Posted in Blogging the Archive on Wednesday, April 17th, 2013
Written by Laura Bickford
I spent the Fall semester of 2012 reading, sorting, and organizing a collection of photocopied letters that Roger Brown wrote home to his parents from 1960-1976. These were formative years for Brown, documenting his decision to leave the South and become an artist, his first impressions of Chicago, art school, his now-famous peers, and his initial thoughts about collecting and arranging objects in his home.
Not a lot is known about Brown’s life before he lived at 1926 N. Halsted and these letters offer some of the best clues of his developing worldview and evolving perspective on art-making as he found himself in a new, challenging, and inspiring city, both personally and artistically.
The original copies of these letters are in the collection of the Roger Brown Rock House Museum in Beulah, Alabama. Images in this blogpost are from the Rock House Museum collection.
During the period of 1960-1976, Brown left his parents’ home in Alabama for the first time to attend school at David Lipscomb College in Nashville, Tennessee. Sensing that the evangelical nature of the school was not conducive to the artistic life he envisioned, he spent some time taking art classes in Nashville and traveling through the South with a performer named Don. When he finally arrived in Chicago in 1960, staying first at a YMCA in Hyde Park, he wrote enthusiastic letters to his family detailing his new experiences, encounters, and impressions, both infectious and amusing. Particularly insightful, both to Brown as an artist and as a person, were his detailed descriptions of his lessons in art history and techniques. Before powering through his BFA in 1968 and his MFA in 1970, both at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, he earned a certificate from the American Academy of Art and Design in commercial design. In one of the letters to his parents, he detailed an assignment involving repeatedly drawing straight lines for eight hours and his mastering of several typographies by free-hand. These early technical lessons, when considered with his job working at a decal company (and before that, counting steaks at his job as a maitre d’ at the Palmer House Hotel!), can be seen as clear milestones and important sources of influence in the later development of his exacting technique, both stylistically and philosophically. Additionally, the seriousness with which Brown relayed home his responses to his visits to the Art Institute, particularly to the work of Surrealist artists and pre-Raphaelite painters, and the detailed descriptions and diagrams he would include in his letters about his lessons on three-point perspective and his first appreciation of the diligence and creativity necessary to become an artist, were early evidence of his lifelong dedication to being a full-time, occupational artist who drew from the entire object landscape for inspiration.
After working at the Roger Brown Study Collection for three years and constantly being impressed by the continuity between Brown’s early observations and sketches, and his finished works and writing, reading these early letters home added a new appreciation to his foresight. His almost intuitive self-awareness of the gravity of events as they occurred, and the seeming recognition of the impact they would have on him later in life, is striking. In the letters, he would send accounts home to his parents about mundane events that we now know were pivotal in his career and the development of his artistic and philosophical sensibility. This ability to recognize important moments in his life as they happened to him lends a deeper layer of meaning for me, for the RBSC and the archival collections housed within it. The sorts of documents he saved, now in the archive, has always been surprising to me; even more shocking is when one of these seemingly random letters or scraps of paper reveals the answer to a question about one of his works of art or an object in the collection that had plagued us. Brown’s ability to see everything through a big-picture lens is evident in his works that are simultaneously deeply personal but enlighteningly universal. His awareness of the long-term importance to the School and future students of his house and collection at 1926, is an aspect of the Study Collection that is perhaps one of the most powerful lessons I will take with me. By keeping yourself constantly open to the possibility of having a life-changing experience at any moment allows for just such experiences to happen. Getting as close as possible to what moves you, whether objects, places, people, or thoughts, and allowing those things to change you without an awareness of in what way or for what purpose, is an important aspect of a life worth living.
It felt so fitting to end my time at the SAIC, the Study Collection, and perhaps Chicago, reading about Brown’s beginnings at the school, 1926, and this city, which he grew to love so much.
You can access a map showing all of Brown’s Chicago addresses during this time here. The map offers insight into the neighborhoods Brown was living in and reacting to as moved around the city.
Here are two timelines, one indicating the addresses he lived at in Chicago during this
time, and the other indicating the chronology of his education.
Posted in ALL THE NEWS on Tuesday, December 11th, 2012
Greetings. The RBSC is in its fifteenth year of serving SAIC as a house museum encompassing the intimate nature of “home,” among many other things. 2012 is also the fifteenth anniversary of Brown’s passing from this world into the next, and from full time artist in his lifetime, to full time teacher posthumously, through his many gifts to SAIC. We remember Roger with gratitude––his gifts are alive as ever.
Here’s what we’ve been up to:
Hosting guests, lots of guests. By the numbers:
2400+ guests (up from 2011′s 1639), 89 SAIC classes (64 this semester), more independent researchers, and more half or full semester class projects.
Gillion Carrara’s spring semester Collections Practicum class worked on intriguing projects at 1926. One team attacked the “Top Drawer” project, documenting and rehousing Brown’s early/student graphic work, analyzing the relationships between his paintings and sketchbooks from the mid 1960s.
“Top Drawer” project: student at work and analysis of Brown’s theatre drawings and paintings
Emily Platt chose to examine Brown’s Pronghorn Diorama , which had been crated since 2004. Concerned about its condition we examined the pronghorn with Ruth Norton, conservator at the Field Museum of Natural History. Norton provided an in-depth description of its condition (pretty good!) and later gave Platt and RBSC staff a behind-the-scenes tour of storage containers for taxidermy and objects with organic components at the Field Museum.
