Friday’s Faces from the Past: The Photographers


“The Photographers”
from the scrapbook of Benita (McGinnis) McCormick,
1908, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Over the past week, we have seen photographs from my grand aunt Detty’s (Benita McGinnis) scrapbook of her life’s memories.  Today, we get to take a peek at some of the people who may – we are surmising here – may have taken some of the pictures from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  

The box looks like a prop that might have been part of a magician’s act.  Why are the two men pushing the third man into the box?  Could it have been just for the sake of artistic composition?  

The man on the left bears some resemblance to the professor in the photograph we saw last week, surrounded, you may recall, by the students of the Girls’ Life Class as they boldly raised their wine glasses on some special occasion.

Who were these four people?  Were they in fact photographers, art students, or simply practical jokers?  One can always hope that someone will recognize them and give them their due.

Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully


Not So Wordless Wednesday: Much Ado about Benita, Part 2


Benita (McGinnis) McCormick
          (1889 – 1984)

Second of a two part series

The caption, as written in Benita’s scrapbook,
reads, “Me and my dog in the play.”
Art Institute of Chicago, 1910.
In 1910, two years after playing the male lead in the Girls’ Life Class production of Romeo and Juliet, my grand aunt Detty (Benita McGinnis) donned her  period costume once more to become Hamlet, as seen here. 


The play attracted some media attention. The Chicago Historical Museum has a photograph of that 1910 production, taken by the Chicago Daily Tribune.  In that photo, Aunt Detty poses with Hamlet’s leading lady, Ophelia, played by Anita Parkhurst. Anita later became an artist in her own right and was one of the founders of the famed Algonquin Round Table

It is hard to decide which of these photos is my favorite.  Though I like the one with the outlandish dog on the leash, I think I prefer the picture of Hamlet as he contemplates the skull of Yorick.  I saw that expression many times.  It usually meant that Aunt Detty was not so much contemplating something, as that she had some creative idea that no one had as yet devised.

In case you missed it:

Part 1:  Talented Tuesday:  Much Ado about Benita

Benita McGinnis as Hamlet, contemplating the skull
of Yorick.  With Girls’ Life Class, Blackstone Hall,
School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1910.



Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully



Talented Tuesday: Much Ado about Benita, Part 1

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick
          (1889 – 1984)

Benita McGinnis, far right, in the title role in the Girls’ Life Class
production of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
Fullerton Hall, Art Institute of Chicago, 1908.

To the ham go the parts.  That seemed to be the case for my grand aunt Detty (Benita McGinnis), who loved center stage and played the lead in two Shakespearean productions by the Girls’ Life Class of the School of   the Art Institute of Chicago.

The first part was that of Romeo Montague in the all-girl cast of Romeo and Juliet.  Aunt Detty, on the far right, strikes a confident pose as our hero.

From Aunt Detty’s scrapbook.  Caption reads, “Men’s Life Class.”  They seem to be warming up for their supporting role as the band for the Girls’ Life Class production of “Romeo and Juliet.  Fullerton Hall, Art Institute of Chicago, 1908.
The program above refers to “A Hand-
Made Play” and “Another One,”
possibly hinting at the fun that
awaited the audience on the evening
of May 12, 1908.

Not to be outdone by their female counterparts, the Men’s Life Class, evidently a fun-loving group, offered their voice and instruments in musical support of the production. In these two photographs, also from Aunt Detty’s scrapbook, they show us there is more than one definition of “comedy.” (Note the school initials, “AIC ’08 on the side of the drum.)

The playful looks in all these photographs beg the question: was this a serious dramatic rendition of William Shakespeare’s play, or a parody?  The program makes reference to a “hand-made play,” possibly foreshadowing an amusingly entertaining evening.


Caption reads, “Mens’ Life and Band, whooping it up for
the Girl’s play of “Romeo & Juliet.”  Fullerton Hall,
Art Institute of Chicago, 1908. What were they pointing at?

