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Monday, August 23, 2010

Items Lost & Found

Grand palaces, temples, churches, and political seats are often architecturally stunning and filled with art and decorative elements, which, when combined, produce a powerful atmosphere. These elements can also help us learn more about the purpose of a building, its place in history and the thoughts of those who designed it. In museums throughout the world there are great works of art that were once decorative items, such as the Parthenon Marbles now located in the British Museum. However, these type of items are often at the center of a great debate. There are those who think that removing architectural or decorative items from their original setting is nothing short of vandalism, while others make the point that museums can provide a stable environment that still allows the items to be viewed by the public. An attempt to tackle this debate would be a vast and relatively unsatisfying endeavor. So instead, MIR Appraisal Services would like to discuss some prominent decorative artifacts and encourage our clients to look around, because they may have historically/artistically significant items hiding in plane sight.

Elgin Marbles - East Pediment

The Midwest, and Chicago in particular, is known for the prairie school of design and architecture. An art movement that draws its influence from the flat vistas of the Midwestern landscape, creating items and buildings that are comprised of long lines and linear shapes. A recognized master of this movement was Frank Lloyd Wright, who was not only the architect behind several famous prairie school structures but who is also know for filling them with decorative items that he designed. One such item is the dining room table and chairs that he created for the Frederick C. Robie House in Hyde Park. As seen in the photo below the vertical lines of the chair backs harmonize with the long horizontal lines found among the architectural elements in the Robie house dining room. This piece is now located a couple of blocks from the Robie House at the Smart Museum of Art on the University of Chicago’s campus. Some may question why this item does not remain in its original location, since the Robie House is now also a museum of sorts. However, what is really important is that, regardless of where it is located, it remains in good condition and is available for public enjoyment and study. It would be much sadder if this impressive item went missing or was destroyed.

Robie House - South Façade from South West

Robie House Table & Chairs - Circa 1911

An example of a missing (or destroyed) prairie school gem is the mural that once hung in the living room of the William D. Gates home in Crystal Lake, IL. Gates is the founder of Gates Potteries, better known as TECO, which made beautiful prairie school decorative items. Gates was also innovative in the use of terra cotta as a surface for painting, and commissioned the artist Hardesty G. Maratta to paint a landscape, using slip on terra cotta tiles. This mural filled the space above Gates’s fireplace, which is visible in the image provided below. The item would have been very difficult to create, a testament to Maratta’s ability, and would have shown a soft Midwestern landscape. Furthermore, like Wright’s dining room table and chairs, it would have beautifully complimented its architectural surroundings-- in this instance, the extensive tile work, rustic wood and large landscape window found in Gates’s living room. Unfortunately, we must hope that this item was removed from its original location and is now in a private collection; otherwise it has been lost or destroyed, as shown in the image provided below.

Gates House Fire Place - Circa 2010

Gates House Living Room - Original Decorations

The above example demonstrates that although we are lucky to have several amazing decorative items available for public viewing and study, there have to be so many more items that have been destroyed or are missing. Sadly a lot of valuable decorative pieces are overlooked as unimportant and, therefore, are disregarded for years. To prevent additional items being lost to obscurity, we ask that you reassess your surroundings and call MIR Appraisal Services, Inc., if you come across anything that may be of significant monetary, cultural or historical value.

Researched and written by Anja Keppeler
MIR Appraisal Services, Inc.
Principal Appraiser: Farhad Radfar, ISA AM
307 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 308
Chicago, IL 60601
(312) 814-8510

MIR Appraisal Services is located just steps from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Cultural Center; please do give us a ring to set up an appointment for a verbal evaluation of your most prized works of art.


