Countdown to Mother’s Day – part II

Marshall Field's Hand-Painted Orientalist Ceramic Lamp by Vera L. Smith (LEO Design)

Another wonderful Mother’s Day gift—one that’s pretty, useful and bright.  It has had a long and interesting journey and it still looks great!

In the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, department stores were the premier shopping venues in American cities, East to West.  The very best department stores became the taste-makers for the carriage trade—and for those who aspired to join it.  In the Midwest, one store stood head-and-shoulders over the rest:  Marshall Field & Company.  Founded in the 1850’s, by the Turn-of-the-Century, Marshall Field’s presided over Chicago with its gigantic, gleaming, celebrity-architect-designed emporium on State Street (that great street). Some might argue it was the best department store in the country.

In those days, every department store company was an entity unto itself—not part of a large, national chain with centralized corporate buying offices.  Marshall Field’s buyers travelled the globe acquiring wonderful treasures.  Designers worked in the company’s Chicago studios drafting exclusive products for the sales floor.  And company-employed craftsmen and artisans filled the company’s workshops making those unique products.  It was a whole different time in the department store business.

One such product is the wonderful lamp, shown above, hand-made in the Teens or Twenties.  First, the ceramic vase was made in Japan.  Then it was shipped to Chicago where a Marshall Field’s painter-decorator (in this case, Miss Vera L. Smith—who signed her handiwork!) hand-applied the glazing, following a pattern created by the Marshall Field’s designers.  Once the lamp was displayed on the sales floor, customers were treated to a unique and beautiful item—an item which could not be found at any other store (anywhere).

The lamp above is an interesting blend of the Aesthetic Movement, “Orientalism,” and a touch of the Art Deco movement, soon to come.  Please click on the photo above to learn more about it or come into the shop to see it in-person.


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