hurrah_for_the_red_white_and_blue.jpg

Joseph Keppler’s patriotic “Hurrah for the Red, White and Blue!,” created for the July 4th centerfold of the World’s Fair edition of Puck magazine. (Photo: Flagler Museum Library)

Driehaus exhibit flips through pages of satirical magazine Puck

SHARE Driehaus exhibit flips through pages of satirical magazine Puck
SHARE Driehaus exhibit flips through pages of satirical magazine Puck

“Think of it as the Gilded Age version of the Onion, or the New Yorker magazine, or even ‘The Daily Show.’ ”

That is how Lise Dube-Scherr, executive director of the Driehaus Museum, described Puck, published in the United States from 1877 to 1918. Thethe first successful satirical humor magazine is the subject of the museum’s new exhibition, “With a Wink, and a Nod: Cartoonists of the Gilded Age,” which originated at the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach, Florida.

It’s a perfect fit for the Driehaus, housed within the splendidly restored confines of the Gilded Age home of banker Samuel Mayo Nickerson, whose mansion is considered one of the grandest residential buildings of 19th century Chicago.

With a title inspired by the mischievous sprite in Shakespeare’s “A Midummer Night’s Dream” — that quicksilver fellow who administers love potions and famously observes, “What fools these mortals be!” — Puck was founded by Joseph Ferdinand Keppler, an immigrant from Austria who initially settled in St. Louis in 1867, briefly pursued a career as an actor, and in 1872 moved to New York where, four years later he published the first edition of his magazine in German, with the English language version appearing just a year later.

‘WITH A WINK, AND A NOD:CARTOONISTS OF THE GILDED AGE’ When: Through Jan. 8, 2017 Where: Driehaus Museum, 40 E. Erie Tickets: $20 Info: (312) 482-8933; www.DriehausMuseum.org

Beyond its political commentary and caustic, observant cartoons by some of the finest artists of the time, the magazine was notable for its technological advances. With both its front and back covers as well as a double-page centerfold in color, it was the first such publication to carry illustrated advertising and to successfully adopt full-color lithography printing for its weekly publication. The magazine also served as a showcase for the work of such gifted illustrators and cartoon artists as Samuel Ehrhart, Louis Dalrymple, Louis Glackens and Frank Marion Hutchins (who worked for several Chicago newspapers).

In fact, it was Puck’s use of the new technology of chromolithography (color lithography) — a process that made possible the mass production of high-quality color printing at low cost — that earned it an invitation to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. There, from its grand-scale pavilion on the Midway, it published special editions each week throughout the six months of the fair.

A color lithograph centerfold for the satirical magazine, Puck,” which published special Chicago editions weekly during the Chicago World Exposition of 1983. The inscription on the staff say “I DID [the] 1893 World’s Fair.” (Photo: Courtesy of the Flagler

A color lithograph centerfold for the satirical magazine, Puck,” which published special Chicago editions weekly during the Chicago World Exposition of 1983. The inscription on the staff say “I DID [the] 1893 World’s Fair.” (Photo: Courtesy of the Flagler Museum)

As for content, Puck had plenty to draw on: The Gilded Age (a term taken from Mark Twain’s 1873 novel “The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today,” which satirized an era of serious social problems masked by “a thin gold gilding”) was an era of rapid economic growth in the U.S., with all its attendant corruption and social inequality. It also was a period that saw an influx of millions of European immigrants — some of whom thrived, but many of whom lived in abject poverty that contrasted vividly with a high concentration of wealth.

The magazine’s double-page color centerfold generally dealt with a political topic, while numerous black-and-white cartoons were used to illustrate humorous anecdotes. The Driehaus exhibit is divided thematically, with Rooms devoted to “Modern Life” (including observations about such newfangled inventions as the telephone, automobile and trolley car); “Social Commentary” (corruption, greed, monopolies and, at the moment of the magazine’s greatest popularity in 1884, support for the presidential campaign of Grover Cleveland) ; “Love and Marriage” (the nagging wife, the inept husband and more); “Culture and Society” (send-ups of cultural celebrities and fashions of the day); “Cast of Characters” (with far from politically correct, stereotypical portrayals of Irish immigrants, uneducated Southerners and others), and just plain “cornball” humor. Many of the works shown are the original drawings (now in the collection of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf) for what would be reduced on the actual pages of the magazine.

Although the humor in some of the cartoons requires a sense of historical context, some are evergreen:

•“Boston Coffee Party,” in which citizens protest Congress’ call for a tax on coffee to boost revenue.

• “The Theatre Conversationalist,” in which a posh couple are hooked up to grotesque ear-to-mouth tubes that prevent them from bothering their fellow theatergoers.

“The Theatre Conversationalist” from Puck magazine. (Photo: Courtesy of Flagler Museum)

“The Theatre Conversationalist” from Puck magazine. (Photo: Courtesy of Flagler Museum)

• “Fashion’s Decree,” in which a crowd of women with formidable posteriors push toward the door of a Turkish Bath in the hopes of finding a weight-loss solution.

• “Fair Warning,” a riff on New York City’s police corruption problem, in which a burly street cop watches one guy pummeling another, but doesn’t really intervene.

• “The Free Transportation Bureau for Homesick Celts,” in which a group of Irish immigrant men line up to confess to murder so they can get free steamer tickets home.

• And my favorite: An Irish domestic displaying her list of demands to her employer, including “Free use of mistress’ bike” and “Wednesday matinee theater tickets.”

Two small complementary exhibits also are on view: “Gilded Age Luxury,” featuring a room full of everything from luxury pocket watches and J.P Morgan’s walking stick, to an exceedingly posh picnic basket, and “Women of Influence: Chicago’s Leading Ladies,” with photographs of such doyennes of Chicago society of the period as Bertha Honore Palmer and Mrs. James Ward Thorne (creator of the miniature Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago, and wife of the heir to the Montgomery Ward department store fortune).

While “With a Wink, and a Nod” might not match the record-setting attendance of more than 50,000 visitors for the Driehaus’ previous exhibition featuring costumes from the popular British TV series “Downton Abbey,” it unquestionably arrives at a most opportune moment in this country’s political and social history. And it suggests that much that is old is new again, especially when it comes to human folly.

“The Haunted Auto” (1910) by Alfred Zantziger Baker, served as a cover for Puck, and skewered the results of reckless driving. (Photo: Courtesy of the Flagler Museum)

“The Haunted Auto” (1910) by Alfred Zantziger Baker, served as a cover for Puck, and skewered the results of reckless driving. (Photo: Courtesy of the Flagler Museum)

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