Richard Cahan and Michael Williams will be the featured presenters for the January edition of the Woodstock Fine Arts Association’s Creative Living Series at the Woodstock Opera House, 121 Van Buren St.
Cahan and Williams co-authored “Richard Nickel/Dangerous Years: What He Saw and What He Wrote,”a hardcover book released in 2015 which documents more than 200 of legendary historical preservation photographer Richard Nickel’s letters and photographs. Images of the Garrick Building, the Chicago Stock Exchange and the Auditorium Theater, as well as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Price Tower in Oklahoma and Louis Sullivan’s banks in Iowa and Ohio are featured in the book.
“On paper, Richard Nickel was an architectural photographer who documented history,” Cahan said, “but he was a man who stood for what he believed, and who fought against what he believed was wrong with society.” Cahan explained that Nickel believed the destruction of historical buildings was tantamount to someone destroying the works of art in the Louvre.
“While we will focus on [Richard Nickel] and his life and work in this presentation, