Thursday, February 16, 2017

James Blanding Sloan

Anyone who has been to our home has seen the wall in our dining room that houses our eclectic collection of Chicago-centric art.  One of the prints on the wall appears to be old and faded.  It has originally belonged to Kevin's maternal grandfather and was gifted to Kevin several years ago after Kevin had moved to Chicago.  It's one of those prints that you have to look at for a long time because the longer you look at it, the more you see.  At the bottom left on the print is written, "German building - Jackson Park Chicago" with the name of the artist written on the right side, James Blanding Sloan.  

Our print is number 9 of 100.


I believe the building in the foreground of the print, which is from an actual wood carving, is the Guatemala Building.  The image below is a map of the north end of the White City, showing the Gallery of Fine Arts Building, which is the present-day Museum of Science and Industry.  I surmise that the vantage point of the print above is standing just west of the Guatemala Building, looking east to the Germany building:



The Germany Building at Jackson Park (right) was originally built for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, the event that gave birth to Jackson Park as Chicagoans know it. All but a few of the hastily-erected but magnificent Expo structures burned down the following year through a series of accidental and malicious acts. The German Building, Iowa Building, Spanish Pavilion, Japanese Temple, and Palace of Fine Arts were survivors. The German Building lived on for another 30 years as a beach house, suffering fatal fire damage 30 years later. The Iowa Building was relocated to this spot at the south end of the beach. The Spanish Pavilion later became the LaRabida Hospital (minus newer structures), and the Palace of Fine Arts is better known today as the Museum of Science and Industry. 

James Blanding Sloan studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, the precursor of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He was a versatile artist: painter, wood carver, graphic artist, set designer, illustrator, and puppeteer. Originally from Texas, he moved to San Francisco in the 1920s where he established a studio on Polk St. and owned a puppet theater on Montgomery St. From San Francisco, Sloan moved to Hollywood where he worked as a stage and set designer. In 1934, Sloan became the director of the WPA Federal Theater in Los Angeles.  


James Blanding Sloan
Sloan was a bit of a rascal.  I encourage you to read his Wikipedia page .  Not only was he an artist, he was also an activist.  Just after America entered World War I, he was arrested for posting signs which urged young men not to register for the military draft, but to claim exemptions as conscientious objectors.  

In 1929, he was arrested in San Francisco for pushing the boundaries of censorship by creating and using anatomically correct nude marionettes and puppets in his puppet theater shows for sold-out adult audiences. He also used his theater to run foreign films that had been banned elsewhere.

Kevin and I have always liked the print that hangs on our dining room wall with several other Chicago-themed prints.  But knowing the history of this one print -- and the ass-kicking nature of the artist behind the work -- probably makes this one a little more special than the others.

By 1948, James Blanding Sloan was living in Altadena, California, and in the mid-1960s moved to Berkeley, California, and then to the nearby town of Canyon, where he died at the age of 89.