Helen Gunsaulus (1886-1954) in chair. © The Field Museum, CSA50228_detail.

Helen Cowen Gunsaulus earned her Bachelor of Philosophy (Ph.B.) at the University of Chicago in 1908. She went on to be curator at several important institutions in Chicago, including as a curator at the Field Museum.

Childhood and Education

Marble pailou. © The Field Museum, CSA50224.
Marble pailou

Gunsaulus was born in Maryland in April 1886. She was the youngest child of Dr. Frank Wakely Gunsaulus, a well-known influential Congregationalist minister, orator, educator, and humanitarian, who was famous for his ‘Million Dollar Sermon’.5,12 He was the first president of the Armour (now Illinois) Institute of Technology, benefactor to the Field Museum, and a trustee at the Art Institute of Chicago.1,7

If Chicago had an intellectual salon at that time, Dr. Gunsaulus would have surely been at its center. It is in this environment that young Gunsaulus grew up. In 1908, she earned her Bachelor of Philosophy (Ph.B.) at the University of Chicago.2 While there is sparse detail regarding Gunsaulus’s personal life, her legacy and work left behind tell the story of a woman who successfully pursued a lifelong study of Japanese arts and culture.

A Scholar of Japanese Art and Culture

Family in garden, all in ceremonial dress. Two days entertainment in home of Mr. G. Tsukamoto. © The Field Museum, CSA50285.
Family in garden, all in ceremonial dress. 

Back view of young ladies and maids [dressed in kimonos] of the household, showing different styles of tying obi and of dressing hair. Two days entertainment in home of Mr. G. Tsukamoto. © The Field Museum, CSA50291
Back view of young ladies and maids of the household, showing different styles of tying obi and of dressing hair.
Before working at the Field Museum, Gunsaulus was Curator of the Gunsaulus Collection on Japanese History and Art at the University of Chicago.4 According to Field employment records, Gunsaulus worked from February 1919 to November 1925 as the Assistant Curator of Japanese Ethnology at the Field Museum.

 

 

Women in kimonos, carrying parasols. Before the village shrine. Two days entertainment in home of Mr. G. Tsukamoto. © The Field Museum, CSA50295.
Women in kimonos, carrying parasols. Before the village shrine.

 

In 1925, Gunsaulus donated hundreds of photographs from her travels to Egypt, Palestine, India, Burma, Federated Malay States, China, and Japan. These photographs are still stored there. (Accession Number 322). During her tenure at the Field she published numerous leaflets, some of which provided detailed descriptions of the collections.

She also authored leaflets detailing different aspects of Japanese culture such as Japanese Costume (which provides detailed descriptions of customary clothing for different occasions in Japan, including peasant dress, out-door costume, ordinary dress for men and women, among other types) and The Japanese New Year’s Festival, Games and Pastimes (which provided detailed accounts of the holidays including the traditional food and ceremonies).

Group of women in kimonos, carrying parasols. Stop at the Buddhist temple. Two days entertainment in home of Mr. G. Tsukamoto. © The Field Museum, CSA50298
Group of women in kimonos, carrying parasols. 

In January 1926, Gunsaulus left the Field Museum to become the Keeper of The Japanese Prints at the Art institute of Chicago. Four years later she also became the Assistant Curator of Oriental Art. In 1939, she was given the additional title of Keeper of the Buckingham Collection of Japanese Prints.7,10

While working at the Art Institute of Chicago she published Japanese Textiles in 1941 which provides a historical background on the craft in Japan and highlights sixteen specific examples of such textiles through illustrations and discussion.8

Retirement and Death

In 1943 at age 57, she retired from the Art Institute of Chicago but retained the title of Honorary Keeper of the Buckingham Collection of Japanese Prints and continued her work on making a definitive catalogue of the collection.7,11

On August 1, 1954 Gunsaulus died in Yarmouth, Massachusetts. In 1955 The Clarence Buckingham Collection of Japanese Prints Volume 1: The Primitives was published posthumously.6,10

Girls performing ancient fencing called naginata. They wear school-girl costume. Two days entertainment in home of Mr. G. Tsukamoto. © The Field Museum, CSA50302
Two Geisha women on stage dancing and twirling a fan and the other one playing a Shamisen, three-stringed instrument at a picnic. 

