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Minnesota Artists

Purcell and Elmslie: Prairie School Partners
William Gray Purcell and George Grant Elmslie<br>American, 1880-1965 and 1869-1952<br><i>Purcell-Cutts House</i>, 1913<br>Minneapolis Institute of Arts<br>Bequest of Anson Cutts, Jr.
  William Gray Purcell and George Grant Elmslie
American, 1880-1965 and 1869-1952
Purcell-Cutts House, 1913
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Bequest of Anson Cutts, Jr.


In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some American architects tried a new way of designing, inspired by the natural world. They thought a building should be in harmony with its surroundings and suit the needs of the people who would use it. And it should have a unified look, outside and in; sometimes they even designed the furniture. This kind of architecture, now called the Prairie School style, was especially popular in the Midwest.

The architects William Gray Purcell and George Grant Elmslie were partners. Working together in Minneapolis, Minnesota, they designed some of the best Prairie School buildings in the country. An outstanding example is the Edna S. Purcell house (now the Purcell-Cutts house), located in a Minneapolis neighborhood near Lake of the Isles. It was built in 1913 as a home for Purcell and his family.

The Purcell house has typical features of Prairie School architecture: an overhanging, almost flat roof; a central chimney; bands of windows that let in lots of light; natural building materials; and earthen colors. Purcell planned interesting open spaces so that rooms could serve many functions and be suitable for modern living. Elmslie designed complex nature-based details and furnishings, creating unified decoration for the house. Sadly, the Purcells left Minneapolis after spending only a few years in their new home.

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1. The horizontal lines of the flat roof and rows of windows recall the prairie landscape for which Prairie School architecture is named.
Model of the Edna S. Purcell house (now the Purcell-Cutts House), designed by Purcell and Elmslie in 1913. Maple, Plexiglas, nylon screen. Made by David Swanson, Construct Studios, 1997. Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of funds from Kenneth and Judy Dayton
2. This decorative light fixture hung in the back porch of the Purcell-Cutts House. It tied in with other stained-glass features in the home.
Designed by William Gray Purcell and George Grant Elmslie, Ceiling light fixture, 1913. Glass, zinc. Made by Mosaic Art Shops (E. L. Sharretts). Minneapolis Institute of Arts, bequest of Anson Cutts, Jr.
3. A dining room chair made for another Minnesota Prairie School home designed by Purcell and Elmslie shows how the partners unified the design of buildings and furnishings.
Purcell and Elmslie, Side chair, about 1914. Pine, oak, birch, horsehair upholstery. Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of Susan Decker Barrows


March 2009