Other class and research use of the RBSC included:
- Nick Lowe’s Unpacking Roger Brown course (fall 2012) used 1926 as home base, radiating from here into major private collections, museums, and galleries, in their intensive examination of specific paintings, through which they explore radiating themes, concepts, ideas, and interrelationships between and among Brown’s works and the world.
- Stone and Zanzi’s Better Homes & Gardens: Vernacular Art Environments met at 1926 each Friday, spring semester.
- Clemenstein Love’s Intro to Interior Architecture class used the first floor of 1926 for two major design projects, creating models and design solutions presenting an array of intriguing possibilities. A few may be realized but all become part of the creative record of the site, not unlike the 1922 Tribune Tower competition.
Thankfully, the project motivated the long overdue removal of the clumsy wing walls, replaced by temporary black drapes––a touch of class!
Patricia Rieger’s Diminutive Object class installed sculptures throughout the collection for their mid-term critiques. Juxtaposing works in the collection created a challenging context for critiquing the works, stretching the collection temporarily, beyond Roger Brown’s realm.
A visit from Lela Hersch’s Arts Administration Arts Consulting class, in which seasoned consultant Hersch and the class explored and critiqued most aspects of RBSC collections administration, resulted in many ideas for improvement and future projects.
Under the inspired direction of Leslie Buchbinder, Pentimenti Productions continued to use the RBSC archive to support the inaugural documentary film Hairy Who and the Chicago Imagists! PP has graciously covered expenses to migrate RBSC archival media into digital formats and share the wealth of their in-depth research. We look forward to celebrating the release of the film in 2013.
- University of Michigan art history student Franny Mendes Levetin, summer internship, organized documentation of Barbara Rossi’s career from the Phyllis Kind Gallery Archive.
- Katie Campbell, MA candidate at Christies Education, New York, conducted extensive research for her thesis Paintings and the Proscenium: Roger Brown and the Theater.
- Northwestern University sociology grad student Gemma Mangione researched the ways artists defined as “regional” are constrained and marginalized, but perhaps also benefited in some ways by that designation.
In September we deinstalled 36 beloved Yoakum drawings, to rest for at least one year. The Yoakum room is the only place with many works by a single artist in the RBSC and it feels quite bare. We now have the “Yoakum Lounge” where guests can peruse slide shows of Brown’s Yoakum drawings, the Art Institute of Chicago’s online collection of over 220 works, and a video interview of AIC curator Mark Pascale with Roger, in the room, in 1995. It’s comforting to hear Roger and Mark’s voices emanating from the room while the drawings are at rest.
Good Golly Miss Molly! An accomplished object imitator, staff member Molly Hewitt created captivating painted ceramic versions of the lineup of mostly sugary products on the top shelf of the kitchen cabinet; she arranged them on the shelf beneath. In this house full of objects there’s simply no telling which ones will inspire action.
Staff spent much of the summer preparing paintings for exhibition: 29 works for Roger Brown: This Boy’s Own Story and 23 works for Roger Brown: Major Paintings, and one for Afterimage.
Curated by Arts Admin/Art History student Kate Pollasch. Roger Brown: This Boy’s Own Story explored sexuality in many of its guises throughout Brown’s career, including erotic landscapes, sex in the city, love, longing, loss, HIV/AIDS, and pure joy, on view at SAIC’s Sullivan Galleries, from August 24 to November 10. The project illustrates possibilities for creative professional work graduate students can achieve at SAIC. Kate’s research continues in her masters thesis, contextualizing Roger Brown’s work addressing sexuality into the larger cultural, theoretical, and art historical narrative of 1970s sexual liberation and 1980s and 90s HIV/AIDS and culture wars in America. Below are a few views. Click here for a pdf virtual tour.
A pdf virtual stroll through the exhibition can be found here. We extend special thanks to Kate for a wonderful, insightful project and labor of love, and to Executive Director of Exhibitions and Events Mary Jane Jacob, and Sullivan Galleries staff Kate Zeller, Trevor Martin, Todd Cashbaugh, Christina Coscio, for their unconditional support of the exhibition and their assistance in every aspect of this ground-breaking exhibition.
The Roger Brown: Major Paintings dual exhibitions at Russell Bowman Art Advisory and Zolla Lieberman Gallery presented an array of Brown’s work spanning much of his career, from early, c.1968 works, to paintings from the last chapter of his life in California, and many in between.
A solo exhibition of Brown’s work will be on view at D.C. Moore Gallery, New York, January 8 – February 2, 2013. Robert Cozzolino will give a lecture there on January 26.
The exhibition Afterimage at the RBSC enlivened the RBSC from September 14 – November 18. A satellite component of Afterimage at the DePaul Art Museum curated by Dahlia Tullett Gross and Thea Liberty Nichols Afterimage at the RBSC featured micro-exhibits by Carl Baratta, Edra Soto, and Onsmith. Packed installations combining their own works, works by friends, source materials, and collections of sundry objects that they live with in dense intimacy, provided a perfect backdrop for orienting (and disorienting!) our guests.