 

Authored by: Rebecca Wilke, Archives Assistant at The Field Museum

Selection of her Publications

  1. Gunsaulus H. Japanese collections: Frank W. Gunsaulus Hall. Leaflet [Internet]. 1922 [cited 9 February 2019]; (3). Available from: https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/2714#/summary
  2. Gunsaulus H. The Japanese sword and its decoration. Leaflet [Internet]. 1924 [cited 9 February 2019]; (20). Available from: https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/3153#/summary
  3. Gunsaulus H. Japanese costume. Leaflet [Internet]. 1923 [cited 9 February 2019]; (12). Available from: https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/3465#/summary
  4. Gunsaulus H. The Japanese New Year’s festival, games and pastimes. Leaflet [Internet]. 1923 [cited 9 February 2019]; (11). Available from: https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/3550#/summary
  5. Gunsaulus H. Japanese sword-mounts in the collections of Field Museum. Leaflet [Internet]. 1923 [cited 9 February 2019]; (16). Available from: https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/3499#/summary
  6. Gunsaulus H. Japanese temples and houses. Leaflet [Internet]. 1924 [cited 9 February 2019]; (14). Available from: https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/3390#/summary
  7. Gunsaulus H. Gods and heroes of Japan. Leaflet [Internet]. 1924 [cited 9 February 2019]; (13). Available from: https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/3561#/summary

References

  1. 1900 United States Federal Census [Internet]. [cited 2019Feb10]. Available from: https://search.ancestryheritagequest.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?_phsrc=aEe4&_phstart=successSource&usePUBJs=true&indiv=1&qh=6ImnGF8wSqvXu159uPIi6w==&db=1900usfedcen&gss=angs-d&new=1&rank=1&msT=1&gsfn=helen&gsfn_x=0&gsln=gunsaulus&gsln_x=0&msbdy=1886&msfng=frank&msfns=gunsaulus&_83004003-n_xcl=m&MSAV=1&uidh=ic1&pcat=35&fh=0&h=54726994&recoff=&ml_rpos=1
  2. Alumni directory, the University of Chicago, 1919 [Internet]. Chicago: Chicago, Ill., The University of Chicago press; 1920 [cited 9 February 2019]. Available from: https://archive.org/details/universitychicago00univrich/page/136
  3. Anthropological Notes. American Anthropologist [Internet]. 1919 [cited 9 February 2019];21(2):219-221. Available from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/660283
  4. Annual Register [Internet]. Chicago: University of Chicago; 1911 [cited 3 March 2019]. Available from: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015073258462;view=1up;seq=80
  5. Guide to the Butler-Gunsaulus Collection 1527-1915 [Internet]. Lib.uchicago.edu. 2013 [cited 3 March 2019]. Available from: https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/scrc/findingaids/view.php?eadid=ICU.SPCL.BUTLERGUNSAULUS&Q=BUTLER
  6. Masterpieces of Japanese Prints. The Art Institute of Chicago Quarterly [Internet]. 1955 [cited 9 February 2019];49(1):3-89. Available from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4117411
  7. Meech J. The Early Years of Japanese Print Collecting in North America. Impressions [Internet]. 2003 [cited 9 February 2019];(25):14-53. Available from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/42597844
  8. New Book on Japanese Textiles by Helen C. Gunsaulus. Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago [Internet]. 1941 [cited 2019Feb9];35(6):102. Available from: www.jstor.org/stable/4114238
  9. Notes. Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago [Internet]. 1926 [cited 9 February 2019];20(1):10. Available from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4114067
  10. Rich D. Sixty-Fifth Annual Report for 1943 Report of the Director of Fine Arts. Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago [Internet]. 1944 [cited 9 February 2019];38(3):5-8. Available from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4111896
  11. Staff Resignations. Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago [Internet]. 1943 [cited 9 February 2019];37(4):53. Available from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4116789.
  12. The Sermon and the Institute | Illinois Institute of Technology [Internet]. Web.iit.edu. [cited 3 March 2019]. Available from: https://web.iit.edu/about/history/sermon-and-institute

Image Credits

  1. Featured Image: Helen Gunsaulus (1886-1954) in chair. © The Field Museum, CSA50228_detail.
  2. Marble pailou© The Field Museum, CSA50224.
  3. Family in garden, all in ceremonial dress. Two days entertainment in home of Mr. G. Tsukamoto.  © The Field Museum, CSA50285.
  4. Back view of young ladies and maids [dressed in kimonos] of the household, showing different styles of tying obi and of dressing hair. Two days entertainment in home of Mr. G. Tsukamoto.  © The Field Museum, CSA50291.
  5. Women in kimonos, carrying parasols. Before the village shrine. Two days entertainment in home of Mr. G. Tsukamoto.  © The Field Museum, CSA50295.
  6. Group of women in kimonos, carrying parasols. Stop at the Buddhist temple. Two days entertainment in home of Mr. G. Tsukamoto. © The Field Museum, CSA50298.
  7. Two Geisha women on stage dancing and twirling a fan and the other one playing a Shamisen, three-stringed instrument at a picnic. Two days of entertainment in the home of Mr. G. Tsukamoto. © The Field Museum, CSA50302.
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