Although late nineteenth-century America did not have any substantial tradition of mural work on its shores, the Gilded Age provoked interest in the private domestic use of the decorative arts. Juglaris hoped to tap this fresh interest through his own talents in designing original murals, as well as friezes--broad horizontal bands of painted wall decoration near the ceiling. Juglaris’s May-June 1881 Boston exhibition with John Ward Dunsmore included a cartoon for an elaborate and allegorically-rich frieze decoration. A Boston art critic described it:
“The most important feature of the exhibition is Mr. Juglaris’s great allegorical cartoon of the ‘Triumph of Truth.’ Here may be seen in a marked manner, aside from color, the artist’s strength and weakness. Truth is represented in a chariot, preceded by Time and ‘La Rinomanza.’ At her right hand is History, at her left Fortune. In the space above them hover the Hours of Day. Beneath, at the right, are nude figures that represent Discord, Vice and Crime; at the left are martyrs awakened by the light of truth. The picture strikes the eye with great force as he enters the gallery. The onward movement of the steeds and chariot, on an extended cloud, with the attendant Hours, combined with nude forms beneath, which assume, in their thankful and exultant awakening, or their despairing and malignant hate, effective and varied attitudes, could have been produced only by a vivid imagination, with bold conception and ready and experienced hand. To our mind a marked weakness in the work is the figure of Truth… It stands in a manner too stiff and stagy, which robs it of both force and graceful beauty.”
While the Triumph of Truth never became an installed work, elements of the frieze later appeared in Juglaris’s “Hours” commission at the Franklin Public Library. Biding his time, Juglaris devoted himself to whatever simpler frieze projects came his way. For these friezes Juglaris usually incorporated images of children who were “apt to be rather Rubens-like in their plump rotundity.” Critics noted that Juglaris’s “children are full of life and action, and many of them… charming.”
Juglaris’s first frieze commissions were for the Prescott home in Newton, Massachusetts (1882), near the present-day campus of Boston College, and the Barnes residence in Syracuse, New York. Subsequently, in 1883, Juglaris beat out fourteen other contestants to win a much-publicized competition to decorate the Music Room of Massachusetts Governor Oliver Ames’s new Back Bay residence on Commonwealth Avenue. At that time the Ames home was the largest and most extravagant mansion in Boston. Juglaris’s preparatory sketches for the project were exhibited at an informal monthly exhibition hosted by the Boston Art Club. A local art critic remarked: “These panels comprise a series of scenes in which nude or lightly-draped childlike figures are playing on musical instruments, dancing, reading together, etc., the prevailing tone being very light and delicate in brilliant but subdued tints and colors. They are from the brush of Mr. Thomas Juglaris who has no superior in this country as a decorative designer where the human figure is concerned, and on this occasion has certainly exceeded in variety and gracefulness of competition, line and color of any of his former efforts in this direction.” Several years afterwards, Juglaris also painted friezes for the residence of Dr. Homer M. Jernegan located almost directly across Commonwealth Avenue from the Ames mansion. A Boston newspaper acknowledged Juglaris’s latest commission, noting that it was being “painted with much force and vigor.” Another newspaper added: “Thomas Juglaris is busy at work upon a set of friezes for the new residence of Dr. H. M. Jernegan on Commonwealth ave [sic]. They represent chemistry, temperance, and surgery, literature, and another, which is of a professional nature. The work is of high character and possesses the artistic merit characteristic of Mr. Juglaris’s work.” Although Juglaris’s friezes at the Barnes and Ames Mansions survive to this day, other examples of his frieze work have since been stripped away, victims of the remodeling and re-purposing of buildings.
The Friezes at Syracuse
The Barnes-Hiscock Mansion in Syracuse, New York is a surviving showplace for frieze work executed by Tommaso Juglaris. The mansion, initially Italianate in design, was first built by George and Rebecca Barnes in 1853 and twice remodeled—first by them in the 1880s, and then by their daughter, Mary Elizabeth, and son-in-law Frank Hiscock after 1910.
Both the Barnes and Hiscock families were prominent in Syracuse social life. Rebecca Barnes was a niece of the president of the Syracuse & Utica Railroad and an organizer of the New York Central Railroad. Her husband, George Barnes, was an attorney and president of the Syracuse State Bank. The couple became active in the Underground Railroad, protecting African-Americans fleeing slavery in the south. Anti-slavery meetings were held in the library of their mansion, which was also a stop for men and women escaping to freedom along the Underground Railroad. As ardent abolitionists, George and Rebecca Barnes also posted bail for a group of defendants charged with flouting the Fugitive Slave Act. Subsequently, Elizabeth and Frank Hiscock were also active in community service. Frank H. Hiscock served long years as a judge on the New York Supreme Court and as Chief Justice for the Supreme Court’s Appellate Division.
In 1882, the Barnes family called upon architect Lyman Silsbee to remodel their home, which was to include a lavishly appointed dining room. Records indicate that Adolf Holstein and Moses Winkelstein of the Syracuse Ornamental Company were recruited to provide elaborately carved woodwork for the dining room. But Silsbee looked further afield for other necessary talent. Tommaso Juglaris’s friend Donald McDonald successfully negotiated with Barnes and Silsbee to provide richly floral-patterned stained glass transoms and sidelights for an exterior room door. As part of the deal, Juglaris was also commissioned to paint the friezes that were to ring the upper heights of the dining space.
Traveling twice by train to Syracuse and spending several days each time in that “agreeable city full of movement,” Juglaris made plans for six scenes to be painted back in his own Boston studio during the month of June 1883. As subject-matter, Juglaris chose to portray nine children, dressed in Renaissance costumes and engaged in different activities—parading, reading, music-making, providing hospitality, and dining. Defying any conventional prettiness, all of the children are well-nourished and chubby. But mounted on the walls their charm adds to the congenial ambiance of the dining room. One of the children portrayed is African-American. Local legend claims that this was the result of an express request from the George and Rebecca Barnes in light of their own profound devotion to freedom and enfranchisement for African-Americans.
Among Juglaris’s preserved papers from northern Italy are two sketches of decorations intended for the library of the Barnes-Hiscock home. But it is not clear from Juglaris’s memoir that they were ever executed. If they were, they have since disappeared from the library walls, perhaps a casualty of another later remodeling which converted the home from an Italianate villa to a Colonial Revival mansion. Nevertheless, the dining room—and Juglaris’s friezes there—remain intact. For many years, the Barnes-Hiscock Mansion was exclusively home to the private Corinthian Club. Today, the historic mansion is maintained and operated on a non-profit basis by the George and Rebecca Barnes Foundation, which provides office space for other local cultural organizations.