Rain washed out car races and some other activities scheduled for opening day of the 1915 Illinois State Fair, but the fair’s big controversy focused on a different, and unlikely, topic: china painting.
The fair was held in September during that period; the 1915 event opened on Friday, Sept. 17 and ended on Saturday, Sept. 25.
Sept. 17, however, was marked by a heavy, cold rain. In addition to fairgrounds events, the city’s annual downtown carnival was rained out that evening. However, thousands of people filled streets around what is now the Old Capitol Plaza other nights of the fair to see such attractions as the Kell Trio, a comedy group; the Frisco Quartet, a black ragtime troupe; and the Boston Bulls, nine trained bull terrier dogs.
The headliners, though, were an illumination display and a pair of daredevils. The light show involved spotlights trained on plumes of steam, produced by a railroad locomotive engine, on each corner of the Old Capitol (then the Sangamon County Courthouse).
The carnival’s finale was Madamoiselle La Bella and Daredevil Hurley. The Illinois State Register explained their act:
The stunt can be described as follows. A dauntless young woman rides down a 100-foot scoop-shaped runway, is hurled 35 feet in the air and caught by her partner, who is hanging by his knees on a crossbar 340 feet from the ground. … This will furnish thrills a-plenty, is new and has never been exhibited in this section.
Meanwhile, however, a writer identified only as “An Exhibitor” complained bitterly in a front-page Illinois State Journal commentary published Sept. 20 that the fair’s art department had no “fixed standard of excellence.”
(I)n regard to the decorated china, under the present system of judging, a judge one year may prefer plain conventional, or lustre, work to low relief enamel, or she may prefer the china with an all-over tint, to the design and lines upon a plain white surface. The styles in this class of work change as they do in everything else, and up-to-date exhibitors would like to have the pieces passed upon by expert, up-to-date judges. …
With a set standard, artists “would soon learn what that standard is and would work for it, thereby raising the standard of the art department as well as saving themselves and the fair some ridicule, especially by self-appointed critics, some of whom are so good at criticism that they have not even one picture to show in evidence of their skill,” the writer grumped.
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