BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Emily Ryerson Shefessee, a jewelry artist who loved to work with the finest gems, Croix de Guerre winner for her wartime work, influential socialite, and Titanic survivor, lives on in Adler on the Park. Commissioned by Ryerson in 1917, this David Adler home is now the site of Chicago’s first Showcase House in several years. The historic mansion, decorated by Chicago’s top designers, is now open on weekends to ticketed guests and benefits the Big Shoulders Fund and Thresholds.
Kristen Ekeland, a principal of Studio Gild, wanted to honor Emily Ryerson in her firm’s work. Ryerson envisioned the residence as a series of row houses where she and other artisans might live and work: “Emily saw her new home as a safe haven. Who could not admire her stamina, to continue with her life, which had been so marked by tragedy? She first lost her college-age son in an automobile accident, and then rushing back from Europe to mourn him, her husband does not survive the Titanic’s sinking. She transcends time really in her modern thinking and her role as a patron of the arts, to be there for other artists as well as be tremendously talented herself.”
She continues, “Our rooms are the foyer, once you enter the home, large entry hall with original staircase, and the closet off the entry hall. In the stairway we had custom ceramic sconces fabricated that feel very artisanal and jewelry-like with touches of gold squares. These are an homage to Emily.”
A foyer is the first room and thus the first impression a guest has upon entering a house. Studio Gild guarantees a great first impression by adding a statement piece, such as lighting and/or an art moment, for a touch of drama. Both were opted for in the Showhouse, which brought together tactile wax and fabric pieces by Chicago artist Bambi Breakstone in the foyer and a custom-size Crosland + Emmon’s feminine plaster pendant hanging over their marble pedestal table in the entry hall.
“All the moments in these spaces reflect the hand-made quality of the artist’s hands. Nothing is machine made,” Ekeland says. “The two entry spaces then become a gallery to showcase the talents of our curated mix of artists and designers. Just as the Adler townhouses were made to serve as a collective studio for the artists in addition to their personal home, it is a place to share ideas and to be inspired by one another.”
Ekeland adds, “I think Emily would be very excited to see these rooms transformed by so many talented local interiors designers. I believe she would be inspired, as we are, by the fresh life these artists have breathed into these historic rooms.”
Herself an artist from early days, Emily Borie grew up in an affluent Philadelphia suburb and danced with delight at her debutante ball funded by her father who made a fortune in sugar refining. She married Chicagoan Arthur Ryerson in 1889 and they quickly joined society’s inner circle in his hometown.
They lived in Chicago and at their summer home on Otsego Lake near Cooperstown, New York, until 1906 when they moved to Haverford, Pennsylvania. Tragedy struck after the family’s idyllic early years. Social historian Julia Bachrach’s has lovingly chronicled aspects of this heroic woman’s adventurous life.
In early 1912 the Ryersons took their three younger children to Europe for a grand tour. Their eldest son, Arthur Larned Ryerson, Jr., a student at Yale, died with a friend in a car crash in Pennsylvania on his way home from spring break. Booking passage on the Titanic from Cherbourg was the fastest way for the grieving family to return home.
Emily and the children were rescued when the ship sank on April 15, but her husband was lost at sea. In deep mourning, she returned to Chicago where she gradually picked up her creative life again, buying a home on the North Side and building a studio for her jewelry work on Pearson Street. In 1915, she and a group of artists and architects planned homes where they could live and work side by side. David Adler and his partner Henry Dangler, who planned to live there, were commissioned to build the row houses.
The Lakeview Avenue row houses began to capture media attention even before construction began, Julia Bachrach reported in an article on Emily: Chicago Tribune society page writer Mme. X published a long column on March 15, 1915, suggesting that the row houses would emulate the “wise, sophisticated, self-respecting buildings” of London “from the time of the regency.” She explained that while the row houses would follow a “uniform architectural scheme,” each residence would suit the needs of its owner. For example, Dangler and his family would have a winter garden, and Mrs. Ryerson would have a fourth-floor workshop for jewelry-making.
Emily Ryerson’s life reflected not only immense artistic ability but also incredible service after the heart-stopping tragedies she faced. In 1916 she headed a committee that made layette kits for French soldiers fighting in the trenches during the cold winter months of World War I. Herbert Hoover called on her to become his aide when he provided food for millions in France and Belgium during the war. She received the Croix de Guerre in France for her work with wounded soldiers and fatherless children.
A champion of women’s suffrage, she participated in far-sighted international programs for them. In 1927 Ryerson married Forsythe Sherfesee, an American financial advisor to the Chinese government, when she was visiting China. They travelled extensively together, until she died in Uruguay of a heart attack in 1939.
Following a five-year restoration process headed by Michael Hershenson Architects, the 16,000-square-foot mansion located at 2700 North Lakeview Avenue, Adler on the Park has been split into two luxury residences that feature many of the original details and character of the home, juxtaposed against contemporary updates, to create a space that is both modern and historical.
The space briefly opens its doors to the public through June 12. With 40 decorating firms donating their design efforts, each assigned one room in the space, which was declared a historic landmark in 2016, ideas for modern living inside a historic property come to life.
The public is invited to purchase tickets to tour the house Saturdays and Sundays through June 12 from 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., and Monday, Memorial Day, from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. For more information, visit adlerontheparkshowhouse.com.