George Maher
George Washington Maher
Born in Mill Creek, West Virginia, on December 25, 1864, George Washington Maher’s family moved to New Albany, Indiana, where he attended public school. First listed in city directories in 1883 as a draftsman for Chicago architects Augustus Bauer and Henry W. Hill, Maher left their office by 1887 to take a position with architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee. There he worked with Frank Lloyd Wright, George Grant Elmslie and Cecil Corwin. While his announcement of an independent practice came in late 1888, Maher shared an office and periodically collaborated with Corwin from 1889 until 1892.

In the early 1890s George Maher’s independent practice largely consisted of designs for houses and apartments in Chicago and its early suburbs.  On Chicago’s south side, Maher built a shingled, colonial revival house, which he shared with his parents.  Commissions for houses in Oakland and Kenwood, Illinois, came with the surge of construction surrounding the World’s Columbian Exposition.  The Dau House in Kenwood with his hipped roof, simplified openings and cubic massing precedes Pleasant Home’s design by a few months and demonstrates the maturation of Maher’s Prairie School design.

Maher married Elizabeth Brooks, daughter of the Chicago artist Alden Finney Brooks, and settled in Kenilworth, Illinois, in 1893.  Over three decades, Maher designed more than 40 buildings, including houses, schools and the village’s assembly hall.  In addition to Kenilworth, a remarkable cluster of Maher’s work can be found on Hutchinson Street in Chicago, now a landmark district, where Maher designed homes over a 20-year period.

His early work in Chicago and Kenilworth brought Maher to the forefront of residential design.  The commission from John Farson for Pleasant Home initiatied a new period in his work, a series of grand houses set on large estates often appointed by the Midwest’s finest artists and craftsmen.  Some of these have been demolished.  Pleasant Home and the Frederick Gates House in Montclair, New Jersey, are the only surviving examples on this scale.  Maher’s motif patterns that he repeated in his decoration consisted of luxuriant flowers combined with geometric shapes.  His collaborative work with artists like Louis Millet, Willy Lau, Giannini and Hilgart, landscape designer Jens Jensen and the Tiffany Studios in making stained glass, mosaics, textiles and furniture for these houses produced some of the most highly crafted examples of arts and crafts and landscape design in America.

George Maher wrote about the need for a new American architecture.  His work is aligned with the progressive architects in Chicago who developed a new approach to design free from historical references.  Maher and his contemporaries, now known as the Prairie School, embraced many of the ideas of the arts and crafts movement: truth to materials, a belief in fine craftsmanship, and a desire to incorporate the local environment in their buildings and its details.  Maher showed his work on a regular basis at the Chicago Architectural Club’s exhibitions and often served on its juries. In 1901, Maher was elected to the American Institute of Architects and received its highest mark of distinction.  During the early 1920s, he acted as chairman of the committee for the restoration of the Palace of Fine Arts form the World’s Columbian Exposition, which eventually became the Museum of Science and Industry.

In the 1920s, George Maher and his son Philip, who joined his father as a partner in the firm, drew several plans for suburban and community developments, including projects for Hinsdale, Glencoe and Kenilworth in Illinois, as well as in Gary, Indiana, and Saugatuck and South Haven, Michigan.  George Maher died at his family’s property on the Michigan lakeshore, Hilaire, in 1926.

Source: “Pleasant Home 1897: A History of the John Farson House, George Washington Maher, Architect” by Kathleen Ann Cummings, 2002.