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Unglazed Terra Cotta

Date: 1915


Description: This ornately carved terra cotta square comes from the Livestock National Bank, which was the major bank located with the Sioux City stockyard area. The bank building was designed by William L. Steele, a major local architect who studied under Louis Sullivan and other architects in Chicago, and brought some of the premier Midwestern architecture styles to Sioux City. The Livestock National Bank was an example of Prairie School architecture, a favorite style of Frank Lloyd Wright. This style is nearly identical to the Sullivanesque style found in many buildings Downtown (like the Davidson Building), with one key difference: where the Sullivanesque style emphasizes vertical lines, Prairie School style emphasizes horizontal. The style emulates the low, wide, and flat expanse of the Midwestern prairie, hence its name. Prairie School was a dramatic change from the Victorian era styles in that the interiors of Prairie School buildings and houses emphasized one large open space instead of many individual rooms.


Both Prairie School and Sullivanesque architecture involve the use of natural-looking accents, usually made of terra cotta. Terra cotta, Italian for “baked earth,” is a building material made of pulverized clay, water, grog, and minerals. Once molded or dried it can then be glazed for a smooth look or unglazed for a rougher, stony look, like this piece here. The clay and minerals necessary for making the material are abundant in the Midwest. Wet terra cotta is easily molded and modeled, making it an ideal building material for the stylized foliage accents common Prairie School, Sullivanesque, and many other styles. William Steele used terra cotta extensively in his designs, and at once time Sioux City buildings sported so much terra cotta it was once called the “terra cotta capital of Iowa.” Today much of the buildings that used terra cotta have been torn down, but many fine pieces like this have been recovered.


Donor: Gretchen Schalge


On display

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