Purcell and Elmslie, Architects
Firm active: 1907-1921
Minneapolis, Minnesota :: Chicago, Illinois
Scope and Content Notes
Excerpted from The Guide to the William Gray Purcell Papers
Mark Hammons, 1985
Purcell & Elmslie Archives
The records of Purcell & Elmslie are considered to be the most varied and complete of any to survive from the Prairie architects. The Purcell & Elmslie Archives actually contain the records of three different architectural partnerships: the firm of Purcell & Feick, established in Minneapolis, Minnesota (1907- 1909); Purcell, Feick, & Elmslie (1910-1913), as the practice was named after George Grant Elmslie joined the office in 1910; and then Purcell & Elmslie (1913-1921), following the departure of George Feick, Jr. from the firm in 1913. This continuity of architectural practice is most commonly known simply as Purcell & Elmslie (P&E), a convention used throughout this website.
Records document work on residential, institutional, commercial, and public structures, along with numerous ornamental and Graphical Designs. Materials found in the P&E archives include hundreds of sketches, presentation renderings, working drawings and ornamental diagrams, specifications, correspondence, manuscripts, office records, architectural fragments, and furniture. Most records are cataloged by the commission or job numbers assigned in the original P&E accounting system. There is also documentation of unnumbered, undated, or unidentified designs.
Architectural drawings in diverse media present a rich graphic record of Purcell & Elmslie buildings and unbuilt projects. Office records provide information about most commissions, including extensive work done for a leather belting firm during World War One. Correspondence, financial records, manuscripts, and biographical materials follow business developments and supply knowledge of clients, artists, craftsmen, architects, and others involved with the firm. Photographs preserve views of many commissions that are now altered or demolished. The history of the P&E records as an archives is also well documented.
Types of Architectural Records
The Architectural Records are the largest part of the Purcell Papers by volume and are also the most varied in media. For example, drawings are either original artworks, copies made through a variety of reproduction processes, or a combination of both treatments. Specialized records such as specifications also appear in the files. Since preservation of these kinds of documents is a relatively new archival field, the terminology used to describe them may vary among sources. The following definitions will familiarize researchers with the standard descriptions applied to these records in the Purcell Papers.
Materials documenting specific designs are arranged in commission files, also sometimes called building files. A building file can contain several types of drawings. Sketches show the early conceptual development of a design, often illustrating alternative solutions. Sketches in the Architectural Records are generally small, executed in pencil on thin translucent paper. Since these drawings are preliminary and experimental in nature, sketches are usually not drawn to proportion, or scale. Studies are a more definite expression of a design, though they may still present alternate schemes. Most studies, particularly those by George Grant Elmslie, have a specific scale and include suggested landscaping or similar details.
More elaborate presentation drawings were sometimes prepared to help the client visualize a projected structure. Also known as renderings, these kinds of drawings present the appearance of the building in perspective, an illusionistic technique. Presentation drawings may be done in pen and ink, colored pencil, charcoal, oils, watercolor, or a combination of these elements. Occasionally three dimensional plaster contructions called models were also made, although only one model made by an artist for other purposes is present in the collection.
Working drawings are diagrammatic representations of how a building is to be assembled and placed on the site. These drawings most often come in sets of several large sheets, usually executed in ink on linen, and may include graphic instructions for mechanical, electrical, heating and plumbing systems. Also called tracings or blueprints, after various processes that were used to copy an original drawing, these kinds of records illustrate the different structural aspects of a design.
Plans present a bird's-eye view of the arrangement of the floor space or a particular area. The straight-on view of elevations relates the positions of elements such as windows, doors, and trim to the wall or vertical plane. Both interior and exterior elevations are usually included. Sections are longitudinal, transverse, and sometimes cut-away perspective views of internal structural relationships such as foundations and framing. Other related drawings, collectively termed detail, provide more finely developed directions for contractors or craftsmen. A typical detail drawing might show a fireplace or built-in cabinetry. Working drawings are almost always drawn to scale, or measurements are otherwise indicated.
Two other kinds of technical drawings frequently associated with sets of working drawings are diagrams and site plans. Diagram is a general term used to describe exact, often full-scale (life-size) graphic representations provided to craftsmen and artisans as guides in the production of furniture, light fixtures, leaded glass, sawed wood or other ornament. Site plans are also sometimes referred to as plat diagrams and show the position of the building in relation to grading and other topographic features of the site. Other information about a design that may be found on technical drawings includes original and revised dates, location and special place names, draftsmen involved with the project, and materials schedules.