Sprucing up the storefront: To maintain a mysterious RBSC storefront identity to the street, and celebrate the artists’ own “museums” we installed perforated window banners of slides taken by Brown in 1972, of Burnette G. Pletan’s Artists Museum, somewhere in South Dakota. Pletan’s title was Brown’s touchstone, and he wrote that he wanted to call the RBSC Artists’ Museum of Chicago, because …the things in it are of universal appeal to all artists and people with a sense for the spiritual and mystical nature that material things can evoke.
Stellar Staff ProjectsIt’s almost not possible to believe how deeply and creatively Nick Lowe delved into the realm of Roger Brown’s life and works, both realized and unrealized, during his one year sabbatical. Much of it can be seen in his blogpost and sabbatical blog.
When not hosting the near continuous flow of class visits, James Connolly, Ariel Fang, Laura Bickford, Molly Hewitt, and Danyu Xu all worked on various and sundry collections and archive organization projects.
The garden: In 1994 or thereabouts Roger transformed a weedy backyard with brick garage into a charming garden conjoining vernacular and high-style elements with conifer plants, thus distilling ideas and beliefs fundamental to his creative life. Last summer we brought in tree care experts to advise on the rocket juniper, which was looking poorly. Shortly after charting a course of treatment, a wild storm struck, repositioning it into a graceful, Martha Graham-like bow. It’s now decked out for the holidays…
Friends and comrades: Linda Cathcart and friends at Casa Dolores (Santa Barbara) held a Roger Brown Garden Dedication and Tea Party. Brown was close friends with Casa Dolores’ founder and director Linda Cathcart. Nick Lowe worked with Linda and her staff, creating a garden in Brown’s honor, with ceramics on loan from SAIC’s Roger Brown La Conchita, CA collection. We thank Casa Dolores friends for honoring Brown and keeping his legacy alive in southern California.
The At Home in Chicago consortium now has 23 affiliates. An enchanted summer reception was held at the Paul Schweikher House, where artist Martyl (designer of the Doomsday Clock, among many other things) lead us through the outstanding home and studio where she has worked for over 60 years. The RBSC hosted the group in September, where we fine-tuned ideas for the consortium website, which we hope to launch in 2013.
The RBSC has been an affiliate of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Historic Artists Homes and Studios program since 2000. In May the Judd Foundation invited Lisa to participate in a Visitor’s Experience Think Tank. She joined 24 house museum colleagues scholars of the genre at a day long discussion, held at the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation, the wondrous home/studio/collection of sculptor Chaim Gross, his wife Renee, and their daughter Mimi Gross. Mimi shared warm memories her years in Chicago and visits with Roger at his 1926 collection, noting the shared sensibilities among artists’ collections.
The Brown family Greg and Benedicte Brown spent a few days in New Buffalo in early August. We joined them for a special dinner, celebrating with a bottle Roger had saved for just such an occasion, a 1971 Chateau Mouton Rothschild (which had unfortunately gone a bit vinegarey!). Roger and Greg’s cousin Trudy Ballinger and her husband Roy traveled to Chicago in October to see all three Roger Brown exhibitions. Beloved Aunt Iva (who passed away on November 20, 2011) had faithfully attended nearly every exhibition of Roger’s in the Chicago area. Trudy has taken over for Iva, and plans to keep up the tradition.
We concluded the semester with a fireside chat/command-concept performance with the legendary Jon Langford and Sally Timms, who shared thoughts on being creative people while sidestepping the mainframe minefield, remaining true to themselves, for their entire careers. Excellent wisdom for Peter Exley’s freshman Contemporary Practice students to hear, and all in attendance were charmed. You can watch their performance HERE
Posted in ALL THE NEWS on Monday, October 1st, 2012
On the occasion of the dual exhibition, Roger Brown: Major Paintings (September 7 – October 27) at Russell Bowman Art Advisory and Zolla Lieberman Gallery we were thrilled to host the lecture Roger Brown is Deadly Serious! by Dr. Robert Cozzolino, at Zolla Lieberman Gallery on Wednesday, September 12. Bob’s lecture is now online and can be seen here.
The gallery was packed with fans of both Roger Brown and Bob Cozzolino, and Bob did not disappoint. Far from it, his lecture was packed with insightful thoughts on art in Chicago and the relentlessly bold positions Brown took, through his work, on the art world, politics, and other issues addressed with deadly seriousness.
Dr. Cozzolino is Senior Curator and Curator of Modern Art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia. He has organized many outstanding exhibitions including Art in Chicago: Resisting Regionalism, Transforming Modernism (2006) and The Female Gaze: Women Artists Making Their World (opening November 2012). A Chicago native and inspired scholar of Chicago art, Dr. Cozzolino has been called “the curator of the dispossessed” because of his attention to the underdog.
Posted in ALL THE NEWS, Peek through the keyhole, RBSC Related on Friday, July 13th, 2012
The Spartan Trailer is reunited with part of its garden, and much more.
A detail of the Spartan Royal Mansion Garden arrangement recently reconstructed at the Museum of Jurassic Technology, Culver City CA
In the course of the previous two months the long talked about Spartan Garden reconstruction has been accomplished. Having just returned from the second excursion to the West, this time via a northerly route (Wisconsin, Minnesota North Dakota, Montana, the Idaho pan handle, Washington, Oregon and California). Still very much on the trail of Roger Brown, via Seaside OR, where I visited Dennis Adrian, much as Brown had done in the 1980’s and then traveling onwards south to San Francisco CA to see Phyllis Kind, finally arriving at Culver City on April first. For one month I took residence in the Spartan Royal Mansion at The Museum of Jurassic Technology to complete the models I had begun in the Fall (details on this project is below) and to oversee the re-assembly installation of part of Roger Browns garden alongside the trailer itself. In addition I also supervised the loan of items from the La Conchita Garden collection to Casa Dolores, Linda Cathcart’s recently established Museum of Mexican Folk Craft in Santa Barbara where they will form part of a display in the garden at Casa Dolores a commemoration of Roger Brown’s life in California.