Darling, Sharon and Richard Zakin. 1989. Teco: Art Pottery of the Prairie School. Erie: Erie Art Museum.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Chicago Cultural Center: A Chicago Landmark & Gem in the Heart of Downtown

Chicagoans can visit the Chicago Cultural Center on the corner of Washington Street and Michigan Avenue for countless visual, literary, and performing arts programs. Built in 1897, and originally the home of Chicago’s public library, the building is now a venue for cultural and artistic expression. This hidden treasure of Chicago’s architectural, artistic, and cultural history holds more than 700 events, free to the public, every year.

The exterior may cause visitors to overlook the building; however, the divine marble, stone, hardwood, stained glass and mosaics in the interior will surely change your mind. Its masterpiece is the world’s largest stained glass Tiffany dome. Over 40 feet in diameter, the dome was restored in 2008 and resides in Preston Bradley Hall, which houses free music events throughout the year.
Other events include artist exhibitions, lectures, films, and concerts.

Pictured above is the stained glass Tiffany dome designed in an intricate Renaissance pattern. Restored in 2008, the dome is an artistic marvel and can be visited for free at the Cultural Center.

Below is the grand staircase with a view of the Tiffany dome. The staircase is lined with pink and white marble and features countless mosaics inscribed with names of the greatest writers and philosophers of our time.

The Chicago Cultural Center is home to many traveling art exhibits, free and open to the public Monday through Thursday 10-7, Friday 10-6, and Saturday and Sunday until 5pm.

Upcoming events at the Cultural Center include Gallery Talks from artist Jackie Kazarian and art historian Michael Bonesteel, as well as the photography exhibit "Polaridad Complimentaria: Recent Works from Cuba" starting October 15th, a traveling exhibition showcasing new artistic talent from Cuba.

The building dubbed “The People’s Palace” celebrates art, culture, and education. There are a number of family programs and events held at the Cultural Center, including private parties and weddings. The lavish marble and stained glass backdrop is stunningly romantic, combining a historic and contemporary Chicago feel.

Only steps from the Art Institute of Chicago and Millennium Park, the Chicago Cultural Center is a must-see for any tour of Chicago. Whether it’s your first time to Chicago, or you have lived here for years, the cultural center is truly a landmark of the city. Even a simple stroll through the building leaves one with a sense of grandeur and timelessness.

For a quick visit, enter on Randolph Street through classical Doric columned doors. You’ll be engulfed by the high coffered ceiling and green and pink marble walls. Make your way up the curving staircase and look to see if you recognize any of the names in the detailed mosaic walls.

The Washington Street entrance greets visitors with a grand staircase, and a three-story vaulted lobby. White walls of Carrara marble surround you containing Favrile glass, stone, and mother of pearl details throughout. The coup de grâce is, of course, the Tiffany stained-glass dome at the top of the stairs. A must-see for art lovers, Chicagoans, and visitors to the city.

Researched and written by Taylor Maatman

MIR Appraisal Services, Inc.

Principal Appraiser: Farhad Radfar, ISA AM

307 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 308

Chicago, IL 60601

(312) 814-8510

MIR Appraisal Services, Inc., is mere blocks from the Chicago Cultural Center—please include MIR in your Chicago “art tour.” Consider viewing several works by Chicago artists in our collection, including those of the late Ruth Duckworth and Emmanuel Viviano. We would also be delighted to evaluate your most prized works of art; a verbal evaluation is a fun, convenient and cost-effective way to gain valuable knowledge regarding your precious belongings. Please contact our friendly staff to set up an appointment!

Works Cited:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Works, Letters & Photographs from Peter Blume Collection Arrive at MIR

“In my work there’s always a kind of destruction plus thrust,
something dynamic.”

—Peter Blume
(Chicago Tribune 1976)

The work of Peter Blume is striking. His work startles the eye with its merger of great spans of color and minute detail. The viewer is instantly drawn to bold, seamless shapes rendered with vibrant precision. With this nearly menacing, technical precision, he builds the stuff of allegory, considering grandly themes of decay and renewal in “imaginary gardens with real toads in them,” as Marianne Moore put it.

