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23 July 2009

A day on the town with Magnaverde and Rue, Part II

As promised, the eerie conclusion of the Rue Wintherbotham Carpenter story from Bart Swindall. It has been a pleasure sharing this space - like our day in Chicago together this spring, I am sad to see it end.


From Bart:

I bought Regency Redux the first week it was out, and I loved everything about it: the big, handsome format, the excellent production, and seeing a lot of photos for the very first time. The only thing missing was a mention of Rue Winterbotham Carpenter.

So I wrote to Emily, told her about Rue, and told her that if she was ever planning on coming to Chicago, to let me know, because I would try to get us in to see the interior of the Casino. She wrote back right away, saying “I’ll be there on May 1 to give a lecture on my book at the Merchandise Mart!” So I called the only member whom I know well enough to ask the favor of getting inside, and voila!—ten weeks later, after a full background check, we were given permission to enter. I’ve been there many times, but always as an invited guest, never as a miserable, cringing supplicant. I felt as though we were going to call on the Great & Powerful OZ.

Fortunately for us, our elegant and gracious guide was patient & she showed us everything there was to see. When it came time for her to smash any hopes we had of taking a few photos of the stunning rooms, she did it in the mildest, most elegant way possible. We spent half an hour in what is—for me, anyway—another world.

Then, suddenly, we were cast back, blinded & disoriented, into the noise & dirt & chaos of a regular weekday morning in Chicago. Actually, we were in a really tony area of town, halfway between the Ritz-Carlton & The Drake Hotel, but compared to where we had been, well, there was no comparison.

Anyway, we walked back to the Merchandise Mart, stopping into Alessandra Branca’s on the way, where Emily autographed a few books, then we went up to the 8th floor of the Mart, where Emily gave her lecture to a nice-sized crowd. Afterward, she asked me if I’d like to go walk the show floor with her, looking for a few special items to feature in a piece she was doing for the Magazine Antiques. Sure I would.

Pair of French Cornucopia, circa 1840 from Mark J. West

One of the things she had already picked out was a pair of pretty blue opaline glass Victorian cornucopia vases that ended, not in a typical scroll or ram’s head but in a pair of silver hands resting on marble bases. They were beautiful. -

And here's where things get weird. A few days later, I was at the library, paging through the volume of Vogue magazine for 1930, looking for the article that Rue Carpenter had written, when, there on the page in front of me, was a photo of the very same pair of vases, featured in an unsigned piece that, having become familiar with the quirks of Rue’s writing and the kind of things she liked, I’d swear she wrote herself.

Later, I was looking through some photocopies I had made earlier, showing an apartment in an Art Deco building on Chicago’s Gold coast, an apartment that, to anybody who knows Rue Winterbotham Carpenter’s style, could only have been decorated by her, even though her name isn’t mentioned anywhere in the article. Then again, it hardly needs to be, since the apartment is that of Mrs. John H. Winterbotham. And there (cue the dissonant music) on the dining room table, and again on the table by the bed, were VERY SAME vases that, out of tens of thousands of top-quality antiques at the show, Emily had selected.


I can connect a lot of dots, but that I can’t explain that. Unless...

12 comments:

home before dark said...

She made be doing the channeling, but you were the medium! What a delicious find for the both of you. I do believe objects hold memory. I do believe that good spirits are recognized. Thank you for some history, some glam, and some of the hairs sticking up on the back of my neck. Do I see a mystery series in the making? God, wouldn't that be fun!

Mrs. Blandings said...

I love everything about this post. Everything.

Pigtown-Design said...

What a great story! And a little spoooooky, too!

Toby Worthington said...

Oh, that was priceless.
Loved the surprise ending.
Why not have an entire post of EEE posed as famous
grande dame decorators of the past? She's at least
as tall as Dorothy Draper.

Janet said...

Kindred spirits! Fabulous post.

Shandell's said...

Fabulous story, what a life she had. Beautifully written.

The Peak of Chic said...

Love the post and your photo Emily! Too funny. Are you aware of any publications that feature photos of the Casino?

little augury said...

Everything does connect. Oh what an end to the story, or perhaps the beginning- can't imagine that one or both of you don't peruse every old copy of this or that conjuring Rue. So enjoyed this tease.more please. la

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

That is one incredible story. Thank you so much, Emily, for sharing it. Rue Winterbotham Carpenter's style is utterly glamorous. The coincidence of the vases is more than eerie, though -- it's downright unsettling (in a good way). I don't believe in spirits or the afterlife, but this post makes me long to believe that Rue reached out a ghostly hand to make sure you noticed those!

One of my favorite posts in a long time!

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Toby, Rose Cumming and her wild hair could be next - anyone know of a good wig shop?

Jennifer, Bart may know more than I, but I believe the only published photos of the Casino are from a Vogue article (maybe the 1940s or 50s?). It is a bastion of exclusivity and the one thing I learned about Chicagoans on my last trip is that they are very very private. Flickr has a few photos of the ballroom...

magnaverde said...

And i feel honored to have been a part of it. Our day was a lot of fun, even apart from the privilege of getting to show Emily RWC's work in person.

Peak of Chic, the Casino's interiors were published--in black-&-white--right after it opeened in 1928, but as far as I know, that was the last time, except for that photo of the lady cardplayers--and that was 5O years ago. The club's members absolutely know what an incredible treasure they have, they keep the place in immaculate condition and they have absolutely zero interest in being published. I know, because I've asked.

As I told Emily, the place is sort of like the design historian's equivalent of Area 51: that is, incredibly important and so secret that it doesn't appear on any map. Then again, who can blame them? If I were a member--and I think you have to be born a member: you can't do anything as plebian as actually join--I wouldn't want to share the place with anybody, either. We were granted a huge favor by Mrs T.

Anyway, even members aren't allowed to take pictures without permission--which, I'm guessing, is just about impossible to get--so I had to scour the Internet for images, and out of a hundred quadzillion pages on the Web, I think I found maybe a dozen photos altogether, needless to say, most of them unauthorized. But thata's the beauty of a privatissimo club like this: you get to set your own rules, and if somebody doesn't behave, well they're thrown into the outer darkness, where the weeping & gnashing of teeth will be.

All I can say is it was a memorable day in Chicago, thanks in large measure to Emily.

Nell said...

To categorize this two-part tale as an excellent post is an understatement. Erudite exploration of a compellingly interesting and little known story interwoven with personal narrative: Magnaverde, this is you at your best! EEE, kudos on providing the venue for this exploration---you are a savvy publisher and managing editor.
Magna, I'm sure you've accessed this source, but just in case...the Newberry Library has a fairly extensive archive on John Alden Carpenter with a number of Rue pieces---photos, records and even a lock of her hair!Spurred by your posts (reference to Murphy connection!) and Aesthete's Lament's recent Lake Forest/Clow post, I hope to view some of the Alden archive personally soon.