A photograph taken by Roger Brown of one of the plant arrangements alongside the Spartan Royal Mansion Trailer as it appeared in the mid 1990′s
The Spartan Garden, at the Museum of Jurassic Technology, Culver City, CA
The idea for reconstructing sections of the La Conchita Garden grew in part from work completed in preparation for the exhibition, Roger Brown Calif. USA (Hyde Park Art Center, June – Oct, 2010). Since 2008 I have worked with RBSC staff and with students through class projects and with the aid of much additional volunteer help, to assess and re-organize all the objects that were located in the La Conchita garden. And while this process is not yet completed the storage locations of all materials have now been confirmed and all items can be identified via the database by a designated location name that indicates where things once were in the La Conchita garden. In this process it became clear that Roger had organized the garden materials into distinct groups, choosing complementary plants and contrasting shapes with very careful consideration of placing and levels too. These details pointed to certain structural foci and this included the Spartan Royal Mansion trailer.
The 35 boxed objects are again reunited with the spartan after 10 years apart, seen here resting on the day of their delivery .
A table was constructed to resemble the one seen in photographs of La Conchita here at The Museum Of Jurassic Technology the new table can be seen getting its final faux-distressed treatment.
The center image shows Nick holding one of the smallest objects in the collection, a miniature porcelain Greek style vase. The image on the left shows this vase at La Conchita in the late 1990′s and the image on the right as it now appears in the restored arrangement after planting.
Through the careful close inspection of photographs taken at La Conchita almost all the former locations and uses of each item from the garden has been established. Being able to understand how Brown had planted each pot, and then how he had arranged and grouped these items has been key in moving the garden reconstruction forward. Following the formal gifting of the Spartan Trailer to the long term care of the Museum of Jurassic Technology in November 2010, (the trailer had been on loan to the Museum by SAIC since 1998) the logic for making an additional gift of related garden items became extremely compelling. Through additional close research an initial set of 55 objects (from a total of over 500) were identified and from these a final list of 34 objects was agreed upon and then shipped to the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City.
The Roger Brown Garden at Casa Dolores, Santa Barbara, CA
Casa Dolores, Center for the Study of the Popular Arts of Mexico, was founded by Linda Cathcart as a permanent home for her collection of hand crafted objects from Mexico. Having begun her career at the Whitney Linda went on to make a significant impact at the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo NY where she gave many artists the first museum show of their career, Ed Ruscha, Bruce Nauman and Robert Longo, to name but a few. Meeting Roger Brown in the mid 1980’s when she was Curator at Houston’s Contemporary Arts Museum in Texas. Linda went on to open her own commercial gallery in Santa Monica in the late 1980’s and through it she became known for her support of artists such as Alice Neel, Jim Shaw, and Cindy Sherman. Linda has pursued her passion for Mexican craft objects since she was a child. A passion initially kindled while on family trips to Mexico and that continues to the present day as a collection of over 6000 remarkable items. The establishment of Casa Dolores with its changing and focused exhibitions is beginning to signify the collection as an important source of detail for this kind of material. When becoming better acquainted with Roger Brown in the late 1980’s they both recognized in each other a passion for collecting vernacular objects. Their friendship grew strong via a series of excursions and exchanges that were concerned with seeking out traditional ceramics from Mexico and the mid century North American and Californian ceramics upon which Mexican aesthetics have had such a great influence. The exchange of ideas extended into the arrangements they each made of their collections in their homes and gardens. At Casa Dolores today, Linda readily acknowledges the distinct influence that Roger Brown’s approach to collecting and arranging has bought to her thinking when making her own garden arrangements.
An initial installation of the ceramics on loan to Casa Dolores. The items will be planted and arranged in a manner that evokes the spirit of Roger Brown’s arrangement of these objects as they once appeared in his garden at La Conchita in the mid 1990′s.
In complete recognition of her friendship with Roger and of their creative exchanges over collecting and garden making, Linda has established an area of the garden at Casa Dolores as a garden for Roger Brown. Some years ago she planted two red tea roses intending that they should form an arch as a tribute to Roger who had planted roses of this kind at La Conchita. Linda has talked about how Roger in his use of this particular rose and its combination with cacti, wanted to reflect the decorative horticulture common in the gardens of all the California Missions. Brown visited many of the missions and demonstrated his enthusiasm and love for them by borrowing for his home many of the physical aspects he saw there. The structure and organization of the La Conchita house with its clerestory buildings are alone significant for the way they resemble ecclesiastical buildings but it is in the earth pink color that he painted the exterior of his house in La Conchita that we see the most direct reference to the California missions. Brown insisted the pink should be the exact same tone as that on the walls of the cemetery at La Purisma in Lompoc. The precision and clarity in Brown’s home and garden making at La Conchita is something that had struck Linda as significant to remembering his life in California. In our recent conversations Linda and I had talked about her desire to honor Roger’s La Conchita garden in her own at Casa Dolores by bringing together pots and re-creating plantings for them that echo Roger’s approaches. And it is on this basis that thirteen objects from the La Conchita North garden, the street side of the house, could be offered on loan to Casa Dolores. I was able to personally deliver these objects to Casa Dolores in April and also to spend time with Linda and her staff to advise on their installation and positioning in the garden.