One sees the work and questions arise such as “Who is this man? Where did he learn his craft?” Blume’s foremost building materials include motifs of stones and girders; the human animal, with her curiosity about the artist and his thematic obsessions, longs to stand among these mysterious stones and scrutinize his scenes from every angle.

The Rock

Born in Smorgon in Russia in 1906, Blume immigrated with his family to New York in 1912; at fifteen, he began schooling at the Educational Alliance, later studying at the Art Students League ( Writer Malcolm Cowley, Blume’s friend and, later in life, his next-door-neighbor, recalls meeting Blume in 1928 in New York. Blume lived on 75 dollars per month—the allowance given to him by Charles Daniel’s gallery (one of the first galleries to showcase modern art)—and he roomed in and out of friends’ studios. Cowley gave him a lead on Addie Turner’s four room unheated house in the country, where he would live for nearly a year; the poet Hart Crane lived at times across the hall from Blume, where he was composing his epic poem The Bridge (Trapp 8).

The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1932, Blume traveled to Italy and found inspiration for his masterwork Eternal City, which showcases the bloated head of Mussolini in a fantastical landscape.

Eternal City

Julien Levy featured the painting in a one-man, one-work show.

Blume’s work was also included in the Museum of Modern Art’s 1943 exhibition “American Realists and Magic Realists”; in the exhibition catalogue, Lincoln Kirstein characterizes the works as owning “crisp hard edges, tightly indicated forms, and the counterfeiting of material surfaces” (

Unearthing the life and works of an artist, and understanding personal history and artistic concerns within a cultural context-- these activities frame some of our principle aims at MIR Appraisal Services. In our work as art appraisers, the analysis of an artist’s oeuvre in terms of personal biography can add support to the authenticity and value of the art in question; physical evidence, such as photographs and letters, can add to the value of the work. Recently we were given the privilege of examining some of Mr. Blume’s original work as well as artifacts from his personal life, brought into us by the great-nieces of his wife, Grace Douglas (Ebie) Blume. What an honor to hold in our hands family letters and photographs, as well as more personal, less well-known works of the artist—to examine the roots of family history and the roots of the artist’s work.

Figures, from left to right: Ebie, Marshall, Peter and Ann;
Ann's garden in Alexandria, VA
[See Blume's artistic rendering of the garden in Housewarming, an image that follows shortly]

Letter from Ebie Blume to her great-niece, in which she discusses the writer James Thurber, her friend and neighbor

Roberta Smith of the New York Times notes that Blume’s work “combined such disparate influences as folk art and Precisionism with aspects of Parisian Purism and Cubism and later Surrealism” ( Even keeping this stylistic range in mind, it is surprising and charming to witness quiet domestic scenes from the family’s collection:

Housewarming, marked on the verso “View from Ann’s window”

To comprehend the ways in which personal history and artistic vision interpenetrate, consider his pivotal work South of Scranton, now in the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art-- a painting inspired by the sight of German sailors exercising on their vessel “Emden” in the Charleston harbor.

South of Scranton

In Blume’s translation, the navy sailors became, in his words, “birds soaring through space” (

In a 1976 interview in the Chicago Tribune, Blume expressed interest in seeing, in general, “the range of experience in art expanded; a Caravaggian quality of light reintegrated; illusion of space, texture and reality, restored. All of which points to a fresh interest in human concerns” (Chicago Tribune 1976). In terms of his own work, he listed his lofty aims with humility: “As an affirmation of the virtues and qualities of life, I would like to tie all these things together in my work before I die. Not as the last word, but just to absolve myself of any negation. Not only on the part of so-called philosophical expression, but also on the purely technical side. There are so many things that we have forgotten. And maybe I’ve neglected them, too” (Chicago Tribune 1976).

* * *

Researched and written by Anja Keppeler and Jessica Savitz

MIR Appraisal Services, Inc.
Principal Appraiser: Farhad Radfar, ISA AM
307 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 308
Chicago, IL 60601
(312) 814-8510

MIR Appraisal Services is located just steps from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Cultural Center; please do give us a ring to set up an appointment for a verbal evaluation of your most prized works of art.

