Prairie Linens

May 31, 2013 § 2 Comments

Once again a visitor on one of my tours commented on the detail work in the curtains in the nursery/dressing room in the Dana-Thomas House.   This is always my opportunity to talk about a little-known phase of the restoration project by the State of Illinois in the 1980’s. 

Under the leadership of Deanna Funk, the members of the Prairie Arts Chapter of the Embroiderers’ Guild of America voluntarily embroidered a collection of linens for the house.  No extant pieces designed by Frank Lloyd Wright existed, so Deanna undertook the research needed to recreated linens that would have been in a 1910 “Prairie Style” home.  Her quest led her to other Wright-designed homes of the period, the Milwaukee Art Museum, Taliesin, and libraries throughout the country.

When she had completed her research, Deanna determined what the restoration needs of each piece designed for the Dana-Thomas House would be.  Some were needed to protect the wood, others to cover stains, and others to present the ambiance of a 1910 upper-class home. Then, using the colors and motifs of the windows in each room, she created the designs and determined the materials and technique to be used for each piece.

Twenty different stitchers embroidered over 100 pieces in Deanna’s designs.  Under her supervision, they created bed linens, table linens, curtains, table scarfs, kitchen towels, an antimacassar, and a balcony hanging.  Today the pieces are rarely all exhibited simultaneously, but the curtains in the nursery/dressing room are permanent and a testament to the meticulous craftsmanship of Deanna and her team. In a dissertation on the project that Deanna presented to the 1993 National Assembly of Needlearts, she described the logic and artistry behind the creation of the curtains:

The glass design in the nursery, the room also called Susan’s dressing room, has one large “V” shape and small colored glass square details.  Because curtains were expected in a dressing room, these were necessary linens for the restoration.  The curtains have traditional Hardanger forming a pattern of stacked sumac motifs.  After each square is stabilized with stitches, each square is cut out, leaving a hole in the fabric.  Square filets are added to the holes to form a secondary pattern in the center of each sumac motif.

Hardanger  Detail (Photo by Deanna Funk)

Hardanger Detail
(Photo by Deanna Funk)

Nursery/Dressing Room Curtains  (Photo by Deanna Funk)

Nursery/Dressing Room Curtains
(Photo by Deanna Funk)

Music in the Gallery

May 25, 2013 § 3 Comments

GalleryMusic is again filling the gallery of the Dana-Thomas House. This weekend Storia Winds, a new clarinet quintet, will present the first of several thirty minute programs of music from the turn of the last century. Beginning in June, local flute students will perform programs on Sunday afternoons.

When the house was called the Lawrence House, concerts were common.  Laura (Walker) Brooks, one of Susan’s cooks, recalled one ill-fated series which I re-tell in chapter 17 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House:

Laura (Walker) Brooks remembered Peter, a guitar player who was begging for food from house to house when Susan invited him to stay at her home.  She hosted recitals by him with a free will collection and gave him the money.  One day he announced to Laura that he was leaving because someone told him that Susan was making money off him.  Laura and Susan could not convince him otherwise, and he left.

Probably the most significant performance occurred on February 13, 1912.  I describe it in chapter 10 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House:

The February 13, 1912, newspaper announced that Susan Lawrence Dana would be hosting a Valentine’s Day musicale for Governor and Mrs. Deneen at which a noted Chicago baritone, “George Vahl” would be singing.  The next day the newspaper reviewed the recital and luncheon under the headline, “Joergen ‘Dohl,” Noted Baritone and Local Talent, Participate in Program—Governor and Mrs. Deneen Present.” …As usual, the Lawrence House was appropriately decorated for the [Valentine’s Day] holiday.

What the newspaper did not report was that the love theme had special significance because Susan was using the occasion to introduce Joergen Dahl, her new romantic interest, to her Springfield friends.  Eventually the two married, and his hyphenated name, Joergen-Dahl, became Susan’s surname.  The local press learned to spell it correctly.

I doubt that the modern programs will have the dramatic undercurrents that these two recitals had.  However, I am sure that Susan would be pleased to know that the house is still being used as she and Frank Lloyd Wright intended, a venue for all the arts.

The Dollar Then and Now

May 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

inflationIn response to last week’s post (Click here if you missed it.), my friend Marge Dickinson noted that the $334 earned for the King’s Daughters Home by Susan and her mother is equivalent to over $7,000 today.  Marge’s source was the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Statistics consumer price index inflation calculator.  It occurred to me that using that tool to calculate the differences between consumer buying power of significant dollar amounts in Susan’s life with today’s dollars may prove enlightening.

The government inflation calculator only goes back to 1913, so I cannot accurately transpose the value of Susan’s father’s estate which Susan inherited in 1901 or the estimated architectural fee she paid Frank Lloyd Wright in 1902-04 to today’s dollars.  I can, however, put the end of Susan’s life in modern perspective through this method.

