Visiting Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature Nhora Lucía Serrano contributed a short essay to Making Modernism, a web exhibit featuring archival documents from the Newberry Library. The essay arose from Serrano’s participation in a 2017 NEH summer institute focused on “Making Modernism: Literature and Culture in Twentieth-Century Chicago, 1893-1955.”
The four-week institute explored Chicago’s contribution to the modernist movement, with particular attention given to literature and the visual arts. The program considered the dimensions of a Chicago “style,” from the turn of the century through World War II.
In “Puck at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair,” Serrano focuses on the six-month publication of Joseph Keppler’s Puck inside the fairgrounds in 1893. All 26 issues are part of the Special Collections at the Newberry Library.
In her essay, Serrano first points out that Puck’s operations were in a building fortuitously situated in between the Women’s Building and the Children’s Exhibit. She said it is no surprise that the majority of the 26 issues directly addressed the female visitor and reader.
Serrano further discusses how Puck rendered the city of Chicago in feminine terms alongside Columbia, the poetic embodiment for the United States of America and namesake of the fair itself.
She notes that the gendered representation of Chicago was not new to the visitors of the 1893 Chicago World Fair—Harriet Monroe’s commemorative “Columbian Ode,” wherein the fair city of Chicago is greeted by Columbia, was performed at the Fair’s dedication ceremonies in October 1892.
Ultimately, Serrano argues that Puck and its vibrant images must be understood as part of a Gilded Age tradition of graphic satire and a visual document of the era of modernity—and women—on the rise.