This panel is a rare survivor of the interior ornament from one of the most important buildings designed by Chicago architect George Washington Maher, who trained alongside Frank Lloyd Wright in the mid-1880s. Maher established his own firm at the age of 24 and designed over 160 structures, including the Patten Gymnasium at Northwestern University.
Maher practiced his own version of gesamtkunstwerk which he dubbed “The Motif Rhythm Theory,” in which a decorative motif modeled after a stylized depiction of a floral or foliate element with importance to the site or individual is adapted throughout every aspect of a commission, from the decorative to the architectural.
Around 1900, Maher was commissioned to design a massive home for James A. Patten, a prominent resident who became the mayor of Evanston, IL in 1901. The Patten residence was widely published in some of the most popular architectural magazines and periodicals of the day; photographs and extensive descriptions of the interior and exterior the building appeared in The International Studio, The Western Architect, The Inland Architect and News Register, The Architectural Record and more. Maher included it in his lectures architectural theory, indicating the illustrative importance off every element of the design in his overall oeuvre.
Patten’s Scottish heritage and the indigenous flora of the site itself informed the choice of the thistle as the flower which would synthesize every element of the home. Maher incorporated spiky thistles into designs for mosaic panels like this one, which was produced in conjunction with glass artist Louis J. Millet, in addition to designs for windows, silk wall hangings, carved wooden furniture, stonework and ironwork by some of the finest craftspeople in the Chicago area, including Millet and metalworker Willy Lau.
The Patten home was demolished in 1938, at which time a series of large auctions were held on site in which the contents of the home, including the architectural ornament, were sold off. This panel’s twin is now in the collection of the Princeton University Art Museum (2018-75), while windows from the Patten Residence are held by The Metropolitan Museum of Art (2008.535), The Huntington Library (2006.27), and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2006.1437). A silk portière from the Music Room is held by the Art Institute of Chicago (1971.680).
Glass mosaic tesserae, plaster, modern wood frame
46” high x 28” wide