In Chapter 18 of Susan Lawrence, The Enigma in the Wright House I quote excerpts from a letter Susan wrote to her cousin in 1931.  Susan was refusing to give her cousin a small loan because she was running out of money.  According to the letter, the long illness of her cousin Flora who lived with Susan cost her $25,000 ($382,452 today).  She further notes that she lost $52,000 ($795,500 today) in rents the preceding five years, and had $3,000 ($45,894 today) in interest and $5,700 ($88,200 today) in taxes due within the next three months.

Susan’s fiscal and physical conditions continued to decline.  In 1942 she was declared incompetent and committed to a room in St. John’s Hospital. A year later, in 1943, her personal property was estimated at $57,386.11 ($771,332.34 today), and her real estate property was valued at $177,565.00 ($2,386,668.61 today).   To pay off her debts and to generate money to support her in the hospital, her real estate was sold, and her personal property was auctioned off.

Finally, in Chapter 19, I describe her fiscal condition at the end of her life in 1946:

Her final estate included a seal fur coat with a mink collar, a table radio, an electric fan, a small Christmas tree,…$25,000 [$300,000 today] in U.S. Treasury bonds, and $35,000 [$417,000 today] in U.S. Savings bonds…After expenses, each of eight surviving first cousins inherited $6,154.25 [$73,387.38 today].

Remembering Susan’s Mother on Mother’s Day

May 11, 2013 § 2 Comments

Susan Lawrence’s generous spirit and commitment to all segments of the community can be directly related to the example set by her mother Mary. Last week I described Mary’s involvement with the Lincoln Colored Home (Click here if you missed it). She was also instrumental in establishing the Springfield King’s Daughters’ Home for Women.  I explain in Chapter 7 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House:                                                 

King's Daughters Organization Logo

King’s Daughters Organization Logo

 Mary Lawrence had been on the executive board [of Springfield King’s Daughters] which oversaw the purchase and establishment of the home on North Sixth Street in 1895.  With funds earned through bazaars, performances, and donations, the organization completely renovated an existing building with all the modern conveniences available to accommodate 20 women over 60 in their declining years.  The refurbished home was furnished by individuals and circles of women from churches in Sangamon County. Mary Lawrence equipped the kitchen with her own funds and donations from local hardware merchants.

When Susan and her mother opened their new Frank Lloyd Wright designed home to the community with nine days of gala events in December of 1904, the King’s Daughters were again beneficiaries of the Lawrence family.  A two day bazaar that included a country store, a Japanese tearoom, booths, and games was held in the Lawrence House.  The event netted $334 for the renovation of the King’s Daughters’ Home that had been struck by fire in 1902.

Mary died March 12, 1905.  I describe her funeral in Chapter 8 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House:

A newspaper reported that the mourners “came from many walks of life and showed that Mrs. Lawrence in her dealings and charity drew no class or color line distinction, the gathering at the funeral being a lesson in the equality of man.” Residents of the Colored Old Folks’ and Orphans’ Home and the King’s Daughters” Home for Aged Women knelt at the casket beside members of the Springfield Woman’s Club and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.

The House That Mary Built

May 4, 2013 § 2 Comments

Lincoln Colored Home 1910 from Sangamon Valley Collection

Lincoln Colored Home (1910)
from Sangamon Valley Collection

This week Landmarks Illinois, a Chicago-based historic preservation group, named the Lincoln Colored Home at 427 South 12th Street in Springfield one of the ten most endangered historic places in Illinois. One of the first orphanages for African-American children in Illinois, the now-deteriorating building has strong connections to the Lawrence family and their home.  I explain in Chapter 1 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House:                                                                                    

Mary Lawrence

Mary Lawrence

 The home was founded by Eva Monroe, an African-American woman who had saved enough of her own money for a down payment on an old house which she opened for African-American orphaned children and elderly women in 1898.  To keep her doors open, she solicited money and materials from both the white and black Springfield community.  Mary Lawrence [Susan’s mother] came to her aid.  Mary assumed the $1,400 mortgage on the house.  Later she acquired the deed to the property so that the old house could be razed and a new one built.  She supervised the design of the new home and donated windows, doors, and chandeliers from her own former home.  During the building process, the 37 residents and staff lived in tents with no water.  Mary Lawrence arranged city water service to the property.  In addition to her many personal contributions, she organized fund raisers, enlisted local business leaders for service on the board of directors, and obtained annual funding from the county for the home. After Mary’s death the building was dedicated as a memorial to her.

According to a December 9, 2012, article in the State Journal-Register, the current owners, Lyman Jr. and Lee Hubbard, have also discovered that bricks from Lawrence School and the Lawrence-owned brickyard were used in the construction of the home.  Their father, Lyman Hubbard Sr., bought the building in 2005 hoping to preserve it as a community center.  He died in 2012 before he was able to achieve his dream.  The efforts of his sons to attain his goal have been unsuccessful despite the fact that the home was designated a Springfield historic landmark in 1997 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. Contemplating an auction, Lyman Jr. concludes in the Journal-Register article, “…since Dad’s death the project has become more of a burden than anything.  We don’t have the resources to carry out the restoration and have been unsuccessful in winning support for any type of public or private sector funding.”  The home needs another Mary Lawrence.

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