In case you missed it:

Part 2:  Not so Wordless WednesdayMuch Ado about Benita


Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully

Motivation Monday: Studying Under the Master of Art Nouveau

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick
          (1889 – 1984)


Alphonse Mucha at the School of the Art
Institute of Chicago, circa 1907 – 1909.
Photograph from Benita  (McGinnis)
McCormick’s scrapbook.
One of the photographs in my grand aunt Detty’s (Benita) scrapbook of memories was of her professor, Alphonse Mucha, whom she regarded highly and considered an early influence on her work. Mucha, a Czech artist, was world renowned for his contributions to the French school of the Art Nouveau movement.
After Mucha moved from his native Moravia to Paris, the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt asked him to create a poster of her to promote an 1895 play in which she was starring.Titled Gismonda for her character and the name of the production, the poster attracted critical acclaim for its seminal and unconventional style.  Mucha went on to create many more posters and paintings, illustrations, and commercial art in what became known as the Mucha style.


Gismonda, Alphonse
Mucha’s portrait of
Sarah Bernhardt.
Paris, 1894.

In the public domain.

In 1906, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago invited Mucha to teach an advanced class as a guest professor. Aunt Detty, then 17, was one of his students. A year later, while studying under the famous professor, she produced the sketch below.  It appears to have been either a Christmas poster or cover.  The writing in the border at the bottom notes that it was a “Design for the no. (sic) Corpus Christi Record.” 

I have not been able to find a publication by that name, nor can I determine that such a periodical existed.  Maybe Aunt Detty wrote the caption at the bottom of the illustration at the time she drew it or years later, when the name of the periodical could have been blurred by memory.  I do think, though, that this was a preliminary sketch and that there may have been a color version  of it somewhere.

Benita McGinnis’ Art Nouveau sketch, in le style Mucha, boasts a decorative halo-like border that was a hallmark of many Mucha posters. Three cherubic angels, illuminated by the Star of Bethlehem, burst through the halo as they blow their horns, heralding the arrival of the Savior as the subtly drawn Magi journey to Bethlehem in the lower quarter of the picture.  The caption “CHRISTMAS,” set in its own simple border, ties the two scenes together in a vignette that is solemn yet celebratory.  The sketch is signed in the lower right hand corner by B.E. McGinnis and dated 1907.



Alphonse Mucha and his family returned to Europe in 1910.  Fiercely proud of his Slavic heritage, he spent the rest of his life working on his masterwork project of 20 paintings, each 20 feet high, called The Slav Epicabout the history of the Slav and Czech peoples.

In 1939 during the German invasion of Prague, the Gestapo arrested Mucha.  He became ill during his interrogation and was released, dying of pneumonia on July 14, 1939.

Aunt Detty treasured the above photograph of her beloved teacher and kept it in her scrapbook along with her Christmas design and other memories of her years at the Art Institute.  “Mucha, our French artist love of the year.  Famous all over the world.  His paintings now bring thousands.  (Taught) us the rule of 3 to 5.

For a more on Alphonse Mucha, click here to view Part One of a documentary on his life.


 Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully


Lighthearted Days at the Art Institute of Chicago

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick
          (1889 – 1984)

Benita McGinnis experimenting with mirrors.  She captioned this  “Five ways to fun!”   Circa 1908 – 1910
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, known more simply as the “Art Institute,” sought to give its students “a firm foundation for the professional practice of drawing, painting, illustration, designing, modeling, and architecture.”  Its 1908 – 1909 Circular of Instruction noted, 

“The general plan of work is that students shall occupy themselves in severe practice, chiefly drawing from antique and life, during the forenoon; and in the afternoon may either continue these studies or devote themselves to the practice of still-life sketching, illustration, perspective, memory drawing, anatomy, composition, modeling, lectures, etc.

“Flying high”  Date unknown.

