantly of a century past when traveling slides shows were essential to a museum’s exhibition program.

Categories
Behind the Scenes Exhibitions Library/Archives

Listen to Frank–“The past always hangs to the future by a thread”

Frank Lloyd Wright, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing left, 1954. World Telegram & Sun photo by Al Ravenna. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection (Library of Congress)
Frank Lloyd Wright, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing left, 1954. World Telegram & Sun photo by Al Ravenna. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection (Library of Congress)

“… Remember this, that society always continues. That the past always hangs to the future by a thread. And organic architecture and the thought behind it and the philosophy it represents is going to be that thread. I am sure of it. …” –Frank Lloyd Wright

Recently, while sifting through hundreds of reel-to-reel recordings of past lectures, our Audio Visual Librarian Beret Balestrieri Kohn stumbled upon a lecture labeled “Historical Master: Reel #93 Frank Lloyd Wright 1940-50 – Lecture at Episcopal at Nashotah.” We sent the recording away for professional transfer and, upon its return, settled into a quiet office to listen to a lecture we thought would be about the work of Frank Lloyd Wright from 1940-1950.

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Art Behind the Scenes Library/Archives

Museum Library – Used Book Sale, March 3-6!

Museum basement corridor lined up with books ready to sell!

It’s book sale time again! With its Used Book Sale, the Museum’s George Peckham Miller Art Research Library is thrilled to provide the community with the opportunity to purchase those materials that are either duplicative or outside of the library’s collecting area. And, of course, all the proceeds benefit the library’s book acquisition fund.

This is an exciting time of year for the library staff as it draws together two years (the last used book sale was in 2009) of cataloguing, organizing, and streamlining the library collection.

Categories
Art Exhibitions Library/Archives

The ‘American Engineer’, My ‘Big Chief’… Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright: An Autobiography.  Frank Lloyd Wright.  London: Longman’s, Green and Co., 1932.
Frank Lloyd Wright: An Autobiography. Frank Lloyd Wright. London: Longman’s, Green and Co., 1932.

As we approach the opening of Frank Lloyd Wright: Organic Architecture for the 21st Century (February 12–May 15, 2011) this is the perfect opportunity to highlight one of the library’s most interesting volumes:  a first edition of Frank Lloyd Wright: An Autobiography (1932).

Written with wit and charm, Frank Lloyd Wright’s (1867–1959) An Autobiography is an account of the master architect’s philosophy and work, as well as the story of his personal life, turmoil and all.  From his youth in rural Wisconsin to his apprenticeship with Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan in Chicago (where Wright found inspiration for his signature style), through to the tragic fire and murders at Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s autobiography tells the tale of a man that was truly larger than life.

Categories
Art Library/Archives

How did the Milwaukee Art Institute acquire Edmund Tarbell’s “Three Sisters – A Study in June Sunlight”, 1890?

Edmund Charles Tarbell (American, 1862-1938), Three Sisters - A Study in June Sunlight, 1890, Oil on canvas, 35 1/8 x 40 1/8 in. (89.22 x 101.92 cm), Gift of Mrs. Montgomery Sears, Photo credit Efraim Lev-er

Edmund Charles Tarbell (1862 – 1938), the famed American Impressionist painter, completed Three Sisters – A Study in June Sunlight in 1890. The painting, having stirred excitement and debate in the art world from its first appearance, was acquired not long after its completion by Mrs. Montgomery Sears.

Born to a wealthy family in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Mrs. Montgomery Sears was a prize-winning artist and respected photographer in her own right. An art patron and student of the arts, she studied under Tarbell at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and counted, among others, Tarbell, Mary Cassatt, and Alfred Stieglitz as personal friends. With their guidance, she eagerly collected the work of Edgar Degas, Edward Manet, Maurice Prendergast, Paul Cézanne, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse and more. (Today, most of her collection resides in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.)

So, how did Three Sisters find its way from one of the most important art collections of the early twentieth century to a fledgling art institute in the Midwest?