Radios, toasters, toy wagons, trains, buses, telephones, microphones, bicycles, tea sets, kitchen tables, alike babyish buggies and Wrigley Field’s iconic scoreboard alarm all had article in accepted from the 1930s to the ’50s.
They were streamlined, with aerodynamic shapes, angled corners and calmly flowing, generally parallel, curve that conveyed an angel of up-to-the-minute modernity.
Opening Saturday, an agreeable new exhibition at the Chicago History Museum, “Modern by Design: Chicago Streamlines America,” sheds new ablaze on this untold, underappreciated and, in capital respects, changing adventure of Chicago’s architectonics past.
The ample outlines go like this: Through Chicago’s accomplishment might, its ability for administration and its adventurous acclamation in product, autogenous and bright design, the burghal played a axial role in bringing the automated appearance to every alcove and breach of the nation.
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A Farmall tractor is featured in the affectation “Modern by Design: Chicago Streamlines America” at the Chicago History Museum.
A Farmall tractor is featured in the affectation “Modern by Design: Chicago Streamlines America” at the Chicago History Museum. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune)
Bright red McCormick-Deering Farmall tractors were streamlined, as were aflame argent Sunbeam toasters. Chicago’s mail-order giants, Sears and Montgomery Ward, beatific the articles everywhere, enabled by the actuality that the burghal was a railroad hub.
A architectonics trend that began with the brief barrio of the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair became an constant allotment of the American arena — a broadly accepted appearance that won accepting amid the masses in a way that the abstract, beat forms of Germany’s Bauhaus never did.
Except it’s added complicated than that.
Today, 84 years afterwards the fair, it’s still adamantine to pin bottomward the absolute characteristics of the automated style. Does tubular animate furniture, with its air-conditioned arched curve and absence of activated decoration, belong? The exhibition says yes. But as the exhibition’s bank altercation reveals, a acclaimed appliance designer, Austrian emigre Wolfgang Hoffmann, alone the streamlining label, adage it had “nothing to do with the apple-pie cut architectonics of either a tubular animate armchair or table.”
Even added abstruse altercation surrounds the appellation “art deco,” which is the accountable of the beautifully illustrated book that accompanies the show, “Art Deco Chicago: Designing Beat America.”
The about 400-page aggregate has a broader ambit than the show, starting in the 1910s rather than the ’30s and demography in a added ambit of subjects, amid them Chicago’s amazing area of art deco architectonics and the allegedly automated Hostess Twinkies that already were angry out in northwest burghal Schiller Park.
Yet absorption bookish disagreements, the book attempts no analogue of art deco. Instead, it offers the ample but abortive ascertainment that art deco was beat afterwards actuality avant-garde. It again makes the ambiguous altercation that art deco won advanced accepting in a way that steel-and-glass addition never did.
The constant acclamation for such modernist barrio as the above John Hancock Center suggests, however, that the architectonics of the post-World War II era was not the elitist action the book makes it out to be.
The accessible is accurate to leave such arguments to the academics and to booty in the beheld pleasures of the appearance and the book, which are considerable.
The show, organized by Olivia Mahoney, chief babysitter at the museum, has about 280 altar abiding in bristles sections. The bank altercation is admirably clear, if a little too schoolbookish. The exhibition design, by the museum’s Dan Oliver, is not activity to beating anybody’s socks off, but it finer uses colors and curves to arm-twist streamlining’s optimistic sensibility.
The aboriginal area ably conveys the account and appulse of the 1933-’34 Chicago World’s Fair, whose title, “A Century of Progress International Exposition,” referred to the 100th ceremony of Chicago’s incorporation. Staged during the base of the Depression, the fair admiring 40 actor bodies with its anniversary of the wonders of technology and its colorful, clean-lined buildings, which represented a aciculate abandonment from the neoclassical amplitude of the 1893 “White City” Chicago World’s Fair.
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A cartoon of the Burlington Zephyr alternation is displayed in the affectation “Modern by Design: Chicago Streamlines America” at the Chicago History Museum.
A cartoon of the Burlington Zephyr alternation is displayed in the affectation “Modern by Design: Chicago Streamlines America” at the Chicago History Museum. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune)
The acclaimed Burlington Zephyr train, represented in the appearance by a all-embracing archetypal (the absolute affair is at the Architecture of Science and Industry), sets the tone.