Some commission files contain specifications, written instructions to contractors that supplement the construction requirements found on technical drawings. These documents define in detail the quality and type of materials to be used, the necessary workmanship, legal or procedural obligations of the contractor, and other precise information needed to complete a building. More familiar documents also found in the building files include correspondence, manuscripts, and photographs. Many commission files reflect not only the design-making and construction process but also provide documentation on the subsequent life of the building, including publications such as newspaper clippings, pamphlets, and brochures.
The initial organization of the Architectural Records was done by an architect and architectural historian named John Jager. Highly sensitive to the historical value of the documents, Jager devoted nearly forty years of intense effort to the conservation and refinement of the collection. His vision of the importance of the records defined the character and content of these files as researchers now find them, and all subsequent archival operations have built on the foundation of his work.
The drawings and other documents were stored in the stone- walled lower floor of the Jager home in south Minneapolis, a space affectionately referred to as "the Cave." At a time when standards for the preservation of architectural records were undefined, Jager developed a comprehensive system of care and storage. Fragile drawings were often mounted on heavy cardboard or masonite panels. Kraft paper envelopes were handmade for each commission to enclose smaller sketches, correspondence, manuscripts, and photographs. Presentation and technical drawings were similarly protected or bound in portfolio, and placed in specially-built wooden cases. Many items were annotated with a handling date. With the assistance of longtime P&E drafter Frederick A. Strauel, Jager created detailed inventories of the materials to which were added comments about the provenance of particular documents and descriptions of conservation procedures.
Since coming into the care of the University of Minnesota in 1966, the Architectural Records have received extensive archival attention. Large drawings are now resident in modern steel plan files, and smaller records are protected by acid-free containers. Documents at risk of deterioration from handling are encapsulated in mylar. Original conservation measures implemented by John Jager have been left in place where possible to preserve his annotations. Corrosive metals and other reactive materials have been removed, although a few documents are already decayed from previous contact. Because some of the documentation described in earlier catalogs and indexes has left the collection, the records have been completely re-inventoried.
In the past fifteen years, drawings and photographs from the collection have been exhibited in several shows, including "Amerikana" at the Rijksmuseum Kroller-Muller in The Netherlands (1975), "200 Years of American Architectural Drawing" at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, New York City (1976), "An American Architecture" at the Milwaukee Art Center (1977), "Prairie School Architecture in Minnesota Iowa Wisconsin" at the Landmark Center, St. Paul (1982), ''The Art that is Life': The Arts and Crafts Movement in America, 1875-1920," Boston (1987), and "Minnesota 1900", Minneapolis (1994). Many theses, dissertations, monographs and other publications have made use of materials from the collection as well.
Architectural Records Cataloging Terminology
The catalog listings for the Architectural Records summarize the contents of drawings for commissions and other designs, office records such as correspondence and manuscripts, and miscellaneous documentation. Job title, type of work, location, date, and associated architects or engineers are given to the extent that this information is available in the Purcell Papers. Presented differently than the other Architectural Records, documentation in the Louis Sullivan Archives is arranged alphabetically by commission title. Since records related to work by Louis Sullivan are of special significance, the type and content of architectural drawings as well as other documents are specified in greater detail.
Catalog listings for most of the remaining Architectural Records are cited by the job numbers originally assigned by the architects, with the accounting systems of different practices distinguished by prefixes. Designs from the various partnerships of William Gray Purcell, George Feick, Jr., and George Grant Elmslie, for convenience known collectively as Purcell & Elmslie, are grouped together [AR:B1a (P&E 1-500)]. The work of Purcell in his Portland period [AR:C2a (WGP 600-776A)] is listed separately from commissions undertaken by Elmslie during the same time [AR:D1a (GGE 251-317)]. For easier cross reference, the outline prefixes are dropped in citations of these records (e.g. AR:P&E 10, WGP 600, or GGE 260). Sometimes records exist for designs not included in one of these accounting systems, such as documents of work by Purcell during his college studies [AR:C1] or an assortment of miscellaneous designs by Elmslie during the 1930s [AR:D2]. Such records have been arranged chronologically and an artificial numbering system applied with an "X" prefix. Listings for these files follow the pre-existing job numbers sequence in the catalog and are referred to with the usual prefix indicating the architect (e.g. AR:P&E X2, WGP X1 or GGE X34).