Trailer living – Models and Video’s in the Spartan Royal Mansion
Another main function of my residency at the Museum of Jurassic Technology was to build and install a series of models inside the Spartan Trailer itself. The trailer is replete with niches and closets, and a key aspect of trailer living and trailer design is their economy of space, Spartan trailer design is known in particular for its attention to detail and utility. Discussions with the team at the Museum about installing models in the trailer had begun in the Fall of 2010, and by doing this to bring aspects of Roger Brown’s La Conchita life back to the trailer. Additionally, the Museum of Jurassic Technology has a longstanding interest in mid century trailer design and aside from the Royal Mansion, (Roger Brown’s trailer, formerly moored at La Conchita) David Wilson, the Museum’s creative director also owns a Spartanette, a trailer that predates the Royal Mansion by 10 years or so. Interest in trailer life is also expressed through one of the museum exhibits, “The Garden of Eden on Wheels – Selected Collections from Los Angeles Area Mobile Home and Trailer Parks”. Key to this exhibit are a series dioramas in miniature that show scenes with mobile homes in California settings alongside displays of ceramics and domestic vernacular objects from actual trailer inhabitants in the LA area. The exhibit also features narratives about homeliness and establishes the emotional grounds for a sense of belonging in transience.
The ‘outside’ spartan model installed in the trailer at The Museum Of Jurassic Technology, Culver City CA
The ‘inside’ spartan model installed in the trailer at The Museum Of Jurassic Technology, Culver City CA
My proposal for models inside the trailer was to honor and reference ‘The Garden of Eden on Wheels’, and the ongoing conversation about trailer life at the Museum, while bringing the life of the Roger Brown trailer into focus in parallel to it. While preparing the Hyde Park exhibit I had begun construction of a model representing the South East interior corner of the La Conchita house, complete with replicas in miniature of the collection, furniture and objects and decided that unlike the other previous models which now reside at the Roger Brown Study Collection and function as interpretative material, this new corner model should be installed in the television cabinet that faces the dining and living area of the trailer. This particular closet interested me because it can be accessed from two directions by two doors that are at right angles to each other. In my previous Fall residency I had also begun to devise two more models but this time of the trailer itself. My intention here was to install these trailer models at either end of the trailer, in each of the long niche like shelves that span the narrow space above the end windows. Having begun with a series of scale drawings and models as sketches in the Fall, the two trailer models are now completed and installed also. Each model shows the Spartan trailer as an object in its own right, split in half length-ways, one model depicts the interior East side of the trailer, while the other shows the west outer face. The constructions were made in wood and metal utilizing as closely as possible replica scale materials at one inch to one foot.
For more details on all of these projects please visit my Sabbatical blog pages –
Nicholas Lowe, June 2012
Posted in ALL THE NEWS on Tuesday, June 26th, 2012
At nearly 125 years old the storefront doors and the apartment door at 1926 N. Halsted St. were perhaps the most used and abused element of the building. Having been opened and closed by countless people over the years, they had lost much structural integrity and were just plain worn out. The building had settled unevenly, both horizontally and laterally, and the north door had become almost comically out of square. Facing east, the surfaces had been taken the full force of the weather and were seriously deteriorated. The restoration project was undertaken by Neal Vogel / Restoric LLC with master carpenter Andy De LaRosa and Steve De LaRosa, and painted surfaces by Anthony Kartsonas.
Like many projects to restore historic buildings, the plan seems finite at the outset and changes considerably once the project begins. The goal was to preserve, rather than replicate, all three doors and to make them structurally sound, with a surface that would hold up to the weather as long as possible. We didn’t anticipate that the apartment door frame had to be completely rebuilt, requiring modification of the carved entry panels, and modifications to the doors to accommodate for the movement of the building, so when the door is closed the opening is sealed.
The apartment door and both storefront doors were found to be two doors sandwiched together, each. Andy De LaRosa explained that in the 1880s there was an abundance of wood and labor and it made sense to strengthen the doors by sandwiching two together. Using the available technology of the time, the inner and outer doors were held together by screws, no adhesive was used, a system which eventually failed, causing the doors to separate. The shifting of the door planes away from the original orientation presented the challenge of how to respect the original construction while restoring the doors to 21st century needs and goals.
The original hardware had long since ceased to operate and various add-on hardware had been installed over the years. De LaRosa restored the remaining original hardware to functionality, installed new locking hardware. A new threshold was installed to prevent moisture from entering, as the cast iron porch tilts downward.
Some of the stile, panel, and rail wood had deteriorated beyond repair and had to be replaced on all three doors, so the exterior surfaces, which were unpainted, had to be painted to unify the surfaces. We preserve the building to the period Roger Brown lived and worked here, 1974 to 1995. We have but a single color photo of the building from that period, showing wood that had most likely been stripped. Tony Kartsonis applied the gorgeous, warm-toned wood grain finish.