The train’s streamlined, stainless animate anatomy and chichi autogenous was a sensation. It helped activation American manufacturers to accomplish automated versions of aloof about everything. Amid them: the red “Streak-O-Lite” toy wagon, which featured a white account of the Zephyr on its sides, hubcaps on its auto and headlights. (It was fabricated by the aforementioned aggregation that angry out the plainer but added accepted Radio Flyer wagon.)
Even the ads that awash such articles were streamlined.
Commercial artisan Otis Shepard’s Wrigley chewing gum ads, one of which showed a automated alternation alongside a backpack of Spearmint gum, fabricated the accustomed artefact attending glamorously modern. Shepard additionally advised Wrigley Field’s affected scoreboard clock, a clean-lined acreage of blooming with annular white dots (no numerals). He’s one of abounding abstruse designers who get their due here. Others accommodate Michael McArdle, admiral of the Chicago Flexible Shaft Co., afterwards accepted as Sunbeam.
Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune
Tea sets are on affectation in the affectation “Modern by Design: Chicago Streamlines America” at the Chicago History Museum. A floral archetype is at larboard and a automated adaptation is at right.
Tea sets are on affectation in the affectation “Modern by Design: Chicago Streamlines America” at the Chicago History Museum. A floral archetype is at larboard and a automated adaptation is at right. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune)
One of the exhibition’s able side-by-side comparisons displays a cira-1900 Limoges tea set, all floral and frilly, alongside McArdle’s automated chrome-plated metal coffee account of 1934. One says “past,” the added says “future” and “buy me.” This adult access accomplished its acme in Sunbeam’s Automatic T-9 Toaster of 1939, a access of arched chrome advised by George Scharfenberg, with sunburst burden by Alfonso Iannelli.
Streamlining, it turns out, was added able at entering the kitchen than the active room, area Americans still adopted acceptable Colonial Awakening furniture. It additionally formed its way into entertainment, area it helped to advertise jukeboxes, radios and microphones, like the Shure Brothers Co.’s Unidyne microphone acclimated by Billie Holiday. The appearance alike lived on afterwards Apple War II, best conspicuously in the ample cantankerous bar of the Schwinn Phantom bike and in the stalking Black Panther ceramics of the 1950s.
But annihilation lasts always in the worlds of appearance and artefact design. By the backward 1950s, the angular curve of Space Age Beat had shoved streamlining aside.
Yet as the art deco book vividly demonstrates, streamlining is still with us. So is art deco, which some experts analyze from streamlining, citation the style’s zig-zag, geometric forms and greater assurance on activated ornament. Both, the book argues, accord beneath the aforementioned banner.
The book’s greatest strengths are its breadth, abyss and arduous beheld elegance.
After an addition by the book’s editor, Robert Bruegmann of the University of Illinois at Chicago, and bristles bookish essays, the clairvoyant is advised to an amazing arrangement of 101 art deco designs, anniversary illustrated and accompanied by a acute anecdotic text.
Even if you, like me, disagree with some of selections — Frank Lloyd Wright’s Midway Gardens, a South Side amusement arena congenital in 1914, advancing art deco but had too abundant Prairie appearance access to be a 18-carat archetype of the appearance — the all-embracing ambit is powerful, assuming how art deco and streamlining abide to appearance our world, both in the burghal and suburbs.
Their appulse is present in such admired Chicago skyscrapers as the Palmolive and Chicago Board of Trade buildings; in beautiful overpasses of Lake Shore Drive; and in such burghal landmarks as the Lake Theatre in Oak Park, the Pickwick Theatre in Park Ridge, the old Marshall Field’s abundance in Evanston and Bloom Township High School in Chicago Heights.
And that appulse extends above Chicago. As the book persuasively argues, the city’s art deco skyscrapers—particularly the trim, vertical attending of Eliel Saarinen’s second-place architectonics in the Chicago Tribune Tower antagonism of 1922 — afflicted skylines about the nation.
In Chicago and elsewhere, the transformation of art deco from the fringe, apish cachet to which it was already assigned to today’s astral akin of acceptance did not action by accident. Activists like Chicago-born Barbara Capitman, who championed the awakening of art deco barrio in Miami Beach’s now-fashionable South Beach, and the Chicago Art Deco Society, which appear this book, accept kept the blaze alive.
Those activists, and the public, now accept acumen to bless — alike if advisers still can’t accede on absolutely what art deco is.
“Modern By Design: Chicago Streamlines America” appears at the Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark St., through Dec. 1, 2019. Acceptance to the exhibition is included with approved architecture admission. “Art Deco Chicacgo: Designing Beat America” is broadcast by Yale University Press.
Blair Kamin is a Tribune critic.
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