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Maija Grotell in Special Collections: Revolutionary Craft in 20th Century America

By Tiffany Miller, Reference Assistant

Otherwise known as the “Mother of American Ceramics,” Maija Grotell was a prolific and influential ceramist and educator. She was a revolutionary figure in the ceramics world. Born in Helsinki, Finland in 1899, Grotell became a naturalized American citizen in 1934 after moving to the States to pursue her career in ceramics. Grotell’s multi-disciplinary art background helped her craft innovative designs and glazes, techniques that revolutionized the ceramic industry. In addition to these techniques, her glazes were researched and used on color-glazed bricks as a color guide and reference model, which are still widely used in the architecture field today. 

I took an American Ceramics course in the spring of 2020 with the Paul Phillips and Sharon Sullivan Curator of Ceramics, Garth Johnson, at the Everson Museum of Art. In the course, I learned about Grotell and her works along with the history of the Ceramic Nationals. Instated by former director of the Everson, Anna Olmstead, the Ceramic Nationals was an annual competition and exhibition of ceramics made by leading ceramists of the twentieth century. Works would be judged and sold at the event. This event was unique only to Syracuse at the time. Grotell was once admired all over the world for her innovative designs and glazes and she became known for participating in the Ceramic Nationals competitions every year between 1933 and 1960. I became fascinated with her works as I learned about types of glazes, and wanted to know what made her pieces so revolutionary. What better place to do that research than in Syracuse, where Grotell is represented at Syracuse University and at the Everson Museum of Art? The Maija Grotell Papers at Syracuse University’s Special Collection Research Center contain a large collection of her designs, catalogues of her pieces, correspondence with colleagues and museums, and photographs of her work that I have reviewed in order to analyze how and why she became so popular. She is largely forgotten today, but taking a look into her captivating styles and the industry connections she made on her own will hopefully captivate others as she has captivated me. In addition to her papers at SCRC, the Syracuse University Art Museum permanent collection contains six ceramics by Grotell, including two A-grade pieces.

Image of a round black vase with blue spotted design with descriptive text
An example of one of Maija Grotell’s works. Maija Grotell Papers.
Black and white image of a woman, Maija Grotell, holding a large, round vase, 1941
Black and white photograph of Maija Grotell, holding a large, round vase, 1941. Maija Grotell Papers.

Grotell was a woman working in a male-dominated field who succeeded and prospered in spite of the obstacles she faced. Although women were involved in the pottery movement in the 1900s, few female potters actively practiced their craft between World War I and World War II. Grotell’s ceramics were different than the types of ceramics, glazes, and pottery techniques that came before her in that she used the wheel-throwing technique rather than molding her pieces by hand. Ceramics have long been considered a decorative art and were rarely ever just utilitarian objects. During the early twentieth century, an increasingly affluent society was more apt to purchase ceramics for display in their homes. There was a convergence of fine art and decorative art pieces at this time which contributed to an outgrowth of “fancier” and more intricate wares. Simplistic vessels now incorporated intricate and colorful designs. Grotell differed from these trends in her complex pieces with excited, textured surfaces to create a “wow” factor. She highlighted the beauty and power of the material rather than hiding her pieces beneath overwhelming decoration. In SCRC, there are multiple catalogs of her works, including an image of a well-known piece: her 1955 Bowl, a black bowl with turquoise spots that appears celestial due to its bumpy, opaque glazes. The 1949 issue of Ceramic Age includes multiple examples of Grotell’s works that are useful in identifying the different techniques she incorporated.

Grotell studied painting, sculpture, and design at Helsingfors’ Central School of Industrial Art Athenaeum in Finland, where she graduated in 1920. She joined a textile firm as an artist while continuing her study of pottery. Grotell moved to the United States in 1927 to work and study at Alfred University in New York State. She began teaching ceramics and moved to New York City with many opportunities waiting for her because of her acclaimed status. Determined and motivated as a young artist, she joined the crafts program at the Henry Street Settlement House in New York and found a teaching position at Rutgers University. For most of her career, from 1938 to 1966, Grotell was the head of the ceramics department at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. During this period, the height of her career, she assisted in the development of ceramics as a medium of artistic expression. In the 1930s, Grotell’s surface patterns moved toward textured surfaces with linear accents that continued in the 1940s. Her surfaces were rhythmic and dynamic, allowing for new patterns to emerge from her techniques. According to the Cranbrook Art Museum, “Grotell’s experiments would lead her to combine the same Albany slip with a Bristol glaze to create vessels with a pocked surface in which dark and light areas bubbled together like lava. Maija developed a style built on layering glazes one atop another, much like a pearl is formed with layer upon layer of nacre. It wasn’t functional pottery or ceramic sculpture, but a new kind of fine art pottery.” It is these glazes that create unique forms and patterns for which Grotell is known. 

