Iannelli on my mind

and in my neighborhood

09/03/2012 11:44 AM

By Bonnie McGrath

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The "Cubist" boy at the 1933 World's Fair

To be honest, I don't like it when a suburb claims a famous Chicago area architect or artist as their own. I am far more comfortable with the pervasive idea that all historical artisans have a Chicago--preferably a South Loop--connection. Like a studio at the Fine Arts Building at Congress and Michigan (Frank Lloyd Wright had one there despite owning a studio and residence in Oak Park) or an office back in the day in the Donahue Building or something.

So it was with great pleasure that I recently learned on a historic walk of Northerly Island that famous artist Alfonso Iannelli had quite a presence there. In recent years, activists in Park Ridge have been trying to save his historic home and studio--which is generally the kind of thing Chicago activists do in Chicago. In fact, a woman who worked until recently at East-West University actually retired to spend more time working with the organization that spearheaded the Iannelli preservation effort. And I was kind of uncomfortable with that notion--especially since this woman was instrumental in starting the South Loop Historical Society. But to the suburbs some must go. And do their thing.

In any case, South Loop tour maven Dennis McClendon conducted the tour recently on behalf of SLHS of Northerly Island and if he mentioned the name Iannelli once, he mentioned it at least 10 times. And when I got the picture, I was a happy camper. Iannelli is in fact a South Looper in spirit!

The Adler Planetarium has at least 13 plaques designed by Iannelli--the 12 that go around the original building, affixed to its 12 corners, depicting the signs of the zodiac--some of which are now "inside" the building since the Adler expansion many years ago that enclosed part of the original structure. But they are still nicely visible. And there is also an Iannelli dediciation plaque in the lobby depicting the eight planets that were identified at the time the building opened in 1930. This plaque got under the skin of Adler people when Pluto was imminently discovered. But when Pluto was cast out as a planet in 2006, the plaque became accurate again. So up-to-the minute science reigns again at Adler--and Iannelli looks sound in his artistry and in his grasp of astronomy.

But one of the most interesting stories that McClendon told on the tour having to do with Iannelli was about the 1933 Century of Progress, which took place on Northerly Island. There was a children's area at the fair called the Enchanted Island--which was symbolized at the fair, according to Dennis, by a peculiar looking, perverse, creepy sort of little boy. But Dennis said that there is a more wholesome way to set the artistic record straight, regarding such a characterization.

"He was a 'Cubist' boy," he said. It was that simple, artistically speaking.

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