THE HOUSE NATHAN AND JESSIE NEVER LIVED IN
Who hasn’t heard of Oshkosh B’gosh? Founded in 1895 the nametag became synonymous with bib overalls making Oshkosh the punch line of hayseed jokes for decades. For all of you who hold on to this stereotype I suggested plucking the seeds from between your teeth and take a trip to Oshkosh and the Paine Art Center and Gardens.
Lumber has been a mainstay of central and northern Wisconsin industry since the early 19th century. By the late 1800’s Oshkosh and the Fox River Valley had become a major producer of lumber supplying the U.S. with building material for its booming population. Much of Chicago raised by the great fire of 1871 was rebuilt with lumber coming from Oshkosh. Thanks to the O’Leary cow business in Oshkosh was booming.
Rising out this need for new construction was the C.N. Paine Company, a firm specializing in building doors. Handed from father to son the company had grown to the world’s largest door producer by the 1920’s producing over 20,000 doors per day, enough closets for all of us to hide in.
It was the son, Nathan Paine, and his wife, Jessie, who dreamt up the idea of building a grand home representative of their English heritage. They engaged the architect, Bryant Fleming, to create an English Country Manor house for them in the heart of Oshkosh proper. The estate was to be a showcase for important furniture, art and nature eventually to be endowed to the community as a place for educational and cultural events.
Construction was begun in 1927. Unfortunately, the stock market crash of 1927stepped in and shortly thereafter the ensuing Great Depression put a halt on finishing the manor house. Jessie and Nathan never got the opportunity to live in the house but their goal of making it a venue for the community did proceed. In 1946 the legal transfer of the property into the custody of the museum trust was completed. Shortly after, in 1947 Nathan dropped dead. Jessie, childless, continued to serve on the museum’s board of directors until her death in 1973 at the age of 100, she, on the other hand, wasn’t going to give up so easily.
Today the gardens and home are a real jewel in an unlikely setting. The gardens ripple with roses, hydrangeas, begonias and violets.
The sculptural elements that seem to hide in amongst the foliage are mystical, historic
and even psychedelic like this sculpture and urn that incorporate kaleidoscopes with a macro view of the garden’s plant life.
There are lengthy vistas and portals of opportunity for viewing the magnificent grounds.
The museum has its own art collection but hosts traveling exhibits throughout the year. Currently an exhibit of prints by Henri Matisse is on display. The square tufted benches in the center of what once was a ballroom are by our furniture manufacturer, Black Wolf Design. BWD’s manufacturing facility is located in Omro, a ten-minute drive from the Paine.
We got in the act as well helping to design some consoles, tables and a podium based on the house’s architecture.
The architecture and the furnishings, much of which was bought and planned out during the manor’s construction by interior designer, Phelps Jewett, were to represent the finest available during the 1930’s when Tudor revival was so predominant.
Both the exterior and interior are prime examples of the lush and rich aspects of the style. You could disassemble the Paine and reconstruct it in Bel Air or Beverly Hills. It would not only fit in, it would stand out as a prime example of beautifully thought out design.
The breakfast room stands out as an exception to the darker aspects more prevalent in much of the rest of the house. The glass panes were specially manufactured to replicate the ripples and color variations seen in 17th century glass.
As large and grand as the Paine is it only holds two bedrooms. I guess Nathan and Jessie had decided that childlessness was their future.
Kids would have only produced too many opportunities for smeared fingerprints on the Staffordshire porcelains
or spilled fruit juice from the delicate bone china sitting in the dining room.
The Paine was added to the National Registry of Historic sites in 1978. With our relationship with Black Wolf Design it has taken us three years of traveling back and forth to Omro to finally make the ten-minute commute to the Paine. Don’t be like us.
Take the time to visit one of America’s most beautiful homes and gardens. You won’t regret it.
Two Lumberjacks, Black River Falls, Wisconsin
Charles Van Schaick, photographerThe Wisconsin Historical Society photo collection