ILLINOIS HISTORICAL ART PROJECT
No. 101 Frances Badger
Frances Badger began her art career in 1908 at the age of 4 with an elaborate drawing in pencil and crayon called “Grandpa White Mouse and His 150 Grandchildren.” Walt Disney, also in Chicago then, was 7 years old, and Miss Badger’s picture antedates considerably any know drawing of “Mickey Mouse.”
Next day, Alpheus Shreve Badger, her father, some of Alpheus Camillus Badger, son of Leonidas Virgil Badger, bought her a little easel, and thenceforth Frances Badger was reckoned among the artists.
Leonidas Virgil Badger originally was John Badger. But there were a lot of John Badgers, and they got their mail mixed. So this particular John Badger, being a whole lot of a classical scholar, went to the courts and got himself legally transformed into an obvious admirer of the hero of Thermopylae and of a poet capable of celebrating such heroes.
Original and droll people are always peeping out of Frances Badger’s family tree. There was her great-grandfather, for example, John Joseph Sheridan, an Irishman whose own grandfather was a brother of the author of “The Rivals” and “The School for Scandal.”
John Joseph Sheridan went from Dublin to London at 18 to seek his fortune. He arrived in time for the funeral of George III, and not only remained for the coronation of George IV, but got a job helping decorate the throne for his incoming majesty. As early as that, artists began bobbing up in Frances Badger’s family.
John Joseph Sheridan later came to America and settled in Charleston, South Carolina. But his health being none too robust, he was ordered inland by his doctor and, after a long trek overland, arrived at Louisville, Kentucky.
There, he lived until he was 80, demonstrating the superiority of the waters of the Ohio River over the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
It was his daughter, Elvira Cecelia Sheridan, who married Alpheus Camillus Badger. They came to Chicago to engage in the then noble profession of banking, and went to live in a house at Michigan Avenue and Madison Street, where the Chicago Athletic Club now stands. It was here that Alpheus Shreve Badger was born, eventually to become the father of Frances Badger.
In the Arts Club Show last spring, Frances Badger exhibited a quaint, droll painting she called “Michigan Avenue at Madison Street 1861.” This picture she painted from a photograph in her possession, inherited from Elvira Cecelia Sheridan Badger, whose hobby, curious in those days, was the collecting not only of family photographs such as are seen in thousands of old albums, but of photographs of places. This grandmother (surely Chicago’s first “candid camera fiend”) also took up photography herself as a hobby in a little group of camera enthusiasts that included a young man named Burton Holmes.
From her grandmother’s collection, Frances Badger has drawn frequent subjects for her brush. The first painting of hers that attracted my attention was shown at the Arts Club several years ago, “A. Shreve Badger in 1864,” her father at the age of two.
It was from Alpheus — “Return, Alpheus, the dread voice is past that shrunk they stream; return, Sicilian Muse.” (Milton’s “Lycidas”) — Shreve Badger that Frances Badger apparently inherited and acquired her sense of the droll and the fantastic that so enriches her painting, for it was this father of hers who invented the tales of “Grandpa White Mouse and His 150 Grandchildren” for her amusement, perched in evenings on his knee. He was a wealthy lumberman with holdings in Wisconsin and other forests to the northwest. The family fortune, which dwindle with the growing scarcity of big timber, finally was wiped out, like many another fortune in the Depression.
Besides her drollery and her love for the antique, Frances Badger has a rich color sense, and this she credits to her mother, also through inheritance and training, for she observes in her maturity that her mother is possessor of a “sixth sense” for color that would have stood her in fine stead had young ladies of her generation taken to interior decorating, as young ladies of family so often do now.
For Sarah Frances Cowles, who came from San Francisco to marry Alpheus Shreve Badger, was of a family as old and distinguished as his own. Indeed, John Cowles and Giles Badger came to America the same year (1635) though not on the same ship. John Cowles settled in Connecticut, and Giles Badger in Massachusetts.
Sarah Frances Cowles is the daughter of Samuel Cowles who went from Cleveland to San Francisco in the gold ruse but, instead of mining gold, became a judge. His brother, Alfred Cowles, owner of a Cleveland newspaper, came to Chicago and helped found another newspaper, ultimately The Tribune.
Burdened with all this ancestry, Frances Badger came into the world at Kenilworth Aug 22, 1904, predestined, you might guess, to snobbery. But beyond bragging that she is “the first white child born at Kenilworth” — there were red Indians born there before her — I have been unable to detect any particular tilt of nose. Why, she is neither a Daughter of the Revolution nor a Colonial Dame nor a Daughter of the Confederacy, to al of which she undoubtedly is eligible.
The first three years of her life, she tells me, were happy and carefree. Then, at 4, she drew “Grandpa White Mouse and His 150 Grandchildren,” and assumed the burden of a career as an artist.
In her early schoolgirl days, she attended classes in the Winnetka branch of the Art Institute of Chicago. Here, she was liked by Mrs. Pauline Dohn Rudolph who was well known in Chicago painting circles in the 1890’s and who had assumed duties as supervisor of art in Winnetka. Frances Badger’s present dearest friend is Mrs. Rudolph’s daughter, Pauline Rudolph Sherman.
From Winnetka, Frances entered the Art Institute of Chicago, first in the Saturday classes and later for the full course. Here, she won special favor with Matilda Vanderpeol, one of the talented sisters of the famous John, and after graduation she and Miss Vanderpeol went on a six-month pilgrimage to Europe, visiting all the museums and points of art interest.
Returning to Chicago (the Badger fortune being depleted), her friend of Winnetka days, Mrs. Rudolph, helped finance a studio for her in the Fine Arts Building. Here, beside painting, Frances supported herself by such odd commissions as Christmas cards and illustrations.
She also went back to Roycemore, her girlhood school in Evanston, as an instructor in art, and remained there for four years. This autumn she is renewing this connection at Roycemore.
When the Federal Art Projects came into existence, she was one of the earlier workers, fitfully on and off PWAP. With the establishment of the more stable WPA, she was put on the mural project in 1935, and was there until July 1 of the present summer.
Her career as a muralist had already been indicated, so she had no difficulty being assigned to the Federal murals. In her student days at the Art Institute, she had done some special work with John Norton, painter of the murals in The Daily News Building, among others. About ten years ago, she did a big wall piece for the Joliet Township High School. She designed some “Gay ‘90’s” murals for the Trustees Lounge at A Century of Progress, but was not allowed to execute them, as labor demanded that they be done by the Scene Painters Union.
On WPA, she designed and executed murals for the girls’ living room in the Juvenile Home; for the Robert Louis Stevenson Playground in Oak Park; and had just had a series of panels approved by the County Commissioners for the children’s clinic in the Cook County Hospital when her connection with WPA was severed.
In October, Frances Badger is to have her first one-artist show in a decade in the Loop, at the Paul Theobald Galleries. There will be a background of her familiar paintings, with some new ones, particularly of birds.
From her student days at Roycemore, birds and woodland flowers have been a major interest, along with her grandmother’s albums. Miss Henry, a Roycemore instructor, encouraged her in bird studies and in summertime camps in her girlhood days she rambled extensively in the woods, examining but not plucking wildflowers.
It is to these experiences she has been reverting of late, as relief from duties on her murals.