Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Arts & Crafts at Clarke House Museum

This year I'm getting to know Chicago better - most recently I attended a class and tour at the Clarke House Museum. It was a treat!

The Clarke house is Chicago's oldest house - currently located in the Prairie Avenue Historic District.  It was build in 1836 - this is just one year before the city of Chicago was incorporated. Standing through the Civil War, the Chicago Fire, and so much more. Check out their website here.

The Clarke Museum offers several classes on period handicrafts - I registered to take a class on Band Boxes. I'd never really given them a thought - however, I had seen Martha Stewart make one! So I signed up to learn more about how people lived in this period which I so enjoy.

Chicago's Historic Prairie District
Mansion on Prairie Avenue Chicago

These first few pictures above are the historic houses along Prairie Avenue. On the Prairie Avenue website it states that "in the 1880s and 1890s, mansions for George Pullman, Marshall Field, John J. Glessner and Philip Armour anchored a neighborhood of over ninety mansions known as "Millionaire's Row".  Also called the "original gold coast." I arrived very early in the morning with coffee in hand. Taking a stroll down this street in relative solitude was a unique experience. I could anticipate a carriage coming around the corner, a wealthy businessman returning home after some great deal was done, or ladies out for a leisurely walk.

The pictures below are of the Clarke House and the surrounding garden.  I think this would be even more beautiful in the springtime with blue skies! The juxtaposition of old/new is powerful. This is especially true in the view from the top of the house - overlooking back onto Prairie Avenue and the skyscrapers beyond. It's a good thing that the city has preserved these historic spaces!

Clarke House Museum - Chicago's Oldest Home

View from the top of Clark House Museum

Band Box Display
So I'm going to the Clarke House Museum for a class on making Band Boxes - what are those exactly? There is a good article here on the history and famous band box makers.  These are hand-made containers with sides/top/bottom made from either wood or stiff paper and covered in wallpaper (or sometimes fabric.) They were made is a variety of sizes and shapes to accommodate trinkets, jewelry, ribbons, gloves, collars, hats, hairpieces and articles of clothing. I remember my mother having band boxes for her hats!  The instructors for the class had a wonderful display of band boxes. Several were antique and others they had made.  You can see the picture to the left.  In one case the instructor had purchased an antique band-box to deconstruct it - this was the square box that we made in class.  

We learned two types of construction - the first was used to make an oval box.  We first sewed the side to the base and then lashed the closure together. Then we sewed the top to the side of the top and again lashed the overlap. There is a bit of art to get it going, but it's not too tricky.  Then we cut the wall paper to match and glued it on with Elmer's  We used actual wallpaper that had been removed from a renovation at Clarke House! Then we lined the inside with replica newsprint. 

The second box, the green button box below. Was much easier to make. We cut the box form from "cereal boxes" - this is the shape of a cross. The sides folded up and we wrapped in paper.  

You can find instructions online for how to make these - good videos out there too. My advise is - it's much messier that I imagined.  After class, I have been wrapping many boxes and will use them at Christmastime. A great up-cycle!

After the class we were given a quick tour of Clarke House. It is not as complete a renovation as Dreihaus Museum I previously reviewed (click here)  However, there were some very interesting pieces and dialog about the history.  I particularly liked this barley twist chair - nice rich patina!  In one of the rooms was a children's rocker.  The unique construction had one side that could be pulled out and a a rail added.  We were told that this could transform the rocker into a crib if the child were to fall asleep, or to serve as a rocking crib.  It was clever.

I was glad to take this class at Clarke - it was short, direct, and played well with the period and position of the Museum. We were given the opportunity to tour and perhaps see parts of the museum not generally available. The time, early weekend morning, made for an easy commute and a nice experience in the neighborhood. Check out their other offerings!

Today I'm listening to Opera!

Teresa Marie

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