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The World Finder

Friday, January 20, 2012–Saturday, March 03, 2012

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In 1893, Steele MacKaye set out to build the Spectatorium, the world ’s largest theater for the world ’s largest event, the World ’s Columbian Exposition. Within this immense space, MacKaye intended to present The World Finder, an epic in four acts that told the story of Columbus ’s voyage to America. A Chicago Tribune article from the period reached the conclusion that in The World Finder “no attempt has been made at illusion.” Indeed, MacKaye filled his ocean with real water, his New World with real plants, and his stage with a real cast of thousands. But in his commitment to joining in his words, “nature and art,” MacKaye did not take into account the hard realities of the American economy, which collapsed shortly before the Exposition ’s opening. Half a million dollars went into constructing the never completed Spectatorium, which was sold as scrap for a little over two thousand dollars. MacKaye died within the year. 

Pocket Guide to Hell (Paul Durica, Michelle Faust, Kenneth Morrison, Sayward Schoonmaker, and Nat Ward) has revisited this story of big dreams and bigger failures. On display are artifacts connected to the Spectatorium and The World Finder, including a complete section of the mammoth theater; a scrapbook donated by the MacKaye family; costumes for Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella; and salvaged lumber converted into Chicago sidewalks and workers cottages. An abridged performance of The World Finder will accompany the exhibition to mark the 118th anniversary of Steele MacKaye ’s death.

The World Finder
is presented concurrently with Beijing Taxi and Bontoc Eulogy
and Global Cities, Model Worlds.

RELATED:

EXHIBITION SUPPORT

The World Finder is supported by the College of Architecture and the Arts, University of Illinois at Chicago, and a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.

ARTIST BIOGRAPHY

Pocket Guide to Hell is a collective that offers tours and reenactments of true crime, social justice, labor history, and peanuts.

MEDIA COVERAGE

Westin, Monica. “Review: Global Cities, Model Worlds, and The World Finder Pocket Guide to Hell/Gallery 400.” newcity.com, Jan. 31, 2012.

EXHIBITION CHECKLIST (EXPANDED)

Pocket Guide to Hell (Paul Durica, Michelle Faust, Kenneth Morrison, Sayward Schoonmaker, and Nat Ward)

Steele MacKaye (1842-1894)
Spectatorium sliding stage section, 1893/2012
Historical reproduction

“A Spectatorium is an entirely new species of building, invented and devised for the production of a new order of entertainment entitled a spectatorio… A spectatorio combines grand spectacle with grand oratorio, utilizing the most advanced artistic realism for the purpose of emphasizing the most inspiring idealism. It seeks to present the facts of history with graphic force while suggesting, by music and poetic symbolism, the true philosophy of history.”

—Steele MacKaye, Chicago Times, August 1892

Steele MacKaye (1842-1894)
Apparatus for Producing Scenic Effects, or Wave Machine Maquette, 1893/2012
Historical reproduction

“By this means, when it is desired to give the effect of waves upon the surface of water contained in the reservoir upon the foundation floor of the scenic department (which overspreads said department to a depth sufficient to conceal the tracks and water channels supported thereon) the wave maker may be set in motion by the operator or prompter by simply touching the proper key upon the switch board [sic] so as to set the motor P in motion and thereupon waves will be built up as indicated in Fig. 10.”

—Steele MacKaye, United States Patent No. 490, 490, January 1893

Steele MacKaye (1842-1894)
Cloud Creator, or Nebulator Maquette, 1893/2012
Gift from the Estate of T.F. Bittner
Historical reproduction

“My invention relates to [the] apparatus for producing scenic effects, and the object of the invention is to provide improved means for creating clouds or cloud shadows so as to produce the effect of cloud[s] or cloud shadows moving upon or over a landscape or sky foundation or other scenic arrangement, for the improvement of realism in land and water scenic effects.”

—Steele MacKaye, United States Patent No. 490, 481, January 1893

Isabella I, Queen of Castile and León, costume from The Great Discovery, 1893/2012
Gift from the Estate of T.F. Bittner
Historical reproduction

“The [receiver ’s] report shows that the costumes cost $8,706 and sold for $500 and that about $4,000 was received altogether for MacKaye ’s Spectatorium. The structure, as far as completed, still stands. It was sold for $2,250.”

Chicago Tribune, March 1894

Sailor from the Santa Maria, costume from The Great Discovery, 1893/2012
Gift from the Estate of T.F. Bittner
Historical reproduction

“Musicians and dramatists are busy talking about a scheme of Steele MacKaye ’s, which will be one of the largest of its kind ever put before the American public. His idea is to have a musical spectacular pantomime at the World ’s Fair on a scale of magnificence never seen in this country. The pantomime will tell the story of Columbus, his life, his hopes, his dreams, his disappointments, and his end.”

New York Times, December 1892

Percy MacKaye (1875-1956)
The Spectatorium portfolio, 1893–94/2012
On loan from the MacKaye Family Papers, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire
Historical reproduction

“Here, in the shadow of those cloud-capt [sic] palaces, I have followed in glitter and gloom, under portentous stars of a thousand-and-one nights, the mystic pilgrimage of a genius ‘prince ’ along the torrent of a biologic stream. Though the stream has been vaguely charted in time and place, yet its fecund source and goal are mystery.”

—Percy MacKaye, Epoch: The Life of Steele MacKaye, Genius of the Theatre, 1927

Steele MacKaye (1842-1894)
The Spectatorium patents, 1893/2012
United States Patents Nos. 490: 068, 481, 490
Historical reproduction

“For the proper presentation of a spectatorio a large number of inventions have been made by myself, which are the result of twenty-five years of study and experience in my profession, as playwright and stage director. These inventions have been allowed by the United States patent office, and we are now taking measures to secure foreign patents.”

—Steele MacKaye, Chicago Times, August 1892