Nudity and Censorship

July 27, 2013 § Leave a comment

david after the battle 5Got your attention, didn’t I? I discussed some experiences I had with nudity and censorship of the statues found in the Dana/Lawrence House in an earlier post (see “Classics in a Classy House”).  However, in research for the “Living the Wright Way” tours of the house that I will be giving in August and September, I discovered that I had ignored one of the more interesting pieces in the collection.  “David after the Battle” stands sheathing his sword with his foot on Goliath’s head on the east end of the reception area.

A photo of the reception area from approximately 1908 shows that Susan had a reproduction of that statue in the same space.  However, when the State of Illinois bought the house in 1981, no one could identify the piece.  Then site superintendent Dr. Donald Hallmark chose to place a reproduction of the classical “Apollo Belvedere” on the pedestal until 1997.  That year volunteer Ron Harris identified “David after the Battle,” found and purchased a cast resin of the piece, and donated it to the house. We still enjoy it today.

 Unlike the other statue reproductions in the house, this original was not from antiquity or the Renaissance.  The French artist, Marius Jean Antonin Mercie, was a contemporary of Susan’s parents.  Extremely prolific and popular, Mercie created works that are still found throughout France and in the United States.  Arguably his most famous piece is this depiction of David.  However, Mercie too experienced problems with censorship in Victorian 19th century France.  His original plaster David was shown in 1870 at the Rome Salon exhibition where it received first prize but a good deal of criticism because it was nude.  After exhibiting him in bronze at the Paris Salon in 1872, Mercie added a loin cloth to David.  Copies of that image were sold in various sizes throughout the world.

david after the battle4Visitors to the Dana House who view the reproduction of “David after the Battle” will discover that Mercie “barely” accommodated the censors because the loin cloth only covers David’s front.  Furthermore, with the original life-sized bronze nude now on exhibit in the prestigious Musee d’Orsay in Paris (click here), Mercie won the final victory.

Flowers and Jazz in Bloom

July 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

Jazz in bloom 3 (2)The Dana-Thomas House Foundation hosts Jazz in Bloom, their annual fundraiser, from 6 to 9 tonight.  It is always a delightful evening with a jazz band entertaining the guests who enjoy a light catered supper served under a tent in the courtyard.  Party goers are invited to bid on items in a silent auction and to stroll through the house where volunteers are posted in various rooms to answer questions.

Wearing a white satin gown with a diamond necklace, Susan hosted a similar party in 1906, but on a much grander scale.  According to contemporary newspapers, the “reception and garden party” was from three to six in the afternoon and from eight to twelve in the evening of June 22. No less than 44 women assisted Susan in receiving the guests at the Lawrence House.  Two orchestras entertained the revelers: one on the balcony overlooking the reception area in the house, and one in the courtyard accompanying the guests who danced on a platform under a canopy.  Maldaners, a restaurant still serving Springfield today, catered.  Newspapers reported that nearly 1,000 attended.

The description of the decorations in the Illinois State Journal reveals that the entire house was in bloom for Susan’s party:

In the entrance hall, where the receiving line stood, the floral color scheme was of cream and yellow. The reception hall was made specially attractive by a cluster of large Spanish bayonets and a huge jar of yellow roses.  At the fountain, water lilies and white and yellow daisies were artistically arranged…The whole fountain was entwined with asparagus vines.

In the dining room the decorations were yellow and white daisies and along the conservatory corridor baskets of white and yellow daisies were suspended, while asparagus vine was wreathed around the pillars.

Inconceivably pretty and attractive was the garden in the evening, lighted by numerous Japanese lanterns suspended symmetrically overhead and throwing a soft light on the merry-makers below.  Along the walls that enclose the garden was a huge Greek vase filled with holly hocks and old-fashioned flowers.  The feature of the garden, however, was the lily pond….lined with a score of water lilies, forming one of the prettiest of the decorations.

The lily pond is still the main feature of the garden, and the well-manicured plants and other blooming flowers create a special ambiance in the courtyard.  Guests tonight will be treated to jazz and flowers in bloom just as Susan would have planned it.

Mark the Dates

July 13, 2013 § 2 Comments

Leigh book

Leigh Gross Day, Susan’s close friend from childhood to adulthood, was a professional photographer and writer.  Often using Susan’s house and yard as background for her photographs (click here and here for examples), she authored several books and was published in national periodicals. 

Leigh created one unique book for her daughter Henrietta.  It was an album of photos embellished with colored drawings depicting Henrietta’s childhood.  This very personal book survives today in the Sangamon Valley Collection in Lincoln Library, Springfield’s public library.  One page in the book is a series of photos of Leigh and her daughter Henrietta with the notation in the bottom left hand corner reading: “Pictures taken and finished by—Susie L. Dana, May 2nd 1900.”

Due to space limitations, I only printed one picture from that page in Susan’s biography. Since all photos in the printed book are black and white, and there are no images in the e book version, the full impact of Susan’s artistry is missed in Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House. The staff and volunteers in the Sangamon Valley Room were able to scan the entire page for me, and a miniature of the stunning colored result is above.

I plan to use the full image as a part of a special tour entitled “Living the Wright Way” which I will be leading  at 10:15 every other Saturday morning at the Dana-Thomas House during August and September.  Guests on the tour will discover through images, artifacts, and anecdotes how Susan showcased the visual and performing arts, entertained friends and celebrities, and made a home for her family in her Wright-designed mansion.  Tours will be limited to 15, so reservations at 217-782-6776 are required and donations suggested. The exact dates are August 3, 17, and 31 and September 14 and 28. I look forward to sharing my discoveries with old and new friends of Susan and me.

July 4, 1909

July 6, 2013 § Leave a comment


When I decided to title Susan’s biography Susan Lawrence; The Enigma in the Wright House, I was conveying one of the major conclusions I had drawn during my research: Susan cannot be categorized.  She was a different person at different times of her life.  As her environment and circumstances changed, she assumed a new persona and frequently a new name.

This point was dramatically brought home to me again through two different 4th of July stories.  Last year I posted a description of how Susan and her first husband Edwin Dana gaily celebrated July 4, 1895, with the elite social set of Springfield (To read that post, click here).  This year I found the following news story in the July 3, 1909, Illinois State Journal:

For the first time in the history of Springfield the young women of the city will give a patriotic program on the Fourth of July.  This interesting feature will be held at 4 o’clock in the afternoon at First Presbyterian church in charge of the Young Woman’s Christian Association of the city…The church will be very prettily decorated in flags for the occasion.  The following are the numbers to be given:

Song—“Onward Christian Soldiers”

Devotional exercises—Mrs. L. E. Wheeler

“Battle Hymn of the Republic”-The Misses Grace Myers and Electa Sutton, with chorus by the audience

Reading—Miss Grace Kincaid

Music—Miss Althea Gross

Address—Mrs. E. S. Walker

Account of Fourth of July held in London, England—Mrs. Susan Lawrence Dana


The tone of Susan’s 1909 July 4th celebration was decidedly different from that of 1895 because much had changed in her life in the intervening 14 years.  Mrs. Edwin Dana was the widowed Mrs. Susan Lawrence Dana.  She had become a community leader (She was instrumental in establishing the YWCA.), had traveled in Europe for six months in 1907 and three months in 1908, and had developed the self-confidence of a public speaker.  At this time I can find no record of Susan’s other July 4th celebrations, but I am sure of two things: Each celebration was different, and Susan’s name had changed.

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