Earlier this year, I spent a day at Ten Chimneys, an historic site just outside the small south-central Wisconsin community of Genesee Depot, along with Keith MacKay, Director of Historic Preservation for the Ten Chimneys Foundation and Rebecca Wangard, research assistant for the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database (Rebecca’s impressions of her first fieldwork experience are posted here). Nine catalog entries for a variety of works from the Ten Chimneys collections are now online.
Ten Chimneys was the summer home of famed acting duo Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, who appeared together in over 40 acclaimed theatrical performances from 1928 until their retirement in 1960. Lunt and Fontanne spent decades creating an idyllic summer retreat in rural Wisconsin that embodied their eclectic tastes and witty sense of style. Their contribution to the decorative arts in Wisconsin is notable for the number of talented local craftspeople they commissioned to complete their vision of a charming rural estate.
The Cottage at Ten Chimneys reflects Alfred Lunt’s fondness for Scandinavian design and culture. The Lunts furnished the Cottage with many of the orignal works of art and artifacts they collected during several trips to Sweden and Finland. They also asked local craftspeople to create new works in traditional Scandinavian styles, including carpenter and contractor Alfred Grutzmacher of Mukwonago and noted folk artist Per Lysne of Stoughton, who is credited with leading the twentieth-century revival of rosemaling (Norwegian decorative flower painting) in the Midwest. Works from the Cottage cataloged for the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database include a pair of three-legged chairs and a cupboard decorated by Lysne and a sofa and clock case built by Grutzmacher and painted by Milwaukee artist Schomer Lichtner.
In 1938, the Lunts recruited artist and Broadway set designer Claggett Wilson to paint fanciful wall murals throughout the Main House at Ten Chimneys. Some of the Biblical scenes Wilson created for the Main House Drawing Room are now featured in the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database. In an oral history interview conducted in 1998 (transcript on file with the Ten Chimneys Foundation), local resident John Hale recalled working as Wilson’s assistant. Hale painted decorative borders, cut out stencils and wallpaper patterns, and otherwise supported Wilson during the course of the two-year project.
Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.