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AHA 126th Annual Meeting: Chicago, Day Two

Friday, January 6, 2012
The first session of Saturday morning included a panel on Southern kinship during the Early Republic, chaired by Lorri Glover.  The papers all examined family networks as central features in the development of Native American relations with the emerging U.S. government in the immediate post-Revolutionary moment, as a central force in the lives of the generation of antebellum men of an understudy generation who came of age in the 1830s and 1840s, and as the foundation transcended by German immigrant iron masters as their ethnic network slowly subsided beneath a craft/trade and ultimately business elite network in the longer 19th century.
Washington Library, Chicago

Natalie Inman, Cumberland University, argued that the nature of family networks in diverse tribes on the edge of an expanding U.S. created the social rifts and factionalism in tribes which then impacted negotiations between tribes and the British, Spanish, and U.S. treaty makers.  Her examination of several families within a half dozen tribes throughout the 1780s to early 1800s is fairly convincing that the historic attention on individual actors or, conversely, impersonal and large social forces, needs to more actively consider the role of networks and factions of communities.
Donelson, Hermitage

Mark Cheatham, also of Cumberland University, scrutinized words of mentorship and fatherly advice from Andrew Jackson to three of his prominent wards: Andrew Jackson, Jr., Andrew  Jackson Donelson, and Andrew Jackson Hutchings- all three namesaked nephews who joined Jackson’s household as adopted sons in the 1820s and 1830s.  For Cheatham, the relationships exemplify a range of responses by young men in the 1830s and 1840s to the general proscriptive advice that President Jackson imparted to them in his attempts to mold their morals, careers, and family formations.  Needless to say, Jackson could be a difficult patriarch and the three boys at different moments intriguingly displayed a range from noncompliance to deference.
Vulcan, Patron God of Alabama Iron

Ken Wheeler, Reinhardt University, presented a paper co-authored with Richard Wright, on the early transmission of iron mastery from the Chesapeake, down the Appalachian Mountains, through the Carolinas, Georgia during the early southern gold rush, and ultimately into Alabama.  Originating among German immigrants of the 17th and 18th century, Wheeler and Wright focus on the Stroup father and son who established iron works in the early national period, routinely building, developing, selling and relocating further south then west, acquiring investors and partners along their way.  The initial German ethnic communities established the Stroups early until local commercial and political elites of the antebellum South joined and patronized the iron masters, recognizing the possibility of a modernizing South that, as Wheeler noted, could transcend cotton.  Ultimately, one of the last of the enterprises of the son and his partners laid the foundations for industrialization in Birmingham, Alabama, bringing the panel to the cusp of the 20th century with implications for post-Civil War economic readjustment and the emergence, in Alabama, of a New South economy based on manufacturing, mining, and rail.
Hull House

After the panel I made a quick trip over to the UIC campus which maintains the home and a dining hall of the Hull House settlement home established by Chicago’s progressive and feminist reformer, Jane Addams and others.  The home is preserved, although much of the building was restored from the foundation up after the school acquired the property in the 1960s.  Original furniture, possessions, portraits, and a thoughtful teaching program aimed at intelligent visitors and secondary school students compete with exhibitions and activities aimed at younger children.  The feminist values of engaging work, suffrage, and community as well as Addams’ interests in racial justice, pacifism, anti-imperialism, and socialism are thankfully given respectful attention.  Although there is plenty to debate about the efforts by Progressives to ameliorate the dislocation in the lives of immigrants through cultural training and programs, Addams and Hull House remain a model for striving to make the lives of everyday men and women better.
Art Institute of Chicago

Following my tour of the small remnants of Hull House, a once much larger complex of several buildings, I visited the Art Institute of Chicago, the 2nd largest art museum in the United States, presumably after the Met in NYC.  I had little time for a tour of the entire museum, and bypassed everything except the two galleries of American art where I wished to see Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.  It was expectedly haunting and magnificent, as affecting and loneliness-instilling as expected. 

Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942

After directly viewing the Hopper painting, I stepped through the rooms and halls of the first floor, holding American art up to 1900.  An orderly and chronologic procession of rooms, counterclockwise around a gallery of marble statutes displayed at eye-level placement the portraiture and landscapes from colonial America to late 19th century, with furniture and material objects along the baseboards in a standard museum practice which, disappointingly, the Institute chose not to disrupt.  Nothing in display showed the same creative eccentricity that one would see in a gallery such as the Isabella Stewart Gardner in Boston, and the sculpture garden came no where close to the impressive antiquities room or statue garden of the Met.  Nonetheless, the early American art collection does include some excellent individual works including works by Peale, Homer, Whistler, Powers, and many others. 

Storrs, Winged Horse, 1920

The second floor of American art, from 1900 to 1950, holds the Hopper painting, several excellent portraits by Sargent, the iconic Grant Wood’s American Gothic, some fabulous American surrealists, Sullivan/Wright/Tiffany glass, tile, and furniture of the Prairie School, and a large collection of painters associated with the coterie of artists around Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keefe.

Sargent, Nude, 1891


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