Last week we went to view the stained glass windows Miller made in 1929 for the Medinah Athletic Club, which is currently the InterContinental Hotel on Michigan Avenue. This iconic Chicago building was created from the designs of architect Walter W. Ahschlager. Unaware of the approaching stock market crash, the Shrine Organization commissioned the project to build the 42-story edifice as both a center for the activities and an apartment tower. Four years after the onset of the Great Depression, they went bankrupt and lost control of the building, which is when the building went through various incarnations. In 1988, it began its life as the InterContinental Hotel.
Between the closing of the Medinah Athletic Club and the opening of the InterContinental Hotel the building went through a series of renovations and restorations. The balcony of the Grand Ballroom was rebuilt, the murals and gold leaf detailing on the ballroom’s ceiling was restored, a fifth Edgar Miller stained-glass window was removed, and guest-rooms had been expanded. Other than these changes, the general design remains the same and to this day anyone can see that each floor of the hotel represents a myriad of cultures and eras.
The building incorporates a variety of architectural styles: Egyptian, Greek, Mesopotamian, Medieval, Art Deco, and Gothic. On the first floor, just past the bronze doorway, there are two large marble columns topped with medieval knights. Etched in marble between the two columns, the Shriners wrote: “ES SALUMU ALEIKUM” meaning “Peace be to God” in Arabic. The lobby also features a staircase with cast-bronze friezes along the handrail and a ceiling painted in dark tones with Celtic and Mesopotamian motifs. Past the four-story lobby and the Assyrian styled Hall of Lions, marble steps decorated by family crests of the original founders of the club lead you to a terra-cotta fountain that is lined with blue Spanish Majolica tiles and an inscription, “All Waters Run into the Sea.” The Renaissance Room depicts the extravagance of the French Renaissance era of Louis XVI and is covered in Carpathian Elm Burl wood, hand-painted Renaissance motifs, and Baccarat crystal chandeliers. This elegance is carried on to the Grand Ballroom which has 37 hand-painted murals of classical landscape scenes around the ceiling, lined with 24-karat gold leaf moldings and a 12,000-pound Baccarat crystal chandelier. Directly above the ballroom is another terra-cotta fountain lined with brilliant blue Spanish Majolica tile and windows with fish-scale designs at both ends of the pool.
©InterContinental Chicago The Lobby
© Sarah Alair Photography The Renaissance Room
© oyster.com The Pool
The hotel’s King Arthur Foyer and Court has ceilings lined with colorful knights in uniform and stained glass windows that tell the stories of King Arthur and Parsifal. Walter Ahlschlager, the architect, commissioned and paid for Edgar Miller to create these Gothic-inspired stained glass windows which complement the Gothic architecture of the King Arthur Foyer and Court. These four windows depict classic medieval scenes featuring jousters, bards, peasants, knights, and a variety of symbols.
Photo by Eric Allix Rogers
Edgar struggled to delegate and share the load and was challenged by union members. When he attempted to install the windows himself, the union members threatened to “put a ladder through it” if he didn’t come up with twenty bucks for the Putty Glaziers’ Union. Edgar said, “unions killed the stained-glass industry.” Although he aspired to take part in every phase of his art, he accomplished these windows with the dutiful help of his sister, Hester Miller Murray, whom Edgar relied upon early in his career for assistance in artistic detailing. She had helped him on a number of projects before, but this was the first time they shared the credit. Hester once remarked, “Years later, I went in and asked at the attendant’s desk as to whom had done the glass. The attendant told me it was a count by the name of Hester Edgar. I was impressed. I did not educate him.”
Hester and Edgar worked collectively to construct a Gothic-styled Medieval narrative though they “accepted influences from anyplace” said Edgar. These windows include knights with swords and archers lunching and curving with dynamic motion which are skillfully juxtaposed and arranged with colorful and decorative tiles in a variety of ways. The piece demonstrates sophisticated design and construction techniques, featuring pieces of transparent, colored, and hand-painted glass.
The work also incorporates animals because of Miller’s belief that figurative art was more meaningful to the viewer than abstract art. These windows have a balance of both decorative abstract pieces and conceptual narrative pieces. We see this love of figurative and meaningful representations of animals celebrated in the piece. The Millers very clearly demonstrated their understanding of the harmony of animals, people, and art in these windows.
Edgar's unique style and skill is evident in the design and execution of the stained glass. The transparent, colorful glass paired with the lead lining creates a bold and dramatic look. The seemingly decorative symbols at the bottom of the picture below are actually used to represent a variety of stories of the natural world. The range of ribbed and other textured glass also compliments the iconic and symbolic pictures and colors he uses to create these expressive and robust windows.