The Chicago artist, Rainey Bennett, painted the four floral paintings that are inset within the paneling of the Oak Room at the Allerton Retreat Center. They were painted and installed in 1951. A handwritten letter dated to October, 1951, in the University archive library from Robert Allerton to then President George Stoddard asks the president to oversee their installation. The panels were commissioned and paid by Robert Allerton for $1,000. Robert also wrote that Bennett had mailed him photographs of the newly completed set of four.
The panels replaced family portraits that were removed and donated to the AIC. The paneling within the Oak Room was built around the paintings, so the portraits would be recessed within the walls. Robert graciously filled the holes with these four original oils on panel.
Certainly Robert and John knew Rainey from their active support of Chicago artists and the Chicago Art Institute. Rainey contributed to many shows at the AIC and within the city.
Rainey Bennett was an active and successful artist, primarily working and living in Chicago. Early in his art career, he painted murals and executed artwork under the WPA program. Bennett painted murals for Rushville (1939) and Naperville (1941) IL Post Offices.
Bennett painted scenes for advertising art for Standard Oil, Rockefeller’s and later in his career for Marshall Field’s Department store in Chicago. Bennett illustrated and authored children’s books. He was the author-illustrator for The Secret Hiding Place and After the Sun Goes Down and the illustrator of The Temper Tantrum Book and Pig and the Blue Flag.
Bennett may be most recognized by adults of a certain age for his illustrations for the Scott Foresman reading series during the 1960’s. He was a primary illustrator for Scott Foresman.
The commission for the Allerton floral paintings show a departure from Bennett’s usual style. The panels would indicate from their suggestive background figures and shadows that the artist had an intimate knowledge and appreciation for Robert’s gardens and the sculptural and architectural pieces installed within. In the background, or hidden within the flowers themselves, are shapes that suggest a portrayal of the shapes and textures presented at Robert’s estate.
Rainey Bennett’s works, according to on line sources, are owned by a great many art museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago where Rainey Bennett also taught.
In 1951, Rainey Bennett was coming into his own as a career and recognized Chicago artist. primarily working in illustration, advertising art and public art. Bennett illustration are mostly pen and ink sketches enhanced with watercolor washes. His paintings of South American scenes, such as he made for Standard Oil, are most frequently done in gouache and watercolor. Lithographs were also made of his watercolors for advertising promotion or local gallery sales. Rainey exhibited widely in Chicago and in at least two exhibitions that toured nationally.
Bennett’s contributed a frog composition in a1954 oversized portfolio of original lithographs published by Artists Equity Association – Chicago. The style of the 1954 frog lithograph became Bennett’s signature illustration style. The Chicago Tribune published many Bennett illustrations as stand alone photos. Bennett also produced advertising art for Marshall Field’s Chicago department store. In the 1970’s, Marshall Field’s produced limited edition decorative Christmas plates featuring a Rainey Bennett illustration.
Bennett watercolors and signed lithograph prints come up for on-line auction regularly. As seen of the screen shot, 13 Rainey Bennett items were offered on that date on eBay.
This week, one original watercolor (gouache?) of Venezuela landscape was offered for $895.00 at on-line sale. The auction site also offered a post card sized advertisement for a 1960 exhibition at Feingarten Galleries in four major cities. The card features a Rainey Bennett work. This advertising ephemera was offered for $10.
Bennett’s Christmas plates turn up fairly regularly on eBay and Etsy at reasonable prices, between $5 and $20. These plates may become more collectible for collectors of Chicago memorabilia because the Macy’s name replaced Marshall Fields when it acquired the store. The double Chicago connection as well as Bennett’s whimsical illustrations will continue to attract buyers of these small collectable items.
Bennett’s books can be purchased through Amazon and multiple on-line book resellers and even from public library discards. Copies of the above mentioned books written and/or illustrated by Bennett are offered on line at prices ranging from $4 to $109.
Discarded Scott Foresman elementary readers featuring Bennett’s illustrations are readily found at little to no cost. Opening a fifth grade reader from 1962 and seeing the Bennett illustrations presented a full sensory flashback to Mrs. Heinz classroom. Going back in time is not always a good thing.
Bennett’s artwork fits well in children’s rooms and with minimalist and Mid-century modern style and decor.
A more comprehensive review of Rainey Bennett’s work is necessary before determining how much of a stylistic departure the four floral panels at Allerton represent within the artist’s full body of work.
Each unique floral panel presents a still life of flowers in a vase, yet, a new hidden detail at each new viewing draws the eye into the painting and beyond, searching for clues and hidden figures – connections to Robert’s estate.