Alfonso Iannelli and the Studios

Daniel stained glass window cartoon
St. Patrick's Church, Racine
Conté crayon on paper, circa 1924
104 x 31 1/2 inches

Sketch for (silo) highrise
Ballpoint pen on paper, Circa 1930
5 1/2 x 3 inches

Trophy for National Safety Council Inc. (detail)
Pencil, colored pencil and watercolor on artist board, 1940
24 x 18 inches

January 3, 2014 – July 26, 2014

Until recently, Alfonso Iannelli remained a fringe figure in scholarship about American design history. Today, that’s changed to include his name among the first rank of Twentieth-Century designers.

Like Raymond Loewy and Norman Bel Geddes, Iannelli was a major figure in industrial design and he either worked alongside or knew architects Frank Lloyd Wright, Bruce Goff and Erich Mendelsohn or companies Sunbeam, Oster and Prudential. He also was one of the major sculptor/architects who created works for Chicago’s World’s Fair of 1933.

Office chair for Encyclopaedia Britannica (detail)
Cyanotype blueprint, 1943
20 1/4 x 32 inches
Preliminary design for Hupmobile Ad
Watercolor on tissue, 1926
5 1/2 x 4 1/2 inches

Even though Iannelli Studios in suburban Chicago’s Park Ridge was a major company in the years before World War II, the name of Alfonso Iannelli was virtually forgotten after his death in 1965. But because his archives and remaining artworks were still considered important by a few historians, the Chicago Architecture Foundation saved the contents of his studio in Chicago’s Glessner House on Prairie Avenue. There, they remained until they were acquired by a major art gallery and the upward climb of Iannelli’s reputation today.

ArchiTech Gallery acquired the bulk of Iannelli’s archives shortly after opening in Chicago’s River North gallery district fifteen years ago. The gallery’s director and owner, David Jameson, published "Alfonso Iannelli: Modern by Design," which helped cement Iannelli’s reputation as the creator of sculptures, illustrations and architectural decorations as well as modern appliance design through the Twentieth Century.

ArchiTech Gallery exhibits these design and architecture works in a special show and sale of original material opening January 3rd and continuing through April 26th, 2014.

Preliminary design for Rock of Gibraltar relief (detail)
Prudential Building
Pencil and pastel on tissue, Circa 1954
34 x 26 inches
Preliminary design for memorial to George Rogers Clark (detail)
Graphite pencil on posterboard, circa 1931
18 1/2 x 14 inches

Notes on the exhibition:

December 1st was my fifteenth anniversary. My Iannelli book finally came out during the last half of the year. It seemed fitting that Alfonso Iannelli would occupy my walls for the start of the new one.

The new Iannelli book has now shipped to all corners of the world and I’ve been hearing from those parts that they like what they’ve read. It seems that Iannelli is on a roll. The book is also on sale in the Frank Lloyd Wright bookstores so I suppose they’ve finally made peace.

Memorial design
Tempera and gold ink on poster board, circa 1925
(Possibly drawn for Art Institute of Chicago exhibition December, 1925)
14 x 8 1/2 inches
Preliminary design for Orpheum posters (detail)
(Full drawing

Even the owner of the Midway Gardens photographs is raving about the book. His company bought the 1914 negatives and prints years back and they, along with memories by Wright and sculptors Bock and Iannelli are all that remain of the most famous collaboration of their careers. My job would appear to be done. But there was a little matter of mounting this show for the new year. Hence, "Alfonso Iannelli and the Studios."

The Iannelli Studios were founded in Los Angeles in 1912 with Iannelli’s business partner, James Frederick Rudy, a stained glass maker and good friend Iannelli hoped would stay the distance. Alas, Rudy would die of the Spanish Flu in Chicago in 1918 and Iannelli’s partnership would remain vacant until Ruth Blackwell was added to the letterhead when she began redecorating and designing houses in the late 1940s.

Preliminary design for modernist mural
Pencil and tempera on artist board, Circa 1915
10 x 5 inches
Advertising poster design for the Milo Cigarette Company
(Possibly Margaret Spaulding/Iannelli, renderer)
Colored paint and gold ink on photograph, Circa 1915
6 x 4 inches

The collaborative nature of Iannelli’s design talents and working method reached back as far as the Renaissance era design studios. He filled his Studios with brilliant artists like Margaret Spaulding, who he would later marry, Ruth Blackwell, Edgar Miller and Bruce Goff just to name a few.

That "collaboration" was the major reason Iannelli and Wright never worked together again. Wright would never credit another’s design input, working as if he was creating his own universe. It apparently worked for his own legacy as his is the only name the general public seems to equate with the word "architect." But Frank Lloyd Wright and Alfonso Iannelli never worked together again from 1914 to the end of Wright’s life in 1959.

Profiles of women and Child
Pencil on heavy card stock, Circa 1915
8 x 11 1/2 inches
Front Entrance Light for Red Oaks (detail)
Pencil, colored pencil and chalk on tissue, Circa 1928
12 x 10 inches

Not that they didn’t try. Wright asked Iannelli to do the sculpture for the 1916 Imperial Hotel project in Tokyo and Iannelli asked Wright for work in 1940 but the twain never met. Still, they remained civil and visited each other’s studios.

This exhibition of design drawings is sort of a continuation of the major show last Summer in the Cultural Center downtown. Where that one focused on the love story between Alfonso and Margaret, and my new book placed Iannelli into the front ranks of design history, this ArchiTech Gallery show outlines the design process of the Studios in a more personal way, showing early sketches and ideas from the Los Angeles roots through the Chicago phase and finally to the Park Ridge studio decades.

His earliest drawing in this show is a 1912 figure study from the time he was first designing the sculptures of the "Workingman’s Hotel" in San Diego. I’m displaying a huge stained glass cartoon of one of the windows of a 1924 church and a 1943 blueprint from his Encyclopaedia Britannica job in the Civic Opera Building.

Illustrations for magazines, sculptural relief designs for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and appliance ideas form the rest of the exhibition. And of course, cleaned and framed will be one of the design ideas for the massive "Rock of Gibraltar" he carved on the wall of the tallest new Chicago building of 1955.

It would appear that Alfonso Iannelli wasn’t forgotten after all!