Chicago History

Whose Portrait Is Hanging in Gary's Office?

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Pilgrim Baptist Church

President's Office, Chicago History Museum.

The President's office in the Chicago History Museum originally was built as a museum gallery.  When the Museum first reopened in September 2006, the Portrait Gallery hosted an exciting installation dedicated to Chicago's two world's fairs.  Our Trustee, Fred Krehbiel, gave me a great idea:  have some fun hanging portraits somewhere else.  What better place than the President's office?  There is a beautiful space to hang portraits over the fireplace.  Our homepage asks, "Who's hanging in Gary's office?"  From time to time, we choose a portrait and invite in families of either the artist or the subject.  This is a great chance to digitize an on-going series of portraits, display them and at the same time, make new friends and welcome back old ones.  Thanks you curator, Peter Alter!
The 2005 World's Champion Chicago White Sox.  Who else?  When it comes to sports history made during my lifetime in Chicago, nobody made history like the 2005 Chicago White Sox.
Dr. Thomas S. Dorsey.  Dorsey was the father of Gospel music and the long-time choir director of Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago.  After the church burned on January 6, 2006, the Chicago History Museum presented a portrait to replace the one that had been burned, based on a photo taken during a visit by the museum's president a few weeks earlier.

Dr. Thomas S. Dorsey
Dr. Thomas S. Dorsey, portrait, Pilgrim Baptist Church, Chicago

Presentation of portrait by CHM to Pilgrim Baptist
Presentation by CHM of portrait to Pilgrim Baptist, March 26, 2006

First United Methodist Church at Chicago Temple.  This month's "portrait" is of a building.  Chicago's oldest church in Chicago celebrates the 175th anniversary of its organization 2006.  Since its new building was built as a skyscraper in the 1923 by Holabird & Roche architectural firm, it also can boast that its sky chapel is the highest in the world above street level:  it's 400 feet above ground.  Its main sanctuary is on ground level.  The office space in between is leased out.  Senior Pastor, the Rev. Philip L. Blackwell, joined us to celebrate the anniversary.  This is one of our favorite photos.  Chicago looks like a European cathedral city, but this shot of the Chicago Temple building in the distance is taken facing southwest from near the Michigan Avenue bridge over the Chicago River.

Gary Johnson & Philip Blackwell, March 2006
Gary Johnson & Philip Blackwell, March 2006

Charles ComiskeyThe caricature of Charles Comiskey hung over the fireplace to celebrate the first subway series in Major League Baseball, which also happened to be the only time that the White Sox played the Cubs in post-season play.  The White Sox won the World Series.  Members of the Comiskey family were here to celebrate, including State Representative Patricia Belloc and her cousin. This caricature, painted by William Herman Schmedtgen in 1906, hung in Chapin & Gore’s Buffet, a Loop restaurant frequented by celebrities. Dozens of such caricatures painted by Schmedtgen and other artists decorated the walls of Chapin & Gore’s until 1930 when the Chicago History Museum received them as a donation.

Comiskey family
Comiskey Family

J. Young Scammon.   The visit of two descendants of J. Young Scammon was particularly satisfying for a very personal reason.  Scammon was the lawyer in whose offices the organizational meeting of the Chicago Historical Society was convened in April 1856.  (See Angle, Paul M., The Chicago Historical Society 1856-1956:  An Unconventional Chronicle.   Rand McNally & Company.  New York, 1956.)  Let me emphasize the word "lawyer"!  For the skeptics who wondered about yours truly becoming the eighth President of the Chicago Historical Society, I now can point to the instrumental role of J. Young Scammon, Esq.  The other organizers were I.N. Arnold, J.D. Webster, W. Barry, J.H. Kinzie and Mason Brayman.  When the Society elected its first officers, the first President (i.e., Chairman of the Board), was William H. Brown, and W.B. Ogden was First Vice President.  Scammon became Second Vice President.  Now, the family members who visited me thought that Scammon might have been the first President, except for his plans to take an extended trip to Europe.  I can't verify that, of course -- but it sounds good to me.  In any event, I learned much about Scammon from his family, including his friendship with Lincoln and his role in the preparation for the World Columbian Exposition.  The George Healy portrait of Scammon actually was too large to hang over my fireplace, so we made a photographic copy, and that copy will have a permanent place of honor in my office.  We all should be very grateful to the founders of the Chicago Historical Society -- now the Chicago History Museum.  This is Chicago's oldest cultural institution.  The fact that the leading citizens of such a young city created, of all things, an historical society says something about Chicago,  Even then, I suspect, they believed that the continuing story of this city would be a fascinating one.

Family of J. Young Scammon.
Family of J. Young Scammon.

Sheldon Peck.   This month, for the first time, we welcome the family of an artist.  Sheldon Peck came to Chicago from New York City and during the 1830's painted this portrait of Mrs. Elmore Tyler.  This is one of the earliest surviving examples of painting in Chicago, and we are proud to have both this portrait and the portrait of Mr. Elmore Tyler.   The members of the family of Sheldon Peck whom we welcomed to our office had never before seen either portrait.  They visited the portrait of Mr. Elmore that was brought in on an easel, and the portrait of Mrs. Elmore was in the place of honor over the fireplace.  This is a fine work of artistry, as well as one of our most historic paintings.

Family members of Sheldon Peck and guests.
Family members of Sheldon Peck and guests.

Olof Krans.  This month we honor a Swedish-American painter, Olof Krans.  Krans was a member of the Bishop Hill community in western Illinois.  Members of that community, joined by representatives of Chicago's Swedish-American Museum, were here in the office to celebrate.  The Chicago History Museum owns three paintings by this folk artist:  the self-portrait that is in the president's office this month, as well as a landscape and a portrait of the artist's mother.  Krans was born in Sweden in 1838, and emigrated to Illinois with his family when he was twelve.  He served in the Union army during the Civil War.  During the years before his death in 1916, Krans did a series of paintings that recorded life in Bishop Hill.   This is the Swedish text of the welcome given by Gary Johson to his visitors to celebrate the month of Olof Krans (and the English version):
Idag är en dag då vi firar flera händelser.

Först och främst ärar vi den svenskamerikanske konstnären Olof Krans. Vi är stolta över att ha tre målningar av denne betydande konstnären i samlingarna på Chicago History Museum. Vi ärar samhället Bishop Hill. Vi välkomnar representanterna som är här med oss idag och vi firar den roll som Bishop Hill har spelat i Illinois. Vi ärar också vårt syster museum, Swedish American Museum. Vi välkomnar dess representanter som är här idag. Kerstin Lane som är en av mina hjältar i museevärlden och en av mina bästa vänner. Vi firar hennes ledarskap för det museet som den förste chefen. Karin Abercrombie är också här med oss. Hon tar över från Kerstins och vi är glada att välkomna henne här idag.

Jag har också en personlig anledning att vara upprymd över dagens händelser. Min egen farfarsfar  som var född i Nössemark, Sverige, kom till Chicago 1887 och min familj har bott här sedan dess. Jag är stolt över att min egen familjs historia är en liten del av historien om svenskarnas bidrag till Chicago och till Illinois. Vi firar också de bidrag från nya immigrant familjer som fortsätter att tillägnas vår stad.

Denna månaden kommer den här underbara målningen av Olof Krans att inta hedersplatsen i presidentens kontor här på Chicago

History Museum. Varje gång jag ser det kommer jag ihåg de många skälen till att vi firar idag.

Vi tackar speciellt representanterna från Bishop Hill för att ni är med oss idag.

Olof Krans Self-Portrait
Olof Krans Self-Portrait, Visitors from Bishop Hill, Illinois