the "american west in bronze" - a richly detailed edward kemeys-designed plaque executed by winslow brothers

a rare artifact deserving highlight in the urban remains warehouse is a turn of the century cast bronze plaque designed by edward kemeys and executed by the winslow brothers. the single-sided metalwork depicts the cheyenne diplomat and warrior "chief left hand," remembered for his attempts to negotiate his people's survival during the onslaught of gold rush settlers to colorado. left hand was never photographed and the cast piece was modeled in clay based on sketches or portraits from the western frontier. the winslow brothers fabricated a number of these plaques in a series called "the american west in bronze."

edward kemeys was a notable sculptor, and is often considered america's first "animalier," specializing in the realistic depiction of animals (specifically he focused on wild animals of north america, often studying them first-hand in expeditions to frontier-zones).

a friend familiar with kemey's travels and works wrote, "he has done a service of incalculable value to his country, not only in vindicating american art, but in preserving to us, in a permanent and beautiful form, the vivid and veracious figures of a wild fauna which, in the inevitable progress of colonization and civilization, is destined within a few years to vanish altogether."

though kemeys began his career working in iron in new york city at age seventeen, and received his formal education in paris, he had an undeniable connection to chicago - where he lived during the decade of the 1890's. from his studio in bryn mawr-- dubbed "wolfden"-- he and his wife, laura swing kemeys, worked on monumental commissions for the world's columbian exposition. he was commissioned alongside alexander phimister proctor to create animal sculptures to hover over the bridges of the fairground's canals and lagoons. kemeys produced 12 larger-than-life models of panthers, bison, bears and lions for the exposition, which happened also to give a visible platform to artists exhibiting "western" subject matter. by far the best known extant examples of kemeys work are the lions guarding the front of the art institute. reproductions of his sculptures still exist in humboldt park and garfield park as well.

 kemeys also formed an unusual partnership for the time with the winslow brothers foundry, producing statuettes and art objects to be sold via mail order. among other things, the foundry produced four panels depicting large cats, including a high relief version of his famous public work "still hunt" (the original 1887 bronze residing on a rock flanking the east drive of new york's central park).

the winslow brothers foundry (specializing in ornamental iron and bronze work) was founded around 1887 by brothers william and francis winslow. within a short period, the winslow brothers would become one of the most accomplished foundries, outfitting numerous notable buildings and residences with skillfully executed metal ornament well into the 20th century. as early as 1881 william winslow was involved in foundry work when he joined the prestigious helca iron works of new york as office man and later as partner in 1883. helca would later receive the commission to supply any and all ornamental ironwork (under winslow's supervision) for burnham and root's rookery building in chicago. interestingly, the winslow brothers would later install elevator systems in the rookery when they briefly ventured into elevator manufacturing.

1905 winslow brothers catalog - courtesy of the bldg. 51 museum archive.

winslow moved to chicago shortly before kemeys did, in 1885, joining e.t. harris to form the firm of harris and winslow. when harris retired, winslow and his brother francis finally established the winslow brothers company, first listed in a chicago directory at 99-109 west monroe street. the winslow firm was represented at numerous international exhibitions, including the world's columbian exposition of 1893, where they were awarded eight medals. in 1900, they were awarded the grand prix, two gold medals and three honorable mentions at the exposition universelle in paris, france. the firm's rapid growth led to the establishment of offices or selling agencies in new york baltimore, pittsburgh, new orleans, minneapolis, los angeles kansas city, and san francisco.

their work included stair balusters, signage, elevator grilles, exterior storefront ornament, lighting fixtures and other metal ornament used within the interiors and exteriors of commercial buildings and residences. in 1905 winslow brothers constructed a new manufacturing plant consisting of six buildings, one and two storied, covering 175,00 square feet of floor space on the tract of land bounded by forty-sixth and forty-seventh avenues and van buren and harrison streets. raeder & coffin were the architects on record. winslow brothers continued to thrive in the fabrication of customized architectural metalwork throughout the country well into the early 20th century, until world war i dramatically changed both their operation and output. nearly all of their divisions within the newly built plant were now focused on a "patriotic campaign" in the form of an endless fabrication of artillery shells. a catalog  booklet from 1919 (author's collection) is completely devoted to operations surrounding the war effort, with absolutely no mention of their former life as a highly specialized ornamental metal foundry. in fact, the cover of the catalog contains a single graphic, of a lightly embossed metallic gold shell casing and nothing more. when the war drew to a close, the winslow brothers gradually shut down all remaining operations. the pressure of maintaining day-to-day operations, coupled by labor unrest were some of the factors leading to their decision to close down the plant. the drawn out shut down and selling of the company's assets occurred between 1919 through the early 1920's.

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