Restoric and De LaRosa shoot for at least 150 years of serviceable life until the job has to be done again. The doors––a large measure of our face to the street––are fully restored to functionality and a renewed, refreshed appearance, ready for their next century. Our thanks go out to Restoric, the De LaRosa team, and Tony Kartsonis. This project was funded by a generous donation from the Walter and Karla Goldschmidt Foundation, to whom we are especially grateful.
Lisa Stone, June 2012
Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, May 29th, 2012
I began working at the Roger Brown Study Collection (RBSC) in Fall 2010, which was also my first semester as a grad student at SAIC’s Dual Degree Program in Modern Art History, Theory, and Criticism and Arts Administration and Policy. In the winter of 2010, as a TA at the RBSC, I worked on a project to create high resolution scans of Roger Brown’s work from the early 1970s to 1997, nearly 900 images. The privilege of intimately studying each artwork became an engrossing experience, altering my understanding of Brown’s work on a monumental level. Spending hours scanning and editing, I began to notice that the subject of sexuality was a steady current running throughout Brown’s entire career. The ripple effect of that early observation has led me on a two-year professional and academic exploration into the subject of sexuality in Brown’s life and work, the result of which is the upcoming exhibition, Roger Brown: This Boy’s Own Story, opening August 25th 2012 at SAIC’s Sullivan Gallery’s.
Roger Brown, City Nights: All-You-Wanted-to-Know-or-Don’t-Want-to-Know-and-were-Afraid-to- Ask A Closet Painting (subtitle supplied by Barbara Bowman, 1978, oil on canvas, 72 x 48 in. Roger Brown Estate Painting Collection, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Photograph: William H. Bengtson.
Brown’s early paintings and sculptures from the 1970s often depict landscapes and architectural scenes that are inlayed with silhouetted figures engaging, witnessing, or responding to sexual acts. In many works the landscapes themselves, or landscapes and features within them, are compositionally erotic in nature.
Brown’s works from the 1980s and 90s, like the painting shown below, boldly confront cultural prejudices about homosexuality and HIV and the cultural attack on gay culture and life.
Part of my early academic scholarship in this project derived from a graduate class on Queer Theory, lead by Frederic Moffet, where my research concentrated on the final ten years of Brown’s life, specifically through studying the extensive archival materials at the RBSC and their relationship to his work. Inspired from that early research, Roger Brown: This Boy’s Own Story includes archival materials that provide deeper insight into the works that will be on view. I see this exhibition as a means to let the challenges and questions found in the archive and artworks have voice, so that the SAIC and Chicago community can reshape the layers of conversations that Roger Brown’s work evokes. I intend to use this blog as an incubator for further discussion about artist’s house museums, archives, and the borderlines (or lack there of) between public and private life.
An important component to this project is my search for some of Brown’s paintings in private collections that we currently lack information about. Calling this my “most wanted” list- I hope that if anyone reading this blog is the proud owner of any of the Roger Brown’s listed below they will contact the Roger Brown Study Collection, firstname.lastname@example.org!
“Most Wanted” Roger Brown Works in Private Collections
2012 is an exciting year for Roger Brown, and along with Lips of Gossip at Sullivan Galleries, Roger Brown’s work will be on view concurrently at three other exhibitions in Fall 2012:
This blog is going to be an ongoing place to chronicle, ponder, and celebrate the process leading up to the opening of Lips of Gossip, so spend the summer with me and visit again soon.
By: Kate Pollasch
Posted in ALL THE NEWS on Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012
The Chicago Reader recently featured the Roger Brown Study Collection in their Culture Vultures weekly series of recommendations. Curator and Smart Museum staff member Alice Kain’s recommendation can be seen here.
Posted in ALL THE NEWS, Happening Now at the RBSC, RBSC Related on Tuesday, March 20th, 2012
Curated for the DePaul Art Museum, by Thea Liberty Nichols and Dahlia Tulett, the exhibition Afterimage considers the contemporary implications of the Imagist legacy through a focused exploration of the artwork, social art practice and writing of contemporary makers. Afterimage focuses on contemporary artists that are of a generation after Imagism, and also— in ways both visual and ideological— have moved through and beyond it.
Carl Baratta, Onsmith and Edra Soto will curate micro-exhibitions of their own art collections, objects of interest and artistic source material installed on the walls and shelves in Brown’s former studio, the orientation/project space at 1926. Working in concert with Brown’s own “Artists’ Museum” collection permanently installed on the second floor, their displays will illustrate the importance of self-taught, folk, craft, popular and commercial art, as well as the work of peers and colleagues, to both the Chicago Imagists and the contemporary artists in Afterimage.
Multi-ethnic collection and random objects, basement bathroom. Photo courtesy of Edra Soto.
-Thea Liberty Nichols
Posted in Happening Now at the RBSC, STAFF PICS on Tuesday, March 20th, 2012
Describing some rooms and areas of the RBSC by conventional room functions doesn’t always make sense. Such is the case with “the living room” and “the dining room,” identified as such due to the dining table in the former and the sofa in the latter, both of which are so covered with objects, that eating a meal or relaxing are no longer the point.
On the north wall in between what we might call the dining and living rooms hangs the curious painted object, Old Abe. It’s one of the oddest examples of paint on velvet that we’ve ever encountered; leave it to Roger to find the unusual example of whatever.