Letter from the Vice Consulate of Finland explaining his admiration for Grotell’s designs.
Letter from the Vice Consulate of Finland explaining his admiration for Grotell’s designs. Maija Grotell Papers.
Letter from the Albright Art Gallery wanting to borrow works by Grotell for an exhibition.
Letter from the Albright Art Gallery wanting to borrow works by Grotell for an exhibition. Maija Grotell Papers.

Grotell’s research into the composition of glazes also made possible the widespread use of colored glazed bricks, helping the ceramics field cross over into other disciplines. Grotell conducted this research for architect Eliel Saarinen and one of her glaze formulas was soon put in use. Saarinen used the formula at his General Motors Technical Center, opening the door to using colored bricks in mid-twentieth century architecture. Because of this innovation, Grotell has been considered a revolutionary in the American design tradition of the twentieth century. In the 1950s, Grotell worked with merging the two techniques of multiple colored slip layers and the next generation of ‘bubbled glaze’ surfaces. She was able to create a highly textured surface by cutting through the surface glaze to the colored contrasting slips beneath. Her glaze formulas remain part of her legacy, and were highly sought after. In a letter from The Albright Art Gallery in 1959, the director praises Grotell for her contribution to American design. In many letters, directors, friends, colleagues, and teachers comment on her exciting pieces. George Heideman states that he had never seen “a similar exhibition which has impressed me as much as this one” in regards to her first exhibition at Cranbrook. Grotell was humble and giving with her work: donating her pieces, making commissions for friends and family, and teaching her craft to children and adults. Her charismatic personality opened many doors for her career, and it was exciting to learn of her generosity, especially considering that she was one of the top female ceramists in the world in her time.

Grotell was one of the European emigrant potters responsible for popularizing the use of the potter’s wheel in America. Grotell took her understanding of the clay body and experimented and transformed it into something new. In America during the early twentieth century, wheel-thrown ceramics were not popular or common; many artists used coiling or slip casting methods. Grotell, along with other European immigrants such as Merguerite Wildehain and Gertrude and Otto Natzler, brought wheel-throwing techniques to America, generating a new trend in American ceramics. Grotell was an expert at wheel-throwing, and was asked to demonstrate her techniques throughout New York City often. Grotell realized that there were endless possibilities with clay and glazes and she took them to the next level. According to an undated clipping from the Art Institute of Chicago, Grotell’s “pottery does not strive for delicacy, but rather for basic simplicity of form and wright adapted to the glaze used.” This endearing quote about her work explains how much the glazes affected her pieces, rather than the clay forms affecting the glazes she chose and used. According to the August 1949 edition of Ceramic Age magazine, Grotell felt that her work “is somewhat difficult to describe in that her interests are so varied. Depending on what she wishes to express in the specific piece being developed, she may utilize porcelain at one extreme and clay containing coarse grog at the other.” According to Jeff Schlanger, a student of Maija Grotell, in an untitled catalogue, “she showed that the modern potter was an artist using an immensely rich language in an era when ceramics was taught exclusively as a hobby craft or a division of industrial design.” There is a particular humanness about her work because her personality is brought out in her pieces in a time when there was an encroachment of industrialization onto the ceramics scene.

Page from an article with descriptive text and images of types of vases.
Examples of Maija Grotell’s works featured on a page of the August 1949 Ceramic Age magazine. Rare books.

Through the Maija Grotell Papers at SCRC, we can learn a great deal of information about Grotell’s revolutionary career working in ceramics. From primary source material like her correspondence, we can see how desired her pieces were, and how inspiring she was as one of the few female ceramists actively changing the field. My fascination with Grotell’s craft has grown and it is easy to see how her delightful personality and reformed pieces charmed the world. Because her glazes were adopted in other disciplines, her life and works can be studied through many facets. Her impact on the art world is distinct and permanent, even as the fields of ceramics and architecture continue to evolve and change.


The Maija Grotell Papers (Maija Grotell Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) are part of SCRC’s manuscript collections.


Sources:

“Collection Inventory.” Maija Grotell Papers An Inventory of Her Papers at Syracuse University. Accessed January 21, 2021. library.syr.edu/digital/guides/g/grotell_m.htm. 

Grotell, Maija. “Vessel.” The Art Institute of Chicago, Arts of the Americas, 1 Jan. 1970. Accessed February 3, 2021. www.artic.edu/artworks/20978/vessel. 

Koplos, Janet, and Bruce Metcalf. Makers: a History of American Studio Craft, 159-160. University of North Carolina Press, 2010.

“Maija Grotell Papers, 1923-1973.” Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Accessed February 12, 2021. www.aaa.si.edu/collections/maija-grotell-papers-9673. 

“Maija Grotell – Vase – 1940-42.” Cranbrook Art Museum, 31 Aug. 2016. Accessed January 21, 2020. cranbrookartmuseum.org/artwork/maija-grotell-vase/. 

“Maija Grotell.” Grotell | The Marks Project. Accessed January 21, 2020. www.themarksproject.org/marks/grotell. 

“Maija Grotell – Vase – 1940-42.” Cranbrook Art Museum, 31 Aug. 2016. Accessed February 16, 2021. cranbrookartmuseum.org/artwork/maija-grotell-vase/. 

“Maija Grotell.” The Art Institute of Chicago, www.artic.edu/artists/34754/maija-grotell. “Maija Grotell.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Jan. 2021. Accessed March 4, 2021. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maija_Grotell.


Pieces of Puerto Rico: Plastics and Protest

By Jana Rosinski, Curatorial Assistant of the Plastics Collection

I know when I’m looking through collection materials that what I sit with are only pieces. There’s no such thing as a complete story, especially one that can (re)tell itself; the pieces make the act of storytelling possible. When looking at objects from the plastics collection, an established narrative exists between the impact of polymers and American industry and ingenuity. From this narrative I can pull lines and follow traces to company histories that have given rise to the corporate giants behind so many items, to the genius of persons on the edge of discovering the next new material, or the chemical processes that have created this ubiquitous material and its ubiquitous legacy. 

In researching the Branchell Company within the Edward Hellmich Papers, I found myself looking at small brightly colored catalogs for the homemaker to order fashionable dish sets, pages and pages of tissue thin documents of legalese of Hellmich Manufacturing Co.’s growth with the establishment of Branchell, and plastic sleeves of black and white snapshots of smartly dressed women inside of a factory making dishware. The story of the labor/ers that made plastics is a much less told narrative, but one that I think should be as prevalent as the story of the science they helped transform into the products of our material culture. These hands operating industrial presses and adding finishing touches to designer dishes, captured forever working in photographs: What connected these women to plastics? Here were dishes designed by an American, with Chinese character adornment, being manufactured by the hand labor of Puerto Rican women during a politically fraught period of socioeconomic shift—how did these pieces connect? 

Female workers in factory.
Workers operate a semi-automatic finishing machine inside the Branchell factory, Bayámon, Puerto Rico. Edward Hellmich Papers.
Female worker creating dishes in factory.
A worker operates a 200-pound press to create vegetable dishes. Edward Hellmich Papers.
Female worker operates a press in a factory.
A worker uses a press to make dinner plates. Edward Hellmich Papers.
Green bowl and lid with bamboo handles.
Lime colored bowl and lid with bamboo handles and hand painted characters from the Ebonyte line; designed by industrial designer Kaye La Moyne, a frequent collaborator of Hellmich/Branchell. Edward Hellmich Papers.
Artist signature.
Kaye La Moyne’s signature on the bottom of bowl in the Ebonyte line. Edward Hellmich Papers.
Black text on white background
Petition to abolish the United States’ colonial governance of Puerto Rico. Dated during the Second World War, a time when the island was occupied by a number of U.S. military bases, and its people were once again required to bear arms for the U.S. Socialist Labor Party Pamphlets.

Planting the Root for Plastics

The plastics collection area within the SCRC contains objects, material samples, rare books, and manuscripts from the mid-twentieth century, a time of rapid development post-World War II in the chemical industry and in manufacturing. A surplus of plastics engineered for military craft, weapons, and technology, along with the technology suited to their production, needed to transition from the military-industrial sphere to the realm of public domestic goods. Ranging from integration into the bodies of automobiles, to the bristles of toothbrushes, plastic became just about anything one could imagine. Dishes became plastic out of practicality. 

Melamine dishware, a thermoset plastic made of a laminate of melamine and formaldehyde, was lightweight, brightly colored, and durable—some lines even came with a Good Housekeeping certification that they wouldn’t crack, chip, or fade. The Branchell Company was among the early manufacturers of melamine dishes in the 1950s, a division of Hellmich Manufacturing Co. of St. Louis founded by Edward and Mildred (Mimi) Hellmich. Hellmich, a businessman, in large part owed his success to his wife Mimi, who, in the early 1940s, came up with the idea of plastic birthday candle holders for cake. With capital from this endeavor, they ventured into the quickly growing world of plastic housewares by way of Mimi’s next idea: high-style salad ware sets made of melamine. Ebonyte, the name of their first dish line, attracted the attention of American Cyanamid and their patented Melmac plastic; with investment by American Cyanamid, Branchell created the very popular Colorflyte and Royale series. So popular, that the St. Louis-based plant couldn’t keep up production with the demand. 

Colorflyte line brochure
Brochure for the Colorflyte line of patented Melmac (melamine) dishware. Edward Hellmich Papers.
Royale line brochure.
Brochures for the Royale line of patented Melmac (melamine) dishware. Edward Hellmich Papers.
Royale line brochure.
Brochure for the Royale line of patented Melmac (melamine) dishware. Edward Hellmich Papers.

Branchell established a second factory in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. When I began researching Hellmich and Branchell in the Edward Hellmich Papers, I didn’t understand why there was such a distance between plant locations. While technically a part of the U.S. (though unincorporated1), the island is a far cry from the state of Missouri. But this was 1953, a time of focused efforts to attract mainland U.S. investments to the island nation. Beginning in 1947, Operation Bootstrap, or Manos a la Obra (“put your hands to work”), was the name given to a series of government programs meant to rapidly industrialize the agrarian economy through the attraction of industry investment. This took place largely through providing labor at costs below those on the mainland, access to contiguous U.S. markets without import duties, and profits that could transfer to the mainland free from corporate/federal taxation. Legal documents between Edward and business partners, lawyers, the treasury department, and banks within his papers suggests that he benefited from these incentives.

Black and white photograph of Branchell factory in Bayamón
A view of the Branchell factory in Bayamón from outside. Edward Hellmich Papers.
Black text on white background
Article from the Economic Development Administration Office. Modern Plastics Encyclopedia, Issue September 1956.

From Sugarcane to Petrochemicals

Puerto Rico’s economy was rooted in an agrarian society of independent farmers and sharecroppers before Spanish rule forced commercial cultivation of cocoa, tobacco, and coffee through enslaved labor. After the U.S. imposed control over the island, sugarcane plantations dominated by U.S. interests consumed much of the farmable land, forcing the import of food and resources to the island for the survival of the people. Half of the island’s population was always unemployed. This plantation colonial monoculture forced individuals to migrate to mainland U.S. in search of work. 

The late 1940s brought the establishment of U.S. subsidiary plants into production through direct investment—importing the raw materials to the island and exporting the finished products to the mainland. Puerto Rico’s lower wage levels and the availability of its population of trained workers first attracted light manufacturing to the island (largely in textiles/garments). The manufacturing sector shifted from labor-intensive industries, such as the manufacturing of food, tobacco, leather, and apparel products, to more capital-intensive industries, such as pharmaceuticals, chemicals, machinery, and electronics.

As lower wages and tax incentives ran out, foreign investment in the island left to seek ever-cheaper locations outside of the U.S. The island was pushed toward more intensive industrialization—petroleum and petrochemicals—big plants and machinery that could not easily be moved away from the island. Private enterprise failed to create “The showcase of the Americas”—an approximation of the mainland middle class that Operation Bootstrap foretold. Plastics was one of these fleeting investments in the commonwealth. Promises made by corporations for job security and a living wage never materialized. Half of the population depended on food stamps, and one out of three workers was unemployed. 

Plenas of the People as Protest

The tradition of la plena is rooted in Puerto Rican and Afro-Caribbean cultures. The music encapsulates the struggles of the commoner in society amidst sociopolitical changes, operating as oral storytelling/history that otherwise wouldn’t be documented. Songs are often satirical, serving as means for the working class to gain empowerment through parody of their oppressors/oppressions. During this 20th century period, rapid industrialization became entangled with nationalist movements, and plena became the soundtrack to the fight for liberation. La plena cried for change—for the rights of workers, and for independence from colonial control. 

Women operating the industrial machines and laboring to create handmade fine details on Branchell dishes couldn’t have been without the history of women’s hand skill in needlework and lace making in Puerto Rico in the earlier 19th and 20th centuries. While American capitalism opened the labor market to women, at the same time, it increased their exploitation as wage earners. Women became active in labor struggles—for a safe workplace, better wages, and the right to unionize. The Belfer Audio Archive is fortunate to hold a number of popularized plena recordings, a mix of joyful cultural expression and hardships suffered. “Alo…quien ñama?” was based on the events of the 1932-332 women needle workers strike in Mayagüez. In the song’s lyrics, seamstresses are calling each other on the telephone to raise mutual concern about the poor pay they’re getting in the factory for their garment handwork.


Audio snippet of a version of “Alo…quien ñama?”, performed by Ramón Rivera Alers. Bell Brothers Collection of Latin American and Caribbean Recordings.
“Alo...quien ñama?” 45 record
The 45 of “Alo…quien ñama?.” Bell Brothers Collection of Latin American and Caribbean Recordings.

Here are the lyrics of the soundbite in Spanish, followed by an English translation (to the best of my ability as someone who doesn’t speak Spanish):

Aló? ¿quién llama? [Hello? Who calls/Who is calling?]

¿Qué será? [What will be?]

¿Qué pasará [What will happen]

que el Taller de Mamey [now that the Mamey workshop (Mamey refers to industrialist William Mamery’s lace and handkerchief production)]

piden gente pa’ trabajá? [(they) ask for people to work?]

From the documentation of an American company’s factory in Puerto Rico, a story of colonization, industrialization, incorporation, and dissolution is told. Contracts reveal ulterior motives, dishware brings to the surface the economy of women’s hands, folk music voices the struggles of the oppressed — all uncovering the creeping rootstalks of colonial control that self-seed and reap. I just told a story about plastics manufacturing in Puerto Rico, but it isn’t the story. I don’t know the names of the women captured in the photographs, what they felt throughout their workday, what the homes they returned to after quitting time looked like, who and what made their families and neighborhoods, or what skills and pains their bodies took from their work. Their stories remain untold.


Footnotes:

1 Puerto Rico is the Spanish name for the island, but the indigenous Taíno name is Borikén, and its people are Boricua. Spain colonized the island from 1493 until 1898, when the U.S. defeated the Spanish in the Spanish-American War, taking the island and forcing U.S. citizenship upon its inhabitants. Because it is still treated as an unincorporated territorial possession of the U.S., it is the world’s oldest colony.

2 One function of the National Recovery Act (NRA), a precursor to Operation Bootstrap, was to set industry standards for products, production methods, and wages. The codes developed for U.S. garment workers were applied to Puerto Rico in July 1933, and by August there were major strikes. Needlework was no longer considered skilled labor, or the work of artisans, but rather unskilled labor that could be paid hourly instead of by the intricacy of the pieces themselves.


The Edward Hellmich Papers (Edward Hellmich Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), the Socialist Labor Party Pamphlets (Socialist Labor Party Pamphlets, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), and the Bell Brothers Collection of Latin American and Caribbean Recordings (Bell Brothers Collection of Latin American and Caribbean Recordings, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) are part of SCRC’s manuscript collections.

Audio Preservation Engineer of the Belfer Audio Laboratory and Archive Jim Meade created the audio snippet of a version of “Alo…quien ñama?” and photographed the 45 of “Alo…quien ñama?” for this post.


Sources: 

Ed. Acosta-Belén, Edna. Puerto Rican woman. Praeger, 1979.

Ed. Goggin, Maureen Daly and Beth Fowkes Tobin. Women and the material culture of needlework and textiles, 1750-1950. Ashgate, 2009.

Chase, Stuart. “Operation bootstrap” in Puerto Rico: report of progress, 1951. Prepared for the National Planning Association Business Committee on National Policy, 1951. 

Modern Plastics Encyclopedia. Plastics Catalogue Corp., September 1956. 

Rivera, Pedro and Susan Zeig. Manos a la Obra: The Story of Operation Bootstrap. Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, Hunter College, City University of New York. 

Rivera, Pedro and Susan Zeig. Plena canto y trabajo: Plena is Work, Plena is Song. Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, Hunter College, City University of New York. 


“This is not a woman who composes, but a composer who is a woman.”

By Jim Meade, Audio Preservation Engineer

“What is your favorite recording in the collections?” I am asked this question regularly by visitors to the Belfer Audio Archive. It’s impossible to answer; there are so many outstanding recordings and sound-related artifacts in Special Collections. But in celebrating International Women’s Day, I am thrilled to offer up this record by Mme. Cécile Chaminade, which is undoubtedly one of my favorites.

In London, in November 1901, Cécile Chaminade recorded seven compositions for the Gramophone and Typewriter Company. Although these recordings are available on CD, the original 1901 discs are rare and coveted by piano music collectors. Two of these single-sided 10-inch discs were purchased at auction by the Belfer Audio Archive in 2015: Les Sylvains (GC-5554) and L’Enjoleuse (GC-5557). While not conclusive, my initial inquiries with Rachel Fox Von Swearingen, our Librarian for Music & Performing Arts, suggest that these 1901 recordings are certainly among the very earliest, if not indeed, the very first commercial releases of a female composer performing her own works.

Gramophone and Typewriter Company record label, black with gold text. Les Sylvains by Madame Cecile Chaminade.
Les Sylvains (GC-5554), one of the seven single-sided 10-inch discs compositions Cécile Chaminade recorded for the Gramophone and Typewriter Company in 1901.
The 1901 recording of Les Sylvains (GC-5554).

Cécile Chaminade was born Cécile Louise Stéphanie Chaminade on August 8, 1857, in the Île-de-France province near Paris, France. She was a composer and pianist known mainly for her piano music, which she performed on concert tours in England and the United States.

Chaminade initially studied music with her mother, a singer and a pianist. At the age of 8, she astounded composer Georges Bizet with her talent. She later studied privately because her father objected to a formal education in music. Her teachers included Félix Le Couppey for piano, Marie Gabriel Augustin Savard, Martin Pierre Marsick for violin, and Benjamin Godard for music composition. At 18, she performed her first concert and made her first London appearance in 1892. Her performances gained popularity for her pieces, which, remarkably, were almost all published. She returned to England in the 1890s, appearing with singers such as Pol Plançon and Blanche Marchesi, but this activity ceased after 1899 due to bad reviews.

Cécile Chaminade
Public domain black and white photo, Cecile Chaminade seated at piano.

In praising Chaminade, the French composer Ambroise Thomas said, “This is not a woman who composes, but a composer who is a woman.” Isidor Philipp of the Paris Conservatory also supported her works. Despite winning broad popularity and considerable sales success for her piano pieces, Chaminade’s more serious music was less well-received, particularly by the day’s mostly male critics. Her music includes opera, ballet, and orchestral pieces. The work is refined and melodic, hinting at a whimsical sense of humor. It seems likely that gender biases guided detractors of her talents rather than the work’s merits.  

Chaminade married Louis-Mathieu Carbonel, a music publisher, in 1901. A much older man, he died in 1907, but Chaminade never remarried.

Gramophone and Typewriter Company record label, black with gold text. L'Enjoleuse by Madame Cecile Chaminade.
L’Enjoleuse (GC-5557), one of the seven single-sided 10-inch discs compositions Cécile Chaminade recorded for the Gramophone and Typewriter Company in 1901.
The 1901 recording of L’Enjoleuse (GC-5557).

In 1908, Chaminade was well received on a concert tour of the United States, taking in 12 cities. At her debut American concert, she played the solo section of her composition Konzertstück with the Philadelphia Orchestra. In 1913, she was awarded the Order of the Legion of Honor, making her the first female composer recipient.

In the period leading up to and following World War I, Chaminade recorded piano roll performances while her popularity declined. As she aged, she composed less, ultimately retiring to Monte Carlo, where she died on April 13, 1944, at 86.


The photographs and audio clips of Chaminade’s gramophone records featured in this post are from our Belfer Commercial Phonograph Disc Collection (Belfer Commercial Phonograph Disc CollectionSpecial Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), part of the Special Collections Research Center’s manuscript collections.


Work Cited:

“Cécile Chaminade.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Feb. 4 2021. Web. Feb. 8 2021.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Cécile Chaminade”. Encyclopedia Britannica, Aug. 4 2020, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Cecile-Chaminade. Accessed Feb. 8 2021.