This week LHS is highlighting a unique artifact already on exhibit at Heritage Hall Museum: our Chautauqua industrial art desk. Manufactured in 1913, the desk has a green chalkboard on one side of a lift-top table, and a map of the USA on the other that shows a ranking of each state’s top products during that year. Inside, lessons and drawing instructions are written on a green, movable scroll. Our LHS chautauqua desk was donated by Jack and Diana Craig in 2002.
Chautauqua desks were first used as tools for educating Sunday school teachers, supporting the ideals of the popular Chautauqua movement that grew out of Chautauqua, New York in the late 1800s. They were later manufactured by Louis E. Myers & Co. of Valparaiso, Indiana, and sold door-to-door. More than one million desks were sold by 1913.
In 1972 Valparaiso Post-Tribune journalist Neal Boyer described the desks, saying “the Chautauqua Industrial Art Desk was an ingenious item. A folding wooden frame opened into an L-shaped chalkboard surface. Its outstanding feature was a scroll containing illustrations and facts on various topics.”
“When James O. Cox, a former salesman and later plant manager, first started selling desks in 1906, the cost was $3.75...they tried to expand their operation in the late '20s and early '30s. With the stock market crash and the Depression, the once-successful company folded. The last desk was made in 1929 and the factory closed a year later.”
The creation of the Chautauqua Movement in 1874 brought about a shift towards education and culture in the U.S. These art desks prepared children for their future vocations, but were also vital for developing self-expression and play, which educators realized were crucial to children’s imagination and growth. Today these antiques are scattered across the country in homes, furniture stores and right here in Lakeside at the Heritage Hall Museum. To find out more about the growth of the Chautauqua Movement, attend the Heritage Society “Historic Chautauqua Movement” seminar on Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m. at the Fountain Inn Aigler Room.