We call it a painting, but rather than being painted, per se, the image is constructed. The artist (as yet and most likely forever unidentified) created an eagle with talons gripping the branch upon which it’s perched, with carefully applied, thick, V-shaped globs of paint. The branch, tail, and title are edged in glitter, mixed with or applied on the textured paint. It’s installed near the ceiling so under normal circumstances it’s hard to get near enough to see the peculiar surface.
Here’s a bit about Old Abe, excerpted straight out of Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Abe):
Old Abe (c.1861 – March 28, 1881), a female bald eagle, was the mascot of the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment in the American Civil War and is the screaming eagle mascot depicted on the insignia of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division.
Old Abe was captured in 1861 by near the Chippewa River by Ahgamahwegezhig (Chief Big Sky) near the town of Jim Falls, in Chippewa County, Wisconsin. She was subsequently traded to local farmer, Daniel McCann, for a bushel of corn, who in turn sold her to the 8th Wisconsin’s Company C for $2.50.
Company C named the eagle after President Abraham Lincoln, and designed a special perch on which they carried the bird into battle. Old Abe participated in the Second Battle of Corinth (in which the 8th Wisconsin lost half of its men) and the Siege of Vicksburg, among other battles. In battle, Old Abe quickly became legendary, screaming and spreading her wings at the enemy. Confederate troops called her the “Yankee Buzzard” and made several attempts to capture her but never succeeded. Several times she lost feathers to bullets and saw her handlers get shot out from under her. When passing by, Generals Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and William Rosecrans were known to doff their hats to the eagle.
The State Historical Society of Wisconsin’s website refers to Old Abe as a male bird, and notes:
At the end of the war Old Abe was presented to the State of Wisconsin. For fifteen years he lived in the “Eagle department” in the basement of the Capitol building, attracting thousands of visitors. During this period Old Abe also served as the star attraction of many fundraising events, earning politicians and charities thousands of dollars.
Old Abe’s long life ended March 26, 1881 when he died from smoke inhalation during a fire near his home in the Capitol. His remains were mounted and for the next 20 years his body remained on display in the rotunda of the Capitol building. After construction of the new State Historical Society building in 1901, Old Abe was briefly housed at that facility before being moved back to the Capitol in 1903 by order of Governor LaFollette. Sadly, Old Abe’s remains were destroyed when the Capitol building burned down on February 26, 1904.
Our grand bird-on-velvet had seen better days as well. The velvet, mounted directly on a rough wood backing, was slumping in its mount, and the paint was pressed against the glass. In early January, objects technician Tim Fox took the painting out of the frame, cleaned the velvet and paint, reinforced the fabric’s edges and mounted it on a new support composed of acid-free 4-ply museum board laminated to a thin panel of high-quality sealed plywood. Tim added a spacer between the painting and the glass, using wood he salvaged from WPA mural stretchers from Lane Tech High School.
These steps returning it to a much closer approximation of its original appearance, while also minimizing the inherent affects/speed of ageing going forward. Conserved and re-housed, Old Abe is refreshed and enigmatic as ever.
Posted in ALL THE NEWS on Monday, December 19th, 2011
Just Add Water….
In July heavy rain flooded the basement at 1926. Among the hidden treasures we exhumed during the cleanup were eight carved and silver-painted panels of draped fabric with billowing folds. In a 1995 video they appear installed in Brown’s studio and he explains that these lovely, enigmatic objects were panels from a hearse, found at a yard sale outside of Chicago. They may have been from a horse drawn hearse or a horseless carriage–we’re still researching the history of these wonderful examples of the persistence of the Victorian mourning tradition past Victorian times. They’re on view in our display entitled Drapery & Death. Opposite the panels, we hung Brown’s somber study of Daedalus and Icarus flying against a luminous, billowing cloudscape.
We spend much time considering the objects in Brown’s collection and it was exciting to discover the objects he chose to hang in his studio. The panels, muses perhaps, reflect Brown’s aesthetic sensibility, recalling the theatre drapery from his early works, the many slides of draped fabric from his travels, and the signature clouds that form the visual and conceptual backdrop for so many paintings.
Fall semester was packed with 60 SAIC classes and many other guests, with over 2200 visitors this year, a major uptick from 2010. Exciting uses of the collection included:
Mark Jeffery’s Performing the Document class addressing the building and collections as one grand archival document, evidence of a creative life lived, thought, and responded to. They explored the site and created and performed works in the basement, throughout the collection, in the gallery, bathroom, garage, and out in the alley, bringing the site and it’s histories to life in fresh, imaginative, and deeply thoughtful ways.
We hosted several departmental retreats, including Walter Massey’s President’s Cabinet, endearing many key administrators to 1926 as an inspiring place for administrative gatherings.
Intuit hosted a bike tour of unusual sites around Chicago; approximately 50 intrepid cyclists parked their bikes in the ally, gathered in the garden and downed gallons of apple cider and (in smaller groups) toured the collection.
The summer flood was a calamity turned blessing in disguise. A crew completely emptied, cleaned, and sanitized the basement and repaired the stairway. We discarded a small mountain of detritus that accumulated over the years, possibly since the century before last. The basement was transformed from a dismal crypt into a clean space with epoxy-painted floor, new wire shelving, and expanded storage and workspace, all elevated high enough to weather any future storms. The project took several weeks, knocking other projects to the back burner, and instigated the reorganization of many materials and collections.