Works Cited
Chicago Tribune. 18 Jan. 1976.
Trapp, Frank Anderson. Peter Blume. New York: Rizzoli, 1987.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The New Acropolis Museum: Architect Bernard Tschumi's Contemporary Interpretation of Ancient Greece

In many instances, architecture can have a profound effect on the way we experience spaces, whether commercial or private. In the case of museums, the architectural program plays an integral role in the overall display and reception of the artwork it holds. For many, museums evoke a stark, white-walled box that focuses more on the art it contains, rather than the design of the building. This can be a good thing, of course, if the structure holds paintings meant to be hung on the wall. A more difficult situation presents itself in the form of sculpture and the marble ruins of Athens, Greece.

As recent as 2009, a new museum opened in Athens that stands as a testament to the cultural power of ancient Greek and modern day architecture. Architect Bernard Tschumi tackled the difficult project with a precise clarity reminiscent of Greek architecture. The building stands at the foot of the Acropolis in the shadow of the Parthenon, possibly the most influential building in Western civilization. To add to the pressure, the museum was to house some on the most impressive sculptures in Greek history and stand, not on the ground, but on the ancient ruins themselves!

The entrance to the building (pictured below) is a walkway with glass floors; beneath are archeological excavations of the Ancient World spanning over 43,000 square feet.

The building is split into three layers. The top floor is the Parthenon Gallery, whose glass-enclosed rectangular layout is rotated 23 degrees from the rest of the building to align perfectly with the Parthenon. While visitors marvel at the original marble statuary inside the building, the view of the ancient monument is a constant parallel. For an art lover, this concept display is incredibly powerful.

My trip to the museum began on a dry, hot day in May when I visited Greece during my trip abroad. As an avid museum goer, I had been to my share of art museums. The Met and MoMa in New York, the Art Institute in Chicago, the Uffizi in Florence. It is truly a unique experience to see art from all around the world housed in a singular building. It was safe to say my expectations were high.

As I approached the building, I was at first shocked at the extreme contemporary feel.

It was juxtaposed so abruptly with the ancient ruins all around us. As the architect undoubtedly intended, it struck me as an important statement of continuance. The fact that ancient architecture could and does have such strong influence over modern, contemporary buildings, shows the evolving nature of architecture-- one structure building from the last.

As I walked up to the top floor, with the view of the Parthenon in the distance, and the actual marble pieces from the pediments in front of me, I was truly blown away by the experience. The structural program made all the difference in the way I interacted within the space. I felt as if I was partaking in a dialogue with the statues in front of me, and the ancient Acropolis behind me. Past and present came together in a way that no other museum had given me before.

Below is a picture taken during my visit to the museum in 2010. As a viewer, I felt the interaction between the interior space, containing ancient statues, and the exterior space, the Acropolis, which created an incredibly unique museum experience.

Researched and written by Taylor Maatman

MIR Appraisal Services, Inc.

Principal Appraiser: Farhad Radfar, ISA AM

307 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 308

Chicago, IL 60601

(312) 814-8510

Works Cited:

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    Welcome to our blog site! MIR Appraisal Services, Inc. is a fine art and personal property appraisal company dedicated to serving clients throughout the United States and abroad since our incorporation in Chicago in 1994. We specialize in the multi-faceted field of appraising fine art, jewelry, antiques, and decorative items. We also provide professional fine art restoration and conservation treatment for various media, including but not limited to, artworks on canvas, board, masonite, and paper. We offer professional and precise appraisal services carried out by our team of accredited appraisers for the purposes of insurance coverage and claims, charitable donations, estate planning and probate, equitable distribution and fair-market value. We started our art commentary blog site as a venue for colleagues and fellow art enthusiasts to share their experiences within the art community.