MIR Appraisal Services is full of art treasures from the world over, but few afford us the connections to regional artists for storied Chicago clients as a maritime dressing screen currently on display at MIR. Chicago has always been a city of culture and wealth, but these characteristics were most visible during the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th. While searching through the collection recently researchers at MIR Appraisal encountered an enormous three-panel screen, folded and packaged after its restoration and somehow forgotten in the office for several years. After discovering the piece, the work was unfolded and a beautiful work with a Hollywood ending was reveled.
The Maritime Panel
The three-panel artwork is nearly six feet high and features a port scene with a wider focus on an array of sailing ships at full sail. Small ships carrying mariners mingle among multi-sail ships topped with crows nests and complete with royal flags blowing in the wind. The piece is on three leather panels framed with wood and thatched together with strips of animal hide. The piece is of grand proportions, bold colors and looks like something straight out of a turn of the century children’s playroom. The whimsical scene recalls the countless children’s adventure novels written during the turn of the century and is a point of departure for the modern imagination as well.
Carroll Thayer Berry
The lower portion of the central panel prominently displays the title “Sailing Day” and notes that it was “Painted for Mr Simon Wexler of Chicago Ill. USA 1931 A.D.” The signature is more hidden but appears on the left panel in red, attributing the beautiful and airy painting to Carroll Thayer Berry. Berry was a talented artist who dabbled in illustration, printmaking and photography and is best remembered for his maritime scenes. Drawing inspiration from his upbringing in Portland, Maine, the artist earned a degree in Naval Architecture from the University of Michigan and worked for a number of engineering firms before leaving to work on the Panama Canal as an engineer. Berry departed Panama not long afterward and set out to become an artist, getting an early commission working on a mural for the administration building of the Canal. The artist served in the US Army during World War I and moved to Chicago where he met his wife and completed artistic commissions for some of the city’s wealthiest citizens. Later the artist returned to Maine with his wife where he continued to capture the maritime culture until his death.
The Wexler Family
The Wexler Family for whom the piece was created is almost as interesting as the artist’s storied life. Simon Wexler, the man for whom the piece was commissioned, was a prominent Chicago industrialist who is remembered as the founder of the Allied Radio Corporation which today is known as RadioShack (interestingly, MIR’s Michigan Avenue office space overlooks one of RadioShack’s many locations). Simon Wexler is remembered as a philanthropist who even had the mental health clinic named after him at the Michael Reese Hospital. Wexler had three sons named Haskell, Jerrold and Yale and one daughter by the name of Joyce. Yale appeared in a number of movies and television shows from the early 1950’s through the 1960’s and his brother Haskell has been nominated for five Academy Awards and won two for Best Cinematography. The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) notes that Haskell is still alive and has three children, two of which are also in the movie industry. The screen is quite beautiful and all the more unique because it is paired with this exceptionally rich and creative family history.
Clues to The Panel’s Past
There are no records concerning the original location of the panel but hints may be found in the archives of the Chicago Tribune. An article from 1951 makes note of a robbery at the Simon Wexler’s apartment at 2340 Lincoln Park West. The location still provides beautiful views of the Lake and the panel might be imagined in a lavish room overlooking Lincoln Park and Lake Michigan. Regardless of where it might have resided during the early days of its creation, it is now displayed prominently at MIR’s office in Chicago. Those wishing to see the breathtaking nautical themed dressing screen with its unique history are encouraged to call and schedule a visit. Additionally, our appraisers and research staff can assist with unveiling the value and/or history of particular items in your own collection.
Written and Researched by Justin Bergquist
MIR Appraisal Services, Inc.
Principal Appraiser and Director: Farhad Radfar, ISA AM
307 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 308
Chicago, IL 60601
Phone: (312) 814-8510
“Carroll Thayer Berry,” on Penobscot Marine Museum website.
“Haskell Wexler,” on Internet Movie Database website.
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