Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Elevator screen from the Chicago Stock Exchange

Photo: Nathaniel Willson

Elevator screen from the Chicago Stock Exchange

ca. 1893-94

Louis Sullivan

American, 1856 - 1924

The dynamic geometric design of circles and spheres in the elevator doors' grillwork was described by architect Louis Sullivan as stylized interpretations of seeds-a fitting motif for his Chicago Stock Exchange building. A row of grain-like plants seems to sprout from the top of the screen. Sullivan's abstract vegetal ornamentation appearing on various elements was derived from the geometric and abstract flat-patterning of Near and Middle Eastern decoration and promoted by British design theorist Owen Jones (1809-1874).
Louis Sullivan had famously declared, "…FORM EVER FOLLOWS FUNCTION, that is the law-a universal truth." Rather than concealing the elevators' mechanical works and shaft, Sullivan revealed them through his design of an openwork elevator cage.

Lintel, columns and kick plates: cast iron electroplated with copper Grilles: cast and wrought iron protected with a Bower and Barff finish Decorative T-shaped elements: electroformed copper
114 x 165 x 6 in. (289.6 x 419.1 x 15.2cm)
Guendolen Carkeek Plestcheeff Endowment for the Decorative Arts, the Gates Foundation Endowment, the General Acquisition Fund, and an anonymous gift in honor of Julie Emerson
Provenance: Chicago Stock Exchange, 30 North LaSalle Street, Chicago, Illinois, ca. 1893-1972; [Sotheby's, New York, Dec. 18, 2008]; purchased by Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington, 2008
Photo: Nathaniel Willson
Now on view at the Seattle Art Museum


Exhibition HistorySeattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, American Art: The Stories We Carry, Oct. 20, 2022 - ongoing.
Published ReferencesLowe, David, Lost Chicago, Boston, 1975, p.140

Vinci, John, the Art Institute of Chicago: The Stock Exchange Trading Room, Chicago, 1977, pp. 22-23

Spencer, Brian A., ed., the Prairie School Tradition: The Prairie Archives of the Milwaukee Art Center, New York, 1979, p. 32

Sullivan, Louis H., Architectural Ornament Collection, Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, exh. cat., Edwardsville, Illinois, 1981, fig. 37

Mollman, Sarah C., ed. Louis Sullivan in the Art Institute of Chicago: The Illustrated Catalogue of Collections, New York, 1989, cat. no. 163

Saliga, Pauline A., and Robert Bruegmann, Fragments of Chicago's Past: The Collection of Architectural Fragments at the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 1990, p. 139

Peirce, David C., Arts & Enterprise: American Decorative Arts, 1825 - 1917, the Virginia Carroll Crawford Collection, Atlanta, 1999, p. 376

Van Zanten, David, Sullivan's City: The Meaning of Ornament for Louis Sullivan, New York, 2000, p.61

Szarkowski, John, The Idea of Louis Sullivan, Boston, 2000, p. 95

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

Learn more about Equity at SAM