The Artist Colonies of Old Town

Two remarkable enclaves of artistic thought, expression and craft thrived in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood, starting in the 1920s and peaking in the 1950s. Both sprung from the artistic ambitions of prolific artist Edgar Miller, who spent decades carefully crafting his studio and the surrounding properties.

The first and more extensive compound is the Carl Street Studios on W. Burton Place, a single-block street between LaSalle and Wells (it was renamed in the 1930s.) I will not try to explain their architecture or layout; I can hardly claim to understand them myself. Suffice to say that most of the block is involved in Miller’s work in some way or other. Several tightly wound buildings somehow squeeze courtyard space onto tiny urban lots, each adorned with sculpture, mosaic tile, woodwork, stained glass and more.

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Prairie Style and Art Deco / Streamline are clearly visible influences; on the whole, however, the houses on this block are unique creations.

The second location is on Wells Street, a few blocks above North Avenue. Now housing high-end apartments, it’s frustratingly inaccessible, a bit of a walled fortress compound insulated against the bustle of the city. Sporadic bits of tile decoration and two elaborately carved doors hint at the wonders that surely await within.

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Turns out, Edgar Miller was professionally involved with another luminous Chicago designer, architect Andrew Rebori. Miller’s mini-sculptures line the first-floor cornice of Rebori’s Fischer Apartments, nearby on Wells.

The outside of these buildings is a paltry consolation prize compared to the interiors. Interior photos are well worth seeking out – they are stunning indeed.

A full history at Wikipedia: Carl Street Studios

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