No. 99 Winnifred Pleimling
Winnifred Pleimling, president and organizer of the Chicago Woman’s Salon and a member of the executive committee of the Navy Pier Show, is a comparative newcomer to Chicago art circles. She made her debut, like a number of distinguished other artists of the younger set, in the Grant Park Open Air Fair.
A little previous to that, she was “discovered” by Sister Stanisia. The internationally famous nun, one of the great American painters in the church, had seen some of “Peggy” Pleimling’s pictures and invited her to submit work for an exhibition in Beverly Hills. Mrs. Pleimling sent in nine, from which to make choice, and Sister Stanisia hung all nine of them.
Had Winnifred Linsenmeyer had her way as a young girl, she would now be on the stage or in the movies. At the age of 12, she was a versatile actress in both.
She was a member of the troupe — when the movies were young and had studios in Chicago — which produced the “Everett True” series. She also played child parts in the more aristocratic Essanay Studios. She treasures a letter from Francis X. Bushman, in which the great matinee idol complimented her for her performance in one of his pictures with Beverly Bayne.
But the “legitimate” stage claimed her, too, chiefly stock companies. The climax of her stage career came when the Russian Ballet came to town and she was selected as an “extra” girl. So pretty did she prove as a young harem wife in “Scheherazade” and as a slave in “Cleopatra” that Diaghileff offered her a job to go traveling with the ballet when the Chicago engagement was finished.
At the Essanay Studios, she was called “Marguerite Clarke,” which will give some idea of her personal appearance — a chubby little black-eyed girl, remarkably pretty. She has photographs of herself in those days as proof — many photographs, for she was a photographers’ model, too, posing hats especially.
She came as naturally by her stage ambitions as she comes by her ambitions to be a painter.
Her father, Otto Paul Linsenmeyer, had been put in the preliminary training, as a youth, to be an engineer. But having already trained himself in the family barn to be a tightrope walker and a trapeze performer, he ran away and joined the Barnum & Bailey circus.
At Benton Harbor, Mich., there chanced to be a little girl of Dutch descent, Louise Drupsteen, who wanted to be a circus bareback rider. She lost her heart, the day the Barnum show struck Benton Harbor, to the “daring young man on the flying trapeze,” red-haired, in pink tights. They met, were married, and the present Winnifred Pleimling was their firstborn. Her debut was at Jackson, Mich.
Not long afterward, the young performer, balancing himself in a chair on the trapeze bar, suddenly fell — and there was no net. His circus days were over, and he returned to his first training and became successful as an engineer.
Linsenmeyer was of German extraction, distantly related to the Hohenzollerns. His grandfather was vine master to the German Kaiser, and had a title of nobility. But the Linsenmeyer’s were liberal in politics, and the family came to America at the time of the German youth movement in the ‘40s — the same emigration that brought to American Carl Schurz.
Louise Drupsteen, the girl who wanted to be a bareback rider, was of no less distinguished a family. Her uncle had been mayor of Amsterdam, Holland, and they were descended from the Brandt's, Dutch shipbuilders. Louise’s grandfather, after an early life as sailor, in the family tradition, emigrated to Michigan and built the second house in Benton Harbor. Only it was a farmhouse on an extensive acreage. It was from the farm that the little girl went to the circus and fell in love with the trapeze performer. If the trapeze artist was related to the Kaiser, the girl was no less related to Bismarck, through her shipbuilding ancestry.
Winnifred Linsenmeyer didn’t remain long in Jackson after her birth. She was taken to Cleveland, where she grew to 7. Then her father died from the injury, though long after, sustained in his fall from the trapeze, and her mother took her back to the Benton Harbor farm where Winnifred grew to 12.
As a farm girl, she overcame tendencies to loneliness by long strolls in the woods, picking violets and communing with birds and butterflies. She would kill nothing that breathed, and later her aversion to destroying life extended to flowers. She dislikes cut flowers — life cut short. She has missed bouquets from admirers in consequence. She dislikes Napoleon because Napoleon’s horses were allowed to kick to pieces Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper.”
On the farm and in the rural school, she became an insatiable reader. By 11, she had read all of Shakespeare, all of Dickens, the Iliad and the Odyssey, Ridpath’s History of the World, Hawthorne, Emerson, and the novels of E.P. Roe.
Also there were huge books on art in the family library, with countless reproductions of paintings and sculpture. These she sketched and so started her careers as an artist.
But before her father died, she had begun preparations for the “stage career.” He took her to all the matinees in the theaters in Cleveland. She remembers quite vividly “Babes in Toyland.” She was two years old. Before she was three, she saw Weber and Fields in a musical show, and made quite a hit at home singing and dancing, “Rosie, You Are My Posie.” Sis Hopkins is another vivid memory, and “Rip Van Winkle.”
So when at 12 her mother brought her to Chicago, she was quite ready for the stage and the newfangled movies.
Not very long after she came to Chicago, she graduated from grammar school and was so popular in so little time that she was class poet, class artist, class historian, and class everything else. A neighborhood newspaper, covering the commencement, declared her “the coming local artist of Garfield Park.”
That was too much praise to waste, so she entered the school of the Art Institute. She went to business college, too, at night, and she worked as stenographer and clerked in stores in the daytime, besides following her movie and stage careers. Stenography, millinery, and “design” were her specialties in her study rooms.
One day, she came downtown to go on a picnic excursion on the lake. Excitement in the river caused the elevated train in which she was riding to pause on the bridge. The Eastland had overturned, and picnickers were frantically struggling to get out of the water. Several of Winnifred’s school friends, who had beat her to the boat, were among the drowned.
Before finishing at the Art Institute, she married Harold Pleimling, but continued her studies. She stopped two years later to give birth to Audrey who now, in her middle teens, gives promise of carrying on the art traditions for generations in the blood of the Linsenmeyer’s.
“Peggy” Pleimling still reads as widely and almost as passionately as when a girl on the farm out of Benton Harbor. Only now she reads psychology (including psychoanalysis), anthropology, ancient history, “the humanities,” books on Hindu and other Oriental religions, tracts on the origins and destinies of races of mankind, astronomy and astrology. She haunts Field Museum and the Oriental Museum on the University of Chicago campus.
One of the best painting she has ever done is a composition of five self-portraits called “Five Moods in Search of an Analyst.” Another, “The Artist Paints Herself,” discloses her in her studio in slovenly attire, painting an elegant, dressed-up woman — herself.
Impish pictures like these, for some strangely repressed reasons, she doesn’t show. As an amateur psychoanalyst, she figures it out, not very convincingly, meanwhile appearing before the public as a distinctly lesser artist than she actually is. Hers is a soul in seething conflict with itself.