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Rachael Robinson Elmer (1878-1919)


This is the centennial year of the death of Rachael Robinson Elmer. It will probably pass unnoticed. But not by me.

As a kid, I spent a lot of time in the Loop. Downtown Chicago was my playground, though you probably won’t understand my definition of “play”. At the age of twelve or fourteen I hung out at Flax Art Materials and a record store whose name I can’t recall, both of them on South Wabash. Also on Wabash, under the latticed shadow of the “L”, but a couple blocks north of Flax was Kroch’s & Brentano’s bookstore and its art-and-architecture mezzanine, the domain of Henry Tabor. You could find me somewhere along that stretch of Wabash on any given Saturday.

Don’t ask me precisely where it was in that neighborhood but somewhere along the “L” I recall signage for the P. F. Volland Printing Co., on a second or third floor, clearly visible from the windows of the passing train I had ridden from 63rd and Loomis. It meant nothing to me at the time — a teenager has very few commercial printing needs — but today it has taken on new meaning and, not incidentally, confirmed my suspicion that “six degrees of separation” is pessimistic.

Pessimistic because, unknown to me, the Volland Co. had produced a remarkable series of postcards in its earliest years, icons of the Arts & Crafts era and highly collectible today. And I know this now because of Rachael Robinson Elmer, one of Volland’s artists then.

Rachael Robinson Elmer was born in Vermont to artistic parents. Her father was an illustrator; her mother a painter.  Rachael began her art education at the age of twelve, eventually studying in New York City with the likes of Childe Hassam (a name I do recognize). Some time in 1914 she met Paul Volland and established a business relationship with his company. The first of her cards reached the market in early 1915 and immediately found an audience as the “Art-Lovers’ Postcard Series”.

Rachael wasn’t the only artist in Volland’s employ. Maginel Wright Enright, Frank Lloyd Wright’s sister, designed for Volland. Marion Mahony Griffin is reported to, as well. I wonder if Margaret Iannelli did, too. Volland had good taste.

You may not find the 1919 date troubling; I do, because that it was the winter of 1918-1919 that the Influenza pandemic took tens of thousands of American lives; millions worldwide. Rachael Elmer was among them, passing on February 12th.

Do you suppose she’ll mind if we appropriate some of them for the Agincourt Project?


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