Art Institute of Chicago Grates, pt.3

Fisher Building Elevator Grille, 1895-96
Fisher Building Elevator Grille, 1895-96

The last bit of my trip that I really wanted to talk about were the grates and grilles and other metal work. The Art Institute has collected pieces, parts and sections of buildings around Chicago that were being renovated or torn down. As you may have noticed from some of my inspiration photos, I have always enjoyed architectural details. Making a building beautiful (as opposed to striking or memorable) seems to be the greatest gift an architect can give a city.

I never really thought much about grates and grilles until I was standing in the second floor stairwell/lobby area of the AIC. For those of you who know the place, it is outside the Impressionist gallery. There, the curators have displayed a variety of pieces, many of which are metal. I know I have seen them as I have walked by buildings and there have even been a few times when I have ridden in one of those elevators where you have to close the door, but I didn’t really think about them as a source of inspiration until I saw them hanging on the wall. It is interesting how a museum will do that to me.

The Fisher Building Elevator Grille, above, is only the upper portion. I don’t think they had (or maybe I just didn’t photograph) the lower portion. I do think the round part looks like some kind of serpent. Not so great for quilty inspiration, but I could go with the general shape and proportion. What really grabbed me was the background. Those lines and curls would make great background on a quilt.

Manhattan Building Elevator Grille, 1889-91
Manhattan Building Elevator Grille, 1889-91

This is a really elaborate elevator grille. Sometimes I wonder if the artisans or designers felt like they got one chance and went all out. Do you every do that?

I like the spirals in the middle, but in general I think this piece is top heavy. Stand on your head, look at the picture and tell me what you would think of it if the bottom were the top.

I think the spirals would be good quilting designs. I like the way there are different sizes of spirals and they go in different directions.

Manhattan Building Elevator Grille, 1889-91 detail
Manhattan Building Elevator Grille, 1889-91 detail

 

 

The close-up shows even more detail within the spirals and you can see the heavy part on top very well. I think it would be a good idea for me to take some kind of architectural history class so I would know what the official names of the various shapes are called. Dohickey isn’t very descriptive or precise.

The other thing about this detail is that it shows one thing I try to do in my quilts: the viewer gets a reward by getting close up. See the little dots and divets in the spirals? Do you see the wing shape in the largest spiral?

Window Keystone, 1872
Window Keystone, 1872

I don’t know what a window keystone is, but the design would make an interesting piecing challenge. The way the piece is made makes the design seem like there is no ‘block’. I think this would probably be a similar piecing issue to the Spiky Stars piece I designed and created a number of years ago.

Window keystone, 1872, detail
Window keystone, 1872, detail

I also like the slight curve of the motifs. I wonder if this is one of those motifs that could be sewed using straight lines, but would look curved? I don’t think so, but I also haven’t put much thought into it since I took the photos. Looking at the detail makes me see real curves in the piecing. I also like the interlocking knot look of some parts of the design. I think I would like a job where I designed useful items that would add to the beauty of everyday surroundings.

Schiller Building Block of Stringcourse
Schiller Building Block of Stringcourse

I am kind of partial to ovals, though I haven’t done anything with them in quiltmaking yet. These are really interesting pieces, partially because I have no idea what they were used for it and it fascinates me to think about these being added to a building because they were beautiful.

I really thought there were beautiful buildings in Chicago and it made me lament the dearth of classic (IMO) creativity in building today. Of course, things are a lot more expensive and these types of details may be prohibitively expensive, but I think their lack also makes us poorer.

These pieces would definitely make for interesting quilting designs and some complicated, but interesting piecing challenges.

Author: Jaye

Quiltmaker who enjoys writing and frozen chocolate covered bananas.

2 thoughts on “Art Institute of Chicago Grates, pt.3”

  1. Thanks for sharing these Jaye! I too just love “classic” or old buildings and their design. One of my favorites is the Empire State building (inside and out) in NYC. I go there almost everytime I’m in NY. You don’t even have to take the elevator all the way to the top to be inspired, the main lobby is pure Art Deco movement nirvana. I like how you really stopped and looked at each piece and “saw” the quilting potential in each one.

    1. Thanks, Tanesha! I haven’t been to the Empire State Building, but will put it on my list when/if I am in NYC again. There was a lot of art at the AIC. The pieces I mentioned in my posts really grabbed me. I try to look at some of the pieces in a museum for more than a split second. I am usually rewarded. I think this group of pieces grabbed me because I hadn’t seen anything like it in another museum that I could remember.

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