From local youth to poster child

Loïe Fuller shined brightest in Paris, but Hinsdale pays homage to famous native


Last updated 2/7/2024 at 3:56pm | View PDF

"Loïe Fuller was not just popular. She wasn't just famous. She was a phenomenon."

Born near the present-day York Road and Ogden Avenue intersection, Loïe Fuller whirled her way to international stardom around the turn of the century with her modern dance style and revolutionary use of fabric and stage lighting. Finding an audience in Paris for her visionary artistry, Fuller was the subject of colorful posters across the city - the social media of the age - promoting her performances.

Last week at Immanuel Hall, the Hinsdale Historical Society hosted "Lights of Paris," a three-day antique poster event and fundraiser celebrating Fuller and the profound era with an exhibit of these vibrant pieces blending art and advertisement.

"People don't always get how significant her contribution was," society Trustee Kristen Laakso said of Fuller's enduring influence. "In Taylor Swift's Reputation tour, she had a whole dance where there were imitators of Loïe Fuller on stage, and at the very end there was a projected image that said, 'Dedicated to Loïe Fuller, who supported artists and the rights to their work,' because she patented everything she did."

Like a page out of Fuller's book of theatrics, the Immanuel Hall's chapel interior was transformed by projected period footage of strolling Parisians. Even the static poster imagery came to life thanks to high-tech animation.

"These (posters) would have been in the streets of Paris," Laakso said, crediting society volunteer Matt Stockmal with the immersive backdrop. "These posters brought color to a gray city."

Six among the display featured Fuller, lent by the estate of Beverly Erickson, a Clarendon Hills resident and owner of more than 20 such posters who passed away last fall. Laakso and fellow Trustee Carrie Rozich approached the family about making the posters the centerpiece of the "Lights" event, in partnership with Heritage Auctions, the firm handling the eventual sale of Erickson's collection.

"She had this passion for Loïe Fuller. So we thought, 'How do we do this and make it interesting and try to raise funds for the society?' " Laakso said.

Hinsdale's Greg Bloch and Hope Lloyd Brown, art dealers and consultants with Triad Art Group, brought pieces from this same time period to sell, with a portion of the proceeds going to the society. Bloch also gave a talk on advances in color lithography in the late 19th century that dovetailed with France's "Belle Époque" of high artistic and cultural development.

"They would print (the posters) in the middle of the night and send kids out to put them up with paste on (building) walls. Within minutes, people would be running through the streets, tearing them off and taking them home," explained Bloch, noting that printers consequently made extra copies. "All of a sudden Paris became a colorful city, filled with posters everywhere ... and became a center for the arts, where artists flocked in from all over the world wanting to be part of the scene."

That included Fuller, who befriended the likes of sculptor Auguste Rodin, novelist Alexander Dumas and scientist Marie Curie. It was Fuller's collaboration with Curie, explored in the book "Radiant" by Liz Heinecke, that produced many of the chemical illumination methods that dazzled her audiences.

"She transformed the science of performing," said Hope Lloyd Brown, an art dealer and society leader. "She was working in lights before anyone."

The quote above appeared in a trailer for the forthcoming documentary on Fuller, "Obsessed with Light," shown at the end of Friday's gathering. The documentary chronicles how the one-time vaudeville performer became a global star "and the embodiment of the Art Nouveau movement with her elaborate productions of ephemeral, shape-shifting abstractions," according to the filmmakers. It is currently making the rounds of film festivals before its wider release.

Erickson's daughter, Alice Johnson, said her mom, who never flaunted her collection, would be surprised at the surge of attention that Fuller is receiving.

"She just loved learning about history and digging and making sure that she had good quality information," Johnson said.

Johnson was told of a smaller-scale documentary, "Loïe Fuller: Dancing in the Light Fantastic," that was produced several years ago.

"So I rented it and watched it. And my mom's in it!" she exclaimed, later recalling her mom talking of being interviewed on camera. "I had forgotten."

Laasko, a former 15-year Paris resident, said Fuller enjoys much greater acclaim in her adopted home than that of her birth.

"There are sculptures of her face on the outside of buildings there. The French know who she is," Laakso said.

Lloyd Brown said that may be changing.

"Her posters are really sought after. And Bev Erickson spent her adult life collecting specifically Loïe things," she said. "(Fuller) was from a farmer's family, a girl from Illinois. But she never fit here, I don't think. She had bigger ambitions."

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean


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