In August we received architect Tom Bassett-Dilley’s Code and Occupancy Study, commissioned last spring. The study outlines necessary modifications to the building organized into two phases. Instructional Resources and Facilities Management (IRFM) retained Bassett-Dilley (assisted by Von Dreele-Freerksen Construction Co.) to do a scope-of-work outline for all the recommendations. Working with IRFM staff, the facilities renewal was updated to 2017 and includes maintenance and upgrades to many elements and systems.
The door to the north stairway is being restored by Neal Vogel/Restoric to its 1995 appearance–largely the original 1888 design. The door will be much stronger, weather-tight, and more impervious to the elements. We recently found this photo of Roger’s parents at the north door, giving us much needed archival documentation for the finish.
Restoric prepared and coated the cast iron entry porch and threshold, a seemingly minor but significant improvement. The cast iron was corroding badly, as the porch tilts downward allowing rain water and snow to collect and dwell.
The storefront entry doors are perhaps the most used and abused elements of the building. These drafty doors have deteriorated over the years. Just in time for the winter solstice, Restoric removed the doors to undertake a complete restoration. This major project is funded by a generous grant from the Walter and Karla Goldschmidt Foundation.
The flood set a number of organizational projects into motion. The contents from Brown’s kitchen cabinets had been stored in the basement for years. We unpacked, cleaned, and photographed, and carefully documented 169 objects, honing our abilities to describe housewares along the way, before repatriating the objects to their rightful place in the kitchen.
Adventures in archiving…
Leslie Buchbinder, director of Pentimenti Productions, continues work with her team on research and production of a major documentary video on Chicago Imagist art. We’re providing Pentimenti Productions in-depth access to the RBSC Archive to support this wonderfully stimulating and mutually beneficial project. Leslie added James to the Pentimenti team, and in this role he’s scanning scads of images and documents, including a large measure from the RBSC archive, according to preservation standards. Pentimenti generously covered the cost of transferring Roger’s Super-8 home movies to dvd, among other contributions to the RBSC archive. This and the ongoing scanning project continues to advance the organization of our archive and our understanding of our holdings, greatly. Working with the Pentimenti team continues to be a true adventure in mining archival materials for the golden nuggets they contain. Watch this space for more information on Pentimenti’s forthcoming video production.
La Conchita collection
La Conchita collection curator Nick Lowe is spending his year-long sabbatical delving deeply into Roger Brown’s homes, gardens, collections, and artworks, both real and imagined. Over the summer he worked on the La Conchita inventory, updating and refining the database with works not examined or used in the Calif. U.S.A project. In September Nick and assistant curator James Connolly travelled to the Roger Brown Rock House Museum (Beulah, Alabama), where they scanned many archival materials, including photos, letters, writings, and ephemera. He then spent two weeks in Roger’s Spartan trailer at the Museum of Jurassic Technology, fine tuning the documentation of the La Conchita garden, planning a partial re-creation of the garden around the trailer, and creating a scale model of the trailer, adding to his ongoing creation of scale models of the La Conchita home and garden. Nick spent two weeks in October at the New Buffalo site, where he began constructing a scale model of Roger’s architectural drawings for an unrealized adobe house and compound in Lompoc, CA. Nick’s intensely focused research lends ongoing, high-level inspiration to our work at the RBSC and New Buffalo. Please peruse Nick’s project blog for more information about this incredible, ongoing project.
Enthusiastic thanks to Justin Bergquist, Dana Boutin, Laura Fox, Leland Meiners, Thea Nichols, Dahlia Tullett, Bob Wimp, and Jamie Young for assisting with public tours and receptions. We’re sorry to have lost Laura Fox as an RBSC volunteer but we wish her the very best at her new job as public relations manager for three state museums in Doha.
Roger Brown / New Buffalo, Michigan site
This spring ongoing maintenance of the New Buffalo site addressed sanding and refinishing the floors and repairing and painting the walls in the River Pavilion. In mid May, James, Nick, and I worked with Tim Fox and his crew to de-install the entire collection of art and furniture and move it to the Studio and Guest House. In the process we cleaned and photographed each object and created new inventory records. In early June we reinstalled the collection in the newly refurbished house. We created a detailed de-installation/re-installation manual for future projects. A new security system was installed and the dining room chairs were reupholstered. (See the previous blog post for more on this project.) Working with Historic Preservation program faculty member Carol Yetken, CYLA, we’re moving forward on the restoration of the historic landscape at the New Buffalo site in spring 2012.
Brown / Palmer family
We join the Brown family in mourning the passing of Aunt Iva Gamel, Roger and Greg’s (and our) beloved aunt. Iva’s daughter Trudy established a memorial in Iva’s name, benefiting the Roger Brown Study Collection. We look forward to celebrating Iva’s life and remembering her here at the RBSC.
Roger Brown Estate
Russell Bowman, Russell Bowman Art Advisory, continues his representation of the Roger Brown Estate for SAIC, placing works in private and public collections and arranging exhibitions. Bowman placed Brown’s iconic painting, Dr. Imperial’s Tree of Knowledge (1985, oil on canvas, neon, 106 x 73 x 3 1/2”), which had hung in Brown’s La Conchita, California home, in the collection of the Montgomery Museum of Fine Art. Bowman is working with DC Moore Gallery in New York and Zolla Lieberman Gallery in Chicago on exhibitions of Brown’s work in 2012 and 2013. Zolla Lieberman Gallery included works by Brown in their booth at Art Miami in December.
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