Thursday, September 21, 2006

For Men Only

In the August 11, 1957, issue of The Chicago American, one can find a story in the Pictorial Living section entitled "For Men Only." It's about the P&C, and the title of the article refers to the club's all-male membership tradition--a tradition that ended some four years later in about 1961. Here is the text of the article. (I can't reproduce the photos that accompany it, but trust me the photos are charming.)

The Story Behind the 62-Year-Old Palette and Chisel Club
--a Hideaway for Many of Chicago's Best Known Artists
By Gladys Erickson

Chicago artists don't need to sigh for a night out when Thursday rolls around each week. That is, if they belong to The Palette and Chisel Academy of Fine Arts, 1012 N. Dearborn St. Sweethearts and spouses know their men are heading for their favorite bailiwick for their regular "self-improvement" session.

The Academy marks its 62nd year in November, although it was only in 1921 that the 3-story building became solely the property of the 120-member Academy. Here is where the first Jungle Ball was staged by local artists many of whom have gone to other climes acquiring national and international fame in the intervening years. The Palette and Chisel Academy is strictly for the "male animal" on Tuesday and Thursday nights throughout the year and on Sundays between May 1 and November 1.

But Tuesday night is "special." This is the night when collective creative genius congregates in the second floor dining room for a friendly warm-up session before studio practice hours. Walls of the room are decorated with fine oil portraits produced by members who are among the city's best known and most prolific artists.

Dinner is prepared and served by the loyal chef and house man, Joe Haynes, once of New Orleans, who, like the building, has "belonged" to the artists since 1921. He beams with more than a hint of proprietary pleasure as Oskar Gross of portrait painting fame who came here from Vienna in 1893 at the invitation of influential Chicago builders, explains why he remained: "I could not leave," asserts the dapper 85-year-old artist. "It was America's allure that held me--its healthy atmosphere and freedom."

Otto Hake, noted muralist, born in Germany, came to Chicago when he was a child. He celebrated his 80th birthday last December but still produces admirable art and instructs the distinguished aspirants for easel perfection. Otto, clad in a royal blue smock, chats with colleagues Ted Winfield, former president and now a scenic designer for Balaban-Katz theaters, and Floyd Job, designer and head maintenance man at the Merchandise Mart.

"We like what we're doing," he enthuses. "That's why we're congenial. There's no time for temperament and tears here. Anyone can brush his frustrations away while working."

Erwin G. Kummer, musician and artist, is president of the group. A native Chicagoan, Kummer was both symphony and theater orchestra musician,, but all the while yearned to paint. Since becoming a "regular" in Palette and Chisel ranks, he's developed a special talent for landscapes.

Another former professional musician, Bruno Beghe, violinist for 17 years with Columbia Broadcasting Co, and Chicago Opera, says: "Now I am happy. I paint."

One of the nation's noted etchers, Nat P. Steinberg, long a Chicago American editorial artist, smiles as members recall that he was a model for colleagues while working his way through the Art Institute.

Steinberg won the coveted gold medal three years ago in the organization's annual spring show--the major exhibit each year. A silver medal is awarded at the annual January exhibit which is limited to water colors. The spring show is when artists in oil, charcoal, water color, etching, pen and ink and pastels, compete for the big prize.

Paul Kufrin is a sculptor who sits next to popular Anthony Buchta whose Brown County water colors and oils are cherished by art collectors and admired by colleagues. They recall the days when fellow artists put away their paints and brushes and helped to lay the floors and to renovate the walls and woodwork while skylights and other facilities were being installed in the one-time attic of the old Jack Jelke mansion which is now considered the most modern of independent art studios in the nation.

Advertising and commercial artists hoping to attain professional status with the brush and easel experts watch Jeffrey Grant whose skill in portraying Gloucester landscapes, fishing boats and street scenes has long fascinated art lovers. Grant's Scotch burr is still noticeable as he observes: "There's no ban on a little chess-playing up here--particularly for the old-timers."

Prominent painters in their own right--James Haddow, portrait specialist; Adolf Heinze, landscapist; Oscar Erickson, Harry Graflund and James Eccles join the Tuesday night festal board and are active in the studios.

Leo Weeks, former president and gold medal winner, is among the leading figure painters, also Forrest Myers, member of the Chicago American sports staff who also contributes cartoons; Frank Beatty, Tom McLaughlin, Carlisle Carter and Vince Boecher, prominent in the commercial art field.

Halls and other rooms are lined with signed art works which are on display for public enjoyment throughout the year, and the final tier of steps leads to the fluorescent-lighted studio.

A nude brunette model reclines as artists grouped in semi-circle formation paint "what they see as they see it" and a survey of easels reveals how differently each artist sees the model. Professional models are employed for 4-week periods of classroom work.

Newer faces among the practicing art students are Gerald Hardy, 18, who supplements his daytime Art Institute classes with Tuesday night instruction at the Palette and Chisel Academy, and Al Muenzenthaler, advertising agency executive.

The non-profit academy is one of the nation's oldest independent art clubs and its members include medics, dentists, engineers and representatives of almost every other profession as well as full-time and distinguished artists. The club is financed by dues and auction sales.

(The painting at the top of this post is a nude by Nat Steinberg.)


Blogger chris miller said...

Otto was still around in 1957 ? It looks like he was a member for more than 40 years.

Regarding the "Men Only" bit --- according the the 1930 article, women could become associate members and do everything the men did except vote or serve on the board - i.e. they could exactly what 95% of our membership wants to do today: draw, paint, and exhibit.

I wonder whether, in the intervening decades , the old boys made them feel unwelcome.

September 22, 2006  
Blogger Cobalt Blue said...

Hake and the others in the photos were looking a little long in the tooth, I have to admit. If we please the gods, maybe we will be lucky enough to still be kicking it around at that age.

September 23, 2006  

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