An Elegant Tradition
August 4th, 2011Filed under: Collections
This trophy is one of my favorite pieces at the Chicago History Museum. Unusual and elegant, it is truly unique among millions in the collection.
Chicago craftsman Robert Jarvie made the trophy in 1912 for the Aero Hydro Club of Illinois, sponsors of the Chicago International Aviation Meet, the predecessor of today’s Air and Water Show. The trophy was intended for the winner of a ten-mile hydroplane race, but for some reason, it was never awarded. Nonetheless, Jarvie’s work has stood the test of time. The trophy’s angular column and rounded bowl, embellished with delicately designed flying fish and seaweed, create a perfect setting for the model hydroplane perched on top.
While we don’t have an image of Jarvie, we do know something about his life. He worked for the city’s Department of Transportation before pursuing metalworking. Apparently self-taught, Jarvie began working out of his home on West Congress Street around 1895. He moved to the Fine Arts Building in 1904 and moved again in 1909, this time to the Union Stock Yard neighborhood. Now, why would a fine craftsman open shop near the dirty, smelly stockyards? To make trophies, of course! Every year, the Stock Yard hosted livestock fairs and competitions. Making trophies for the winners was Jarvie’s bread and butter, allowing him to create more refined pieces for high-end clients and branch out to hand-crafted furniture and rugs.
The Chicago History Museum is fortunate to hold several pieces of Jarvie metalwork and one rug but, alas, no furniture. His work is part of a larger collection of pieces from the local Arts and Crafts movement, one of the richest chapters in Chicago design history.