Discerning Languages for Exotic: Archive Research of Art Collectors in Chicago
Following my fellowship at the Frick Collection, I discovered several collectors of Asian art in Chicago area and learned more about their collecting style. Unlike collectors in New York City, these Chicagoan collectors including the Buckingham Family focused more on aesthetic and scholarly exploration of Asian art works. Frederick William Gookin (1853- 1936) was once a banker at the Northwestern National Bank of Chicago. He studied Asian languages and became fluent in classical Chinese. In the 1920s, he was the curator of the Clarence S. Buckingham Collection of Japanese prints at the Art Institute of Chicago. I was delighted to be able to see Mr. Gookin's notebook and ledgers for Clarence Buckingham and Kate Buckingham. Asian porcelain collected by the Buckingham family was on display in galleries at the Art Institute of Chicago. It was interesting to see that their collection of porcelain aligned more with the taste of Chinese literati collectors than with the Gilded Age opulence for objects d'art.
opulence for objects d'art. The Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago was much smaller than I thought. It did not have an extensive collection of premodern porcelain or painting. Its contemporary art collection was quite impressive. In the Hyde Park, there is another museum called the Museum of Science and Industry. This institution has the famous Coal Mine exhibit My collectors usually accumulated an unprecedented amount of wealth in the late 19th century from the coal and steel industry. The reconstructed life of a coal miner at the exhibit created a vivid image of contrast to that of American millionaires on the East Coast. This experience will have a lingering impact on me and on students taking courses with me.
It was a pity that the reading room hours at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) are so limited (1-5 PM) that I could not spare time to work there during this trip. I do hope I can visit Chicago again, hopefully for two weeks during the summer vacation, and study more at AIC and at the Field Museum. Special collections have a limited schedule of 4-5 hours during weekdays. I communicated with curators of the Field Museum, but examination of objects there needed more lead time. I thank the Faculty Development Committee for giving me financial support for this project.