Second Presbyterian Church has one of the best-preserved Arts and Crafts interiors in the nation. This reform movement originated in England and promoted a unity of design between architecture, interior decoration, and objects. Arts and Crafts designers looked back to the medieval era and embraced the basic tenets of handcraftsmanship, natural forms, harmonious design, and honesty of materials. The movement was widely embraced in America, with Chicago as one of its centers. The collaboration of Howard Van Doren Shaw and Frederic Clay Bartlett on the interior contains a multitude of decorative elements and fixtures that best represent the Arts and Crafts aesthetic, and work together to create unity of design.
Repetitious motifs throughout the sanctuary provide a unity of design between the various materials employed. The most prominent motif is that of the angel, and 175 examples can be found in glass, wood, plaster, and in the murals. The grapevine, a quintessential Arts & Crafts motif, and the pomegranate, depicted split open to reveal its seeds, are both found throughout the space.
Shaw’s light fixtures are an expression of the Arts and Crafts aesthetic as well as the new possibilities introduced by electric lighting. These include the ten massive crown chandeliers suspended from angel brackets, rectangular art glass panels beneath the balconies, and a pair of delicate globes made of thin brass filigree over the organ loft. The free-standing candelabra, located at each side of the pulpit platform, were produced from a joint design of Shaw and prominent Chicago lighting designer Willy H. Lau.
The woven carpet in the balcony (and originally installed throughout the main floor of the sanctuary) is a rare surviving example of Arts and Crafts textile design. The pattern represented a bold aesthetic reform that was considered modern and abstract in 1900.
The interior contains distinctive wood and plaster ornamentation throughout. Outstanding examples of the woodwork include the carved front and sides of the pulpit platform, the pulpit furniture, and the ends of the pews. Plaster panels featuring natural motifs ornament the front face of the balcony and strap work beneath the balcony features a repetitive pomegranate design. The grid pattern of the ceiling, meant to mimic traditional timber framing, features cast plaster panels along with animals and other creatures.
*All photos by Martin Cheung unless otherwise noted
*Interior sanctuary photo by James Caulfield