Saturday, October 13, 2018

Jacob Haish portrait finds new home

The Jacob Haish portrait now displayed at Founders Memorial Library | Photo by Jessi LaRue
A portrait of barbed wire baron Jacob Haish has finally joined images of his competitors Joseph Glidden and Isaac Ellwood.

The portrait of Haish was dedicated October 9 in the new Founders Gallery, located inside the Founders Memorial Library on the campus of Northern Illinois University. The portrait was always intended to reside on campus, but it had never made it there, until now.

Historian Steve Bigolin gave remarks during the dedication, speaking about the university's founders: Haish, Ellwood, Glidden, and Clinton Rosette. The university, then called Northern Illinois State Normal School, wanted images of its founders to display on campus. Legend says Ellwood paid for the creation of his portrait, along with Glidden's. Haish had his own made, and not much is known about a potential Rosette portrait.

The portrait of Jacob Haish. Its measurements are 78"x 60"x 7.5" | Photo by Jessi LaRue
Bigolin said once all three portraits were created, Haish was "embarrassed" by the small size of his portrait compared to those of his barbed wire competitors. Instead of giving the portrait to the school, he gifted it to a niece, and it still resides with Haish family in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, Ellwood and Glidden's portraits hung on each side of the Altgeld auditorium on campus. 

Haish then decided to have a bust made of himself, and that would sit in the original campus library (until that mysteriously disappeared decades later.)

Haish then had a new portrait created, but ended up liking it so much that he kept it for himself, instead of giving it to the school. The portrait was hung in his mansion, and stayed there until the night before the home's demolition in 1961. 
Portrait of Joseph Glidden in Founders Memorial Library | Photo by Jessi LaRue
Portrait of Isaac Ellwood in Founders Memorial Library | Photo by Jessi LaRue
Local lore tells us that members of the DeKalb Masonic Lodge, which Haish was a longtime member, "night requisitioned" the portrait the night before the home's demolition. The portrait would hang in two DeKalb lodge locations, until this year, when it was decided it would find its way to NIU, the home it was meant to have many, many, years ago. 

Ferald Bryan, member of the DeKalb Masonic Lodge, as well as president of the Friends of the NIU Library board, said it was not an easy decision to relocate the image of "Brother Jacob." But while renovating their temple building, members realized how much Haish loved DeKalb. After all, Haish helped found DeKalb and the university, he said.

"It seemed natural that it should come here," Bryan said. "More people needed to see it."

The portrait dedication ceremony October 9. | Photo by Jessi LaRue
Images and a model of the Jacob Haish mansion on display during the portrait dedication | Photo by Jessi LaRue
The portrait now hangs proudly in the new Founders Gallery on the first floor of NIU's library, across from the portraits of Ellwood and Glidden. NIU President Lisa Freeman spoke during the dedication ceremony, noting the appropriate placement of Haish's portrait in the library, because of his "love of learning and passion for literacy."

As proudly as the portrait hangs, it is in need of repair. A tear in the portrait, as well as damage to the frame, are obvious. Experts have looked over the portrait and estimated that it needs $22,000 in repairs. 

Monetary donations are welcome to help fund the cost of restoring the portrait. 

Checks can be made to: "Northern Illinois University Libraries -- Haish Photograph Restoration"

Checks can be mailed to or dropped off at:

Libraries Administration
FO 428
Founders Memorial Library
Northern Illinois University
217 Normal Rd
DeKalb, IL 60115-2828

NIU President Lisa Freeman said in some ways, Haish was the "least credited" of DeKalb's founders. | Photo by Jessi LaRue
Steve Bigolin said Haish's decision to make an even larger portrait of himself was because he could not be "outdone" by Glidden and Ellwood. | Photo by Jessi LaRue

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