“. . . The students also have a society called the Art Students’ League of Chicago.  This organization plans numerous special activities, among which may be mentioned the plays, masques, pageants, and various dramatic undertakings, some of which have developed a high degree of educational value.  The social life of the school, especially in its artistic phases, is a distinct advantage to the student…”

Benita took part in a number of 
plays at the Art Institute.  Here
she plays a cat, circa 1908.
Balancing study, fun, and a social life came easily to my grand aunt, Benita McGinnis, who was an outgoing and lively young woman.  She took her studies seriously yet found great joy in art and artistic expression.  I think this came easily to her, not just because she was very talented but also because she viewed art and social interaction as inextricably and shamelessly bound.  From an early age, she made up her mind to experience the joy and beauty of life as fully as she could, so she could express her appreciation of those things in her creations. 
Here she is, doing just that, at the Art Institute.
Benita (left) with friend, shows her delightful sense
of humor here: “Illustration for the “Saturday
Evening Post” – the post is just behind us. 1908”


Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully



Not Standing in the Shadows

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick
          (1889 – 1984)

Benita McGinnis and her classmates in the 1908 Women’s Life Class of the Art Institute of Chicago were anything but shrinking violets.

Women’s Life Class Party.  Benita McGinnis is at top row, second from right.  Art Institute of Chicago, 1908.  From Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s scrapbook.
In fact, I suspect that many of them were like my maternal grand aunt “Detty” and were forward-thinking young women, ready to take their rightful place in the world rather than stand in the shadows of the male-dominated society of the time.
The scene takes place just after noon.  We see Aunt Detty, her classmates, and their slightly bemused professor, as they celebrate some occasion with daring and gusto, eating chocolate cake, drinking red wine, and even smoking.  The mood in the room is playful yet bold and defiant.  Aunt Detty, raising her own glass triumphantly, stands in the back row, second from the right.  
Just what the occasion was on that day in 1908 is a mystery.  Perhaps not coincidentally, though, on March 8th of the same year, thousands of women in New York City marched in the streets to demand equality and fair working conditions in what would one day be called International Women’s Day.

Two months later, hundreds of women in Chicago showed their support. It would not be unthinkable that the Women’s Life Class decided to join the fervor of the time in their own audacious way.

Oh, to be in the room with them!

Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully



Friday’s Faces from the Past: Keeping the Lion Warm on a Winter Day

Benita Elizabeth (McGinnis) McCormick
          (1889 – 1984)

My grand aunt Benita — Aunt Detty as our family knew her —  kept a large scrapbook with fascinating photographs of her life and the people she knew.  Among the photos was the one below of her classmates from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, shown in front of one of the iconic lions at the entrance to the Art Institute.


Though she did not name any of the young people in the photo, she did caption it, “Keeping the Lion Warm on a Winter Day.”  No doubt they were trying to keep themselves warm, too, with all that snow on the ground. 

Interestingly enough, Aunt Detty does not appear in this picture.  I wonder if she was standing next to the photographer? 
It would be wonderful to know who the people were, which were her close friends, and what became of them all.  If you spot someone you recognize, let us know.
They sure do look like a fun bunch, don’t they?


Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully


Encounters with a Legend


Benita Elizabeth (McGinnis) McCormick
          (1889 – 1984)

Benita McGinnis, Chicago, Illinois, circa 1910


Passionate about art, my grand aunt Benita McGinnis had shown promise as a young artist. When she was still in her mid-teens, she was admitted to the prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the early years of the 20th century.  She was vibrant and outgoing and proved herself a natural leader from the time she entered the Art Institute, often appearing at the center of school photographs, surrounded by her laughing classmates and friends.  


