Our friend Tamera Herrod forwards the following press release about a striking stained-glass Chicago-school window that just sold for a record price at a recent Treadway-Toomey auction. A much higher-resolution version of the photograph is available in our Flickr art glass album.
Historic Chicago Art Glass Window by George W. Maher, Louis J. Millet Sells for Record $120,000 at Treadway-Toomey Galleries' Auction
A relic of Chicago's Prairie School art glass circa 1901, the thistle window was designed for the James A. Patten house and implemented in vermilion, olive, opalescent and gold-foiled glass.
OAK PARK, Ill. -- A Prairie School art glass window with an elaborate thistle design by architect George W. Maher fetched a record $120,000 at Treadway-Toomey Galleries' 20th Century Art & Design Auction on May 7. Executed by stained glass master Louis J. Millet circa 1901, the triptych window was reclaimed from the James A. Patten house in Evanston, Ill. prior to its demolition in 1938. It had a presale estimate of $15,000 to $20,000.
"It's a spectacular window," said Rolf Achilles, curator of Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows in Chicago. "Maher was a highly regarded Midwestern architect who was not nationally known. He should have been. He was a very important regionalist." (read on below)
Millet was a creative genius whose considerable influence in Chicago's Arts and Crafts movement has slowly been emerging to the fore. Educated at École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Millet and his friend, George Healy, established an award-winning interior design firm in Chicago that produced some of the most innovative windows of the late 19th Century. In 1885, an Inland Architect article described Healy & Millet's work as so visionary that "after thousands of years of stained glass making, to be but a beginning."
Maher was known for his rhythm motif theory in which he focused on an organic element and used it as the theme throughout the home in everything from textiles, furniture, millwork and ironwork to lighting and windows. The thistle pattern was one of the most complex of Maher's designs.
"Maher used the thistle rather freely," Achilles said. "He was playing on Louis Sullivan's use of acanthus leaves. Maher used the thistle like you might use acanthus, but he was updating a classical motif."
Rich in symbolism, Maher chose the thistle for the Patten house to represent not only his client's Scottish ancestry but also his conservative Presbyterian lifestyle. In ancient heraldry, the thistle was the royal badge of Scotland and remains its national symbol. The thistle also represents the suffering of Christ.
"It's a grand window. It's very Art Nouveau with a spider-like and web-like composition," Achilles added. "The octagon is the web, and the flower becomes the spider. It's a wonderful composition. It looks like a spider coming down from one web to another -- a spider as seen against a window. The 19th Century loved the spider. Louis Comfort Tiffany and all sorts of artists did spiders. They're such wonderful and strange geometric forms."
The spider and its web were appropriate, prophetic symbols for Patten as well as the house. The spider is symbolic of wisdom, labor and prudence, while the spider's web represents human frailty and the temporary nature of earthly existence and riches.
A major force in the development of the Chicago Board of Trade, Patten was a speculator in wheat and other commodities who amassed a fortune worth $20 million by the time of his death in 1928. He served as Board President at Northwestern University and donated $2 million in gifts to the university in his lifetime.
The dream house that Patten and his wife, Amanda, hired Maher to design for them was built in 1901 on a half-block lot at 1426 Ridge in Evanston. One of Maher's finest commissions, the massive house was constructed of huge, rough-hewn granite slabs and cost $500,000 to build. It had 22 rooms, eight bathrooms, and a separate six-car garage with servant's apartment above. To surround his house on three sides, Patten paid $90,000 for an 8-ft. high ironwork fence that Maher had designed for Chicago's World's Columbian Exposition.
"I haven't seen much from the Patten house except photos and the still extant Maher-designed fence, plus some big pieces of rock around the neighborhood in Evanston which seem to be from the house," said Donald M. Aucutt, Maher researcher and editor of the Geo. W. Maher Quarterly and its current successor, Prairie. "The house was a major imaginative jump for Maher, who previously had been somewhat restrained. Amazing, really."
After Amanda Patten's death in 1935, her children donated the house to Northwestern University to be used as a tribute to their mother. It was during the Great Depression, and to establish a girl's scholarship fund, the house was placed on the market for a meager $50,000. The house idled for two years and finally sold in 1938. In December of 1938 the house was demolished to make way for nine colonial revival homes to be built on the site. According to newspaper clippings in the Evanston Historical Society's file on the Patten house, wreckers removed the last of the stained glass windows with the thistle motif on December 11, 1938.
Luckily, anonymous caretakers throughout the past century valued the thistle window enough to keep it preserved in excellent condition with few cracked segments. The 105-year old window was set in a new oak frame and measured 44-inches wide by 50-inches high. This thistle window design was a variation on the one Maher had used in the front entryway of the Patten house.
Other surviving work from the collaboration of Maher and Millet includes windows for J.R. Watkins Medical Products Co. in Winona, Minn. and the Vicks residence in Vicksburg, Miss.
Treadway-Toomey Galleries' proprietors are always seeking consignments. As specialists in 20th Century Design, both Don Treadway and John Toomey offer appraisal services, private consultations, as well as purchasing and acquisition services. In addition, Treadway Gallery now handles estate sales services.
For more information, call Treadway Gallery at (513) 321-6742 or John Toomey Gallery at (708) 383-5234 or visit www.treadwaygallery.com.