Ambiguities exist within the original job number systems. For example, some commission numbers were used more than once. Duplicate assignments sometimes occur for later work on the same building, such as additions and garages, or through bookkeeping errors. These conflicting numbers are alphabetically suffixed in the catalog in two ways. Where such job numbers were originally amended by the architect, this assignment has been retained to faciliate pre-existing cross-references in the records (e.g. the Parish House and Chancel for Christ Church [AR:P&E 24A-B]). Duplication suffixes are otherwise shown in parentheses, for example, to distinguish between the map drafted for C. H. McHugh [AR:P&E 18] and the residential design for John H. Kahler [AR:P&E 18(A)].
Job title information presented in the catalog is drawn from original documents from the offices of the architects. Citations for architectural work are taken from drawings, when available. Other names by which a commission may be commonly known, either in the Purcell Papers or in the academic literature, are also given. For example, the John Leuthold residence [AR:P&E 155] is sometimes referred to as the Beebe house, since Leuthold built the dwelling as a wedding present for his married daughter, Bess. Most commission files do not contain specific street addresses.
Various domestic structures include houses, apartment buildings, farmhouses, or miscellaneous service buildings such as stables and garages. In this guidebook, houses that were intended as personal dwellings are termed residences, unless known to be a vacation home. When work on more than one residence was done for the same client, the designs are numbered or otherwise distinguished (e.g. the Josephine Crane Bradley residence #1 [AR:P&E 88], summer residence [AR:P&E 131], and residence #2 [AR:P&E 260]). Structures are characterized as cabins or cottages when those terms appear in the records. Speculative houses are dwellings built by the architect as real estate investments, although sometimes the name of the buyer later came to be used as an identification.
Listings for commercial structures, public buildings, and churches show the institutional name. For some designs, particularly banks, the records more often refer to location than formal title. For example, the Farmers and Merchants State Bank [AR:P&E 309] is usually called simply the Hector (Minnesota) bank. Designs otherwise untitled are described in the catalog listings by type of structure, such as "Library" or "Office Building." Names of individuals who commissioned such work are provided when mentioned in the building files or in accounting materials (e.g. the Commercial Building for George E. Logan [AR:P&E 337]).
Job titles may be variously qualified. Unbuilt architectural designs for which drawings survive or are known to have been prepared are described as projects. Remodelings or additions to previously existing structures are termed alterations. Occasionally, several job numbers may be assigned to different work for the same commission, such as first scheme, revised scheme, furniture, (interior) decoration, or landscaping (e.g. the Louis Heitman residence [AR:P&E 299, 312, 314-316]), or may refer to specially prepared presentation drawings (e.g. for the Woodbury County Court House [AR:P&E 300]). Whether a design was executed cannot always be determined from the records, even when technical drawings are present.
Job numbers assigned to graphic commissions, for example stationery or magazine covers, are cited as designs. Consultation is the general expression used to describe titles for which only accounting and/or manuscript references survive. These commissions are often reported in the records as "contacts," "prospects," "discussions," or as having "no results." Other consultations were "estimates" or "special services." Job numbers assigned to office bookkeeping functions are shown in the catalog as accounting. In some instances the nature of the work is completely uncertain, with no other record than the name of the client on a commission list, and these titles are labelled unknown.
Other information is given to the extent known from the contents of the Purcell Papers. Location of the architectural work is supplied beneath the commission title. Special place names that appear on architectural drawings are also noted in the catalog. Dates provided in the catalog listings are taken from original office accounts and may be variously qualified. For example, construction of a building might have occurred some time after initial contact with the architect. In these instances, both dates are shown (e.g. the "Motor Inn" garage for Henry Goosman, 1907/1908). Uncertain dates are approximated by those of surrounding commissions (e.g. circa 1927/1928). Names of architects or others associated with an architectural design are also noted, and work such as consulting engineer or drawing delineator is specified when documented by the records.
Artifacts held in the collection, such as furniture, leaded glass panels or building fragments are specified with the commission (e.g. the chair and dictionary stand from the Edna S. Purcell residence [AR:P&E 197]). On rare occasions, certain documents are not included in the catalog summaries. Most often these are cost estimates or square footage calculations. Documentation is wholly absent for some commission numbers, shown in the catalog listings as (-).