a collaboration between the bldg. 51 archive and chicago art institute's ryerson & burnham archive

inspired by spending the past several months organizing and digitizing images and artifacts belonging to chicago architect john vinci, i’ve now begun volunteering one day a week at the ryerson and burnham library archive, where i’m combing through and digitizing images from hundreds of contact sheets housed in the richard nickel archive.

during my time there, i’ve been slowly weaving together a photographic study of the demolition and extraction of ornament from adler & sullivan’s garrick theater (1892). by spending hours poring over and enlarging images that contribute to a facet of the garrick narrative I’ve been obsessed with for years, i’m truly amazed at how remarkably thorough and systematic nickel was in his approach documenting the garrick - from the time it was handed a death sentence to the last images showing the excavation of the gargantuan wood foundation piles that had not seen the light day since they were driven deep into the ground in 1891.

that commitment - to return time and again – even after the last bits of the building had been trucked off to the landfill, has not been duplicated by other photographer historians. perhaps, as a subtle attempt to make a mockery of the whole ordeal, nickel’s last image was of the lightly incised stainless steel commemorative plaque of the garrick’s front elevation mounted in the lobby of the parking garage. ironically, he had written the backside “finis.”

note: in this "introductory" post, i'm skipping around a bit with the images below, but ultimately the universe of photos pulled from contact sheets will be assigned categories (e.g., stencil recovery, terra cotta disassembly and reassembly at navy pier, auditorium plaster panel extraction, phoenix columns, discovery and removal of mosaic landings, etc.) and organized into an online database and possibly publication. 

all images courtesy of the richard nickel archive, ryerson and burnham archives of the ryerson and burnham library, the art institute of chicago.

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