After visiting Elissa Kuster for today's story about the new apartments in the Wells Fargo Building, I stopped off in the lobby of the bank itself.
I wanted to reacquaint myself with the huge space and its echoing marble floors, the hushed feeling that comes with such a tall ceiling, the walnut woodwork and the ornate iron teller cages.
But mostly I wanted to look at the painted ceiling and the big mural on the south wall that shows the signing of the Black Hawk Purchase Treaty.
As I walked up the steps and looked up, it was as though I was seeing this work for the first time. What a treasure!
The lobby ceiling, finished along with the bank in 1928, is painted in what is called the Italian Renaissance style of art, with spirals, rosettes, festoons, griffins, swans and masks.
The work was rendered in oil by the Davenport decorating firm of Hartman and Sedding from a design by Chicago artist Alexander Rinoskopf, according to information supplied by the bank.
To create the pattern, Seddig prepared a stencil from 85 yards of paper, and 10 men helped in the actual stenciling. The ceiling was then painted entirely by hand by Seddig and one other artist, taking six weeks, according to bank information.
The ceiling is like a Quad-City version of the Sistine Chapel!
And it is not all rosettes. There also are 10, 6-foot-high murals that tell a chronological history of Davenport from earliest times to the days of the American Civil War.
Let's start, though, with the "big mural" — the 15- by 9-foot painting on the south wall that depicts Antoine LeClaire, dressed in buckskins, standing at a table with Gen. Winfield Scott and Illinois Gov. Reynolds.
Facing them are Sauk and Fox chiefs Keokuk and Pashapaho. The occasion is the signing of the Black Hawk Purchase Treaty, a landmark event that officially ended the Black Hawk War and opened 6 million acres to European settlement.
The signing occurred right here in Davenport, in the area that is now 5th and Farnam streets. Black Hawk was not present; he was in chains at the Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis following his arrest after his last, disastrous battle at Bad Axe, Wis.
I have seen this treaty-signing image reprinted many times in association with articles about the treaty. I always assumed the original painting was done by an 1800s artist and was hanging in a museum somewhere. I assumed this huge mural in the bank was a reproduction of someone else's work.
But that doesn't seem to be the case. People I talked to at the Davenport Public Library, Putnam Museum and Figge Art Museum all indicated that the bank painting by Davenport artist Hiram H. Thompson is the original from which all others were copied.
Amazing! An artist who eventually did advertising art work for Gordon-Van Tine, a Davenport manufacturer of mail-order homes, created the painting by which I and all other students of history envision the Black Hawk Treaty.
How did Thompson know LeClaire was wearing buckskins? How did he know the Indians were wearing feathers? How did he know it was a sunny day? There's so much more I'd like to know about this painting!
An aside from a short biography: Thompson was born in Cincinnati, studied at the Chicago Art Institute and the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, and moved to Davenport, where he did commercial art. Other accounts in addition to Gordon-Van Tine included Montgomery Ward and the Rock Island Stove Co. He was a trustee of the Davenport Friends of Art.
Turning from the treaty mural and looking back at the lobby, you see the 10 other murals, painted by George Hamilton Thomas of Chicago, according to Quad-City Times files.
A flyer produced by the bank in the 1980s provides a brief description of each mural, but there are a few inaccuracies, or at least what appear to be that.
The first mural, titled "The White Man Comes," is dated 1654. But the first Europeans to discover, and subsequently travel, the Mississippi River were the Rev. Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet in 1673. So a date two decades previous to that couldn't possibly be correct.
But this in no way detracts from the brilliance of these paintings and the general history they represent.
The remaining nine, in order, salute the following events:
1812: Sauk warrior Black Hawk at the mouth of a cave.
1814: A battle in the War of 1812 near Davenport's Credit Island.
1816: The last bison chased from what is now the Quad-City area.
1817: Fort Armstrong being built on what is now Arsenal Island.
1823: The first steamboat up the Mississippi River.
1836: The rush of the immigrants.
1838: The first school here.
1856: The first railroad bridge built across the Mississippi River.
1861: Civil War training camps in Davenport.
If you have never seen these pictures, I highly recommend that you give them a look.
As the bank flyer says, "The talents of numerous artists were used to capture a small part of the Quad-Cities' historic past and create this true masterpiece and landmark for the city of Davenport."