(A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit Tree Studios in Chicago. Tree Studios is currently owned by Friedman Properties. The managers of the property were kind enough to give me a guided tour. When I returned to Fort Worth they asked whether they could use the story of my visit for their newsletter. The following is the article I submitted to them.)
Jim Rosenthal of Fort Worth, Texas, son of Charles Rosenthal, visited The Tree Studios Building on January 24, 2012. His purpose was to visit the place his father worked during the 1930’s. (Charles Rosenthal died on June 12, 2012 in Scottsdale, Arizona.)
The following is an excerpt from Charles Rosenthal’s autobiography:
“From 1934 to 1938 my Dad, Henry D. Rosenthal, had a studio in the Tree Studio Building. He had formed a company called Hobbs-Rosenthal Studio to print etchings and engravings. His partner, Morris Henry Hobbs, was able to obtain a lease. The Tree Studio Building was built by Lambert Tree for fine artists at a rent they could afford. Ours was $20 per month, including utilities. (Wash rooms were down the hall.)
My Dad met Morris Henry Hobbs through my uncle from Highland Park, Uncle Charlie Sanborn. Mr. Hobbs’ profession was as an architect but in 1934 architects and artists were in tough straits. However, Dad and Mr. Hobbs formed a partnership to produce etchings.
1934 was the second year of the World’s Fair in Chicago and, through some mutual friends, Dad was able to get an appointment with the Chairman of the Nations section. This area was composed of villages resembling the various nations that participated. My Dad’s idea to produce souvenir etchings was approved. Then Mr. Hobbs drew and etched plates (I believe there were 16 in all) of scenes representative of the buildings. My Dad printed them. They were packaged in sets of 10 and sold at the fair.
The Black Forest Village at the Chicago World’s Fair
Business was good and I often helped my Dad on Saturdays. I was 16-years-old and still in High School.
When I was 18, I started to work for my Dad full time at his studio. My job was to produce the etchings on our etching press. The press was operated entirely by hand. It was difficult, back-breaking work but I was young and I enjoyed the excitement of the Tree Studios atmosphere.
The Hand Etching Press Used in Studio 20, Tree Studios Building
After my Dad and Mr. Hobbs ended their partnership, Mr. Hobbs obtained another studio across the hall where I took art lessons from him. I also asked him questions on etchings and dry points. We continued to print most of his work.
(Note: According to Joseph Czestochowski in his book James Swann: In Quest of a Printmaker, James Swann moved to Chicago in 1936 to apprentice with Morris Henry Hobbs in the Tree Studios Building at 4 E. Ohio Street. (Page 28) The fact that Hobbs had someone to print his etchings may have led to the demise of the Hobbs-Rosenthal partnership. But relations between the former partners were not permanently broken since Henry Rosenthal, Sr. continued to print etchings for both Hobbs and Swann. Charles Rosenthal had this to say of James Swann in his memoirs; “James Swann earned a living all his life from etching and that is in itself very unusual. We printed all of his Christmas card orders and without realizing it we both learned a great deal about how to simplify the printing of etchings and drypoints.”)
Morris Henry Hobbs and His Art Class in front of Tree Studios, circa 1935 (Charles Rosenthal photo)
Mr. Hobbs taught me a great deal about etching, sketching in general and, I suppose, a little about life as he was doing nudes and it seemed there were always a couple of gals hanging around. Guess when I went over to ask him a question or two?
Mr. Hobbs was a member of the Chicago Society of Etchers and a good friend of the founder and long-time Secretary, Bertha Jaques. After several demonstrations, Dad was able to obtain their OK as an official plate printer of the Society. Since many etchers did not have the time or equipment, we were able to pick up quite a few artists from all over the country. Our customers included many of the best known etchers of the era including Ralph Fletcher Seymour, James Swann, Leon Pescheret, Reinhold Palenske, Lee Sturges, Antonin Sterba, Richard Bishop, David Bekker and F. Leslie Thompson. We had a good relationship with these artists and were given many signed etchings. We also learned that one should never ship completed works to an artist without the dough in hand or very excellent credit.
I had a lot of fun these years meeting with etchers, taking lessons from some of them and learning something about the World, and Bohemian life styles, that I never knew existed except in history books and novels. This period of my life was all too short but the practical side of my personality, and far more lucrative endeavors took over. Besides there were such things to consider as girls, sports, night clubs and even paying the bills. So I took lessons in accounting at Northwestern University (Chicago Campus), ditto several classes at the American Academy of Art (layout, lettering, pencil sketching), a course at Central College (YMCA) in marketing and copy writing and for about two years took open classes from Mr. Sterba at the Art Institute.
First Etching of Charles Rosenthal – Cabin in the Woods – 1936
Mr. Sterba was my first (big time) art teacher. He also had a studio in the Tree Studios building. I printed all of his etchings at the time as he did not have a press. His lessons at the Art Institute were on figure drawings and painting. They were on Saturday afternoons. There were 6 or 7 people in the class. His fee was $1.00.
Man with Old Hat – Antonin Sterba
In 1938 we moved from the Tree Studios Building to a place across the street at 43 East Ohio. We stayed at this location for two years. This building was a commercial building full of commercial artists and ad agencies.”
In the late 1940’s Charles Rosenthal focused his business on commercial printing and had a company in Itasca, Illinois on Irving Park Boulevard. Some of his many customers included Rand McNally, Inland Steel, and Northern Trust Bank. In a touch of irony, one of his best customers was Weber-Stephen Products Company – the makers of the Weber Grill – and the parent company of the restaurant across the street from Tree Studios. Charles produced and printed the first Weber cookbook.
Charles Louis Rosenthal – Prescott, Arizona 1984
He sold his business in 1968 and moved to Scottsdale, Arizona where he resumed his artwork. He was a Juried Member and Past President of the Arizona Artists Guild. His etchings, paper sculptures and water colors are in many private and public collections. He donated the etchings he acquired during his time at Tree Studios to the Phoenix Art Museum.