Monday, May 25, 2020

The Stone Cutters (Part 2): John DeLeeuwe, artist

Despite the financial ruin that the 1890s brought for George Evans, the flourish with which he handled his finances also brought about his desire to spend monies on embellishment in his architectural creations. Evans first partnered with French born stone carver John DeLeeuwe while constructing the Fort Worth post office in 1893. DeLeeuwe had had a varied artistic background. While he learned his stone carving trade at his father’s art school in Brussels, Belgium, he also performed as an opera singer prior to his arrival in America. DeLeeuwe’s first work for Evans at the post office at Fort Worth was primarily limited to gingerbread features. He became one of Evans’ “go to” men for services, and during their working relationship DeLeeuwe created a lifelike bust of Evans which Evans displayed in his office. DeLeeuwe’s next project with Evans gave him an opportunity to further showcase his clever and artistic talents on the Shawnee County (KS) courthouse in 1896. 

Shawnee County Courthouse

DeLeeuwe was an advocate for making public buildings not only functional, but beautiful: “There is no reason in the world why we don’t have more decorations on the public buildings.” In preparation for the courthouse work, DeLeeuwe built plaster of paris models in a small artist shed outside of his residence. DeLeeuwe was assisted by craftsman George Ward and their creations for the courthouse included dragons, lions, and floral designs. The main courthouse building was constructed of stone from Colorado quarries, but the trim was done in Bedford, Indiana stone. 

One of DeLeeuwe's dragons from the courthouse

With the collapse of Evans’ empire, DeLeeuwe moved west. In the late 1890s, he was chosen as one of the artists for the new Thomas Melton Stanford library construction at Stanford University. DeLeeuwe’s part was to create a sandstone likeness of Benjamin Franklin for display on the front of the building. Sadly, the library was considerably damaged in the 1906 California earthquake and replaced with the current building. DeLeeuwe’s last documented employment was at a monument company in San Luis Obispo, but he had started to drink heavily and deplete his personal funds. He left town abruptly after forging checks under his employer’s name. 

San Francisco Chronicle July 1899

Evans’ Shawnee County Courthouse was razed in 1965, but examples of DeLeeuwe’s work can still be seen in a pocket park called the Chandler Library Pavillion adjacent to the Topeka Shawnee County Public Library. The park was created in 2004 by local architect Raymond Sherwood “Bud” Smith II. 

Gateway of the Chandler Pavilion featuring DeLeeuwe's work


San Francisco Chronicle
1899    “Statue of Benjamin Franklin For the Stanford Library.” San Francisco Chronicle (newspaper), San Francisco, CA. July 14, 1899. Page 3.

San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram
1909    “Sculptor’s Clever Work. Mr. DeLeeuw is Completing a Massive Figure of Art for Mr. Troy’s Office.” San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram (newspaper), San Luis Obispo, CA. February 24, 1909.

Topeka Mail
1894    “The New Court House.” Topeka Mail (newspaper), Topeka, KS. May 18, 1894. Page 3.

Topeka State Journal
1894a  “De Leeuw Will Do It.”  Topeka State Journal (newspaper) Topeka, KS. June 23, 1894. Page 8.  
1894b  “Snap Shots at Home News.” Topeka State Journal (newspaper) Topeka, KS. July 18, 1894. Page 5.  
1894c  Topeka State Journal (newspaper) Topeka, KS. July 23, 1894. Page 5.  

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