She made friends easily and had no trouble striking up conversations with both students and teachers. But there was one exception.  
During her first year at the Art Institute, there was a slightly older girl, maybe two years ahead of her, in the Life Drawing class.  Benita had seen her several times, even tried saying hello, but she never got a response. This older student was serious, introspective, and aloof.  She dressed differently than most of the students, preferring austere, mostly black clothes to the stylish, bright dresses most girls of the time tended to wear.  To the cheery and extroverted Benita, she must have been something of a mysterious challenge.
One day as Benita walked down the long hall to one of her classes, the door to the Life Drawing classroom flew open and the girl bolted out.  Sobbing uncontrollably, she practically ran into my grand aunt as she headed for the garden.  
Benita felt a surge of sympathy for the girl and wanted to help.  She made her way to the garden and found her under a tree in the garden, still crying.  

Approaching the older student, my grand aunt asked gently if she could help in some way, but the girl pulled away abruptly.  “Just leave me alone!” she lashed out.  “Go away!”  Confused, Benita left.

She told me this story in 1982, over 75 years later.  “We all knew there was just ‘something’ about Georgia, and sure enough, we were right,” she recalled with a grin.  “I never did find out what happened that day, because she left the Art Institute right after that incident.  But things seem to have worked out for her, haven’t they?”
“Georgia” was Georgia O’Keeffe, and yes, things did work out for her.  After leaving the Art Institute, she moved to New York and eventually to New Mexico, establishing herself as one of the most celebrated American artists of the 20th century.  Called the “Mother of American Modernism,” she painted bold, visionary, and often startling landscapes and and large-scale renditions  of nature and animal bones of New Mexico and the Southwest. Her daring explorations of these simple subjects caused people to experience them in ways they never would have done otherwise.
School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 2005.
Courtesy GARNET.  Flickr, Creative Commons
Though I never would have anticipated it at the time, a couple of months after this conversation with my aunt, I, too, had a close encounter with Georgia O’Keeffe.  I was working the ticket counter for Continental Airlines at San Francisco International Airport one afternoon when she checked in for the mid-afternoon flight from San Francisco to Albuquerque, New Mexico.  
This time, the young woman my aunt had known at the Art Institute was being pushed to the ticket counter in a wheelchair, her aged frail frame wrapped in a thick black shawl.  Her face by now was lined with 90+ years of experiences, and her fine gray hair was severely tied up at the nape of her neck.  Though heads occasionally turned as they recognized the legendary painter, she stared straight ahead, her lips tightly pursed, seemingly indifferent to the chaos around her.  I had no idea that by now she was almost completely blind.
Some of my co-workers whispered quietly as they recognized this artistic icon of American Modernism and stole admiring glances at her.  I was tempted to ask her if everything was all right, or whether there was anything else we could do for her. But I had a feeling I knew how she would react.  I handed her a first class boarding pass, wished her a good flight home, and left her alone to her thoughts.
Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully


Wishful Wednesday: A Father and Daughter’s Hopes and Dreams


Thomas Eugene McGinnis
          (1855 – 1927)
Benita Elizabeth (McGinnis) McCormick
          (1889 – 1984)
Sisters, Alice and Benita McGinnis,
Chicago, Illinois, about 1905.          

I love this portrait of the young McGinnis sisters, which I found in my grand aunt Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s scrapbook. The picture shows Aunt “Detty,” as we called her, on the right and my grandmother Alice on the left. 

My grandmother looks to be about nine or ten in this picture, and my grand aunt was about 15 or 16, dating the year of this photograph to about 1905. It was taken at the Garvin Studio, a few miles from their home and only a couple of blocks away from Lake Michigan.  The photograph shows a tender moment between two sisters who were at once very much alike yet very different.  

Though both girls and their brothers, Francis Eugene and John, were born in Conneaut, Ohio, their parents, Thomas and Mary Jane (Gaffney) McGinnis, moved the family to Chicago, Illinois just before the close of the 19th century.

The McGinnis Family is listed here in the 1900 United States
Federal Census, living at 215 Monroe Street, in the Hyde Park
Neighborhood on the south side of Chicago.

My grandmother Alice and Aunt Detty each had different explanations for this. According to my grandmother, a fatal railroad accident in Conneaut in the late 1800s impacted Thomas so much that he decided to quit his job on the Nickel Plate Railroad. Aunt Detty believed that the family left Conneaut after Thomas was injured while working on the Nickel Plate.  

Thomas Eugene McGinnis, circa 1920,
Chicago, Illinois. “To know him was to
love him,” Aunt Detty wrote in her

I have been unable to prove either claim but surmise that the reason the family moved may be somewhere in the middle. Although there do not seem to be any records of a major railroad accident during the 1890s, there were numerous mentions in the Conneaut and Ashtabula newspapers  of the time detailing the dangers of railroad work, as well as frequent accounts and obituaries of young railroad workers.  It seems only natural that my great-grandfather and many of his fellow railroad men might think it was a matter of time before their own names appeared in the rolls of the fallen.

One thing both sisters agreed on was that their father wanted a safer, more predictable ooccupation.  He moved the family to Chicago, Illinois, and found work as a sidewalk cement inspector for the city, a job that certainly fit the bill.  

The family rented a home at 215 Monroe street for several years before building another home at 8336 South Drexel Avenue.  The 1900 United States Federal Census showed that John Patrick Gaffney, Mary Jane’s brother, also had moved to the big city and was living with the McGinnises.


Madison Street between Clark and LaSalle Streets, Chicago, 1900
Courtesy Flickr, Creative Commons


Chicago was an exciting place to live for four youngsters from a small town in Ohio.  It must have reawakened Thomas’ memories of his youth, when he spent several years as a sailor traveling the world.  He often regaled his children, whom he called his “small craft,” with colorful stories of his days at sea.

Even as a teenager, Benita was enamored of her father’s adventures. Caught up in the Windy City’s unstoppable energy, she began to see the possibilities of making her own mark in the world, meeting  new people, and discovering far-away places.  Her father would become her inspiration and her muse, helping her turn those dreams into reality.


Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully


Friday’s Faces from the Past

Do you know this soldier?

This photograph of an unidentified young
soldier was in a frame with a family tree
group, hanging on a wall in my Aunt’s
living room. Is he English?


When my family and I traveled to Mexico City to visit our Huesca family in June 2003, I spotted a large frame on the wall of one of my paternal aunts. The frame contained a pictorial family tree of the Huesca family, lovingly made for her by one of my Huesca Sánchez cousins. 
Most of the photographs on the family tree were of my paternal grandparents, José Gil Alberto Cayetano and Catalina (Perrotin) Huesca, my great-grandmother and great-aunt, Maria (Amaro) Perrotin and Blanca Perrotin, and their 11 children, including my father, Gilbert Huesca, my aunt C., and their brothers and sisters. There were about five other small photographs in the frame that I did not recognize. These pictures were not placed on the family tree, because no one seemed to know who they were.  At the time we looked at the photographs, neither my father nor my aunt were able to identify them.
I immediately asked my aunt, or Tía C. for permission to borrow the frame and make copies of the photographs from behind the glass.  She was happy to loan it to me, and I am eternally grateful to her.  It took some time to find a copy and print shop near our hotel.  Bundling the frame with sweaters, I made my way through the press of pedestrians and headed to the shop, taking care to not bump into anyone on the way. Those who have been in Mexico City know this is no easy task.
The job took over an hour to complete, but it was worth the effort.  Most of the copies turned out well, considering the photographs themselves were still under glass.  This one, however, turned out a bit fuzzy, and it is hard to make out the name and location of the photographer on the bottom.
I cannot be sure, but I wonder if it is a portrait of Charles Bennett, son of Timothy and Maria Dolores (Perrotin) Bennett, of Ruardean, Gloucestershire, England.
If you can identify this handsome young man or have any thoughts on possible clues, let me know, and I will share the information in a later post.


Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully