Several important Chicago silversmiths initially produced leather goods rather than metalware. Leather was easier to work and decorate than copper or silver. The process of cutting out component parts and stitching them together was familiar to women craftspeople who were commonly taught to sew in that era. The market for leather products such as handbags and coin purses has long been strong. And many of the techniques involved -- creating templates, chasing designs, dealing with seams, and patinating surfaces -- applied to both leather and metal. In fact, the elaborate punchwork done by Mary Knight on her intricately decorated silver pieces was done with leather punches and techniques learned during her earlier leatherworking days.
Most sources on the beginnings of the Kalo Shop state that Clara Barck's initial output was leather rather than metal. According to Sharon Darling in Chicago Metalsmiths (p. 45):
With the assistance of several young women, known as the Kalo girls, [Clara P. Barck] first specialized in making goods from burnt leather [emphasis ours] and even did some weaving. When she married George S. Welles, an amateur metalworker, in 1905, her interest shifted to jewelry and metalware.
Although we have well over a thousand Kalo items in our collection, we have never come across any leather goods with a Kalo mark. It is certainly possible that these have eluded our detection, or that they were stamped with some other non-Kalo mark. Or perhaps they were simply unmarked -- the Kalo mark on earliest copper pieces was simply the name KALO in very small letters, and we have seen some very early-looking unmarked copper pieces identical in form, size, gauge, and craftsmanship, to marked Kalo items.
Sales card accompanying leather / suede card case (see below)
Some local Arts & Crafts makers did sign their leather products. The items below were all hand-made at the Wilro Shop. According to R. Tripp Evans, in "A Profitable Partnership" (Chicago History, Summer 1995, p. 6)
Barck received her degree in 1900, joining the growing number of Art Institute alumnae with independent metalworking studios. Among these women was Bessie Bennett, whose silver studio neighbored the Kalo Shop's eventual downtown location. Fellow students Hope McMaster, Clara Flinn, and Margery Woodworth opened the Tre'O Shop in Evanston, while sisters Rose and Minnie Dolese formed the Wilro Shop [emphasis ours]. Within the Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue, an arts center that became a hub of the city's craft community, recent Art Institute alumnae Christia Reade and Jessie Preston also maintained successful studios.
Sharon Darling notes (p. 63) that the Wilro Shop "made leather and metal goods, dower and wardrobe chests, pottery, and other wares." But the output of operations such as the Wilro Shop was limited. "The principal difference between all of these studios [run by Art Institute alumnae] and the Kalo Shop was size" according to Evans (p. 6). "While Barck's classmates produced small articles for a restricted clientele, she strove to enter the all-male arena of the large commercial concern."
Unless any Kalo leather pieces do surface, these few scarce Wilro Shop items are probably the closest we can come to the output from the founding days of the Kalo Shop. (To see other leather Arts & Crafts items, from the Forest Craft Guild, click here.)
Typical full mark:
Typical shorthand mark:
It is unusual to find any products from small boutique operations such as the Wilro Shop. It is extremely rare to find a group of them in pristine, unused condition. The suede objects below -- nearly a century old -- are soft and delicate, with lovely dyed colors in intricate patterns, and fine, precise, wholly-intact stitching.
Leather / suede document case, large, unused condition, flap decorated with multi-color geometric patterns, and two brass snap fasteners. Internal pouch for holding documents. Delicate gold-colored stitching around all edges. 13-13/16" W and 5-1/8" H. Marked: [WILRO / SHOP mark] inside pouch.
Detail of document case (above)
Leather / suede card case, unused condition, [shown opened],
with original sales card. Intricate multi-color geometric
and floral decoration framing central dark blue square. Two pockets inside
for holding cards. Delicate blue-colored stitching around all outside edges;
blue and gold stitching inside. 6" W (opened) and 4-1/2" H.
Marked: Case: [WILRO / SHOP mark] inside pocket. Card: No. 27-a-104 /
Subject Card Case / Designer / and / Maker / ROSE DOLESE / MINNIE DOLESE /
Exhibitor -- WILRO SHOP / Price
Leather / suede card case. [Inside view.]
Detail of card case (above) showing elaborate multi-color design
Leather / suede card case, unused condition. [Shown opened.] Intricate multi-color peacock-eye decoration at the corners, with geometric framing around the edge. Dark blue leather lining inside, and two pockets for holding cards. Delicate gold-colored stitching around all outside edges; brown and gold stitching inside. 5-15/16" W (opened) and 4-3/8" H. Marked: [WILRO / SHOP mark] inside pocket.
Leather / suede card case. [Inside view.]
Detail of card case (above) showing stitching and multi-color design
Leather / suede book cover, unused condition, with original sales card. Front cover is decorated with intricate multi-color geometric work surrounding central large green and blue rectangular areas on three sides. Two internal pouches for holding front and back covers of a book that can inserted. Delicate blue-colored stitching around all edges. 11" W (opened) and 6-3/4" H. Marked: Case: [WILRO / SHOP mark] inside. Card: 4-a / Dictionary / $7.00
Book cover with Wilro Shop stamp visible at top center. [Inside view.]
Sales card accompanying book cover. (See above.)
Leather coin purse, unused condition [front view]. Slightly trapezoidal shape with rounded corners on wide bottom tapering upwards. Elongated diamond-shaped flap with chased geometric decoration. Long tongue on one end of flap extends around the bottom and fastens to triangular flap at the other end with a brass snap. Delicate gold-colored stitching around all outside edges. 4-1/16" W and 3-1/4" H (closed). Marked: [WS abbreviated logo on flap near snap inside]
Leather coin purse, unused condition [back view].
Leather / suede rectangular blotter, unused condition, with two multi-color heart-shaped or peacock-eye details and geometric decoration, and short leather ribbon threaded through holes at either side. Heavy blotting material on reverse. 8-7/8" W and 4" H (not including ribbons). Unmarked.
Leather rectangular blotter [back view]
Leather / suede square blotter, unused condition, with four multi-color heart-shaped or peacock-eye details and geometric decoration. Heavy blotting material on reverse held on by brass fastener in middle. 3-7/8" W and 3-15/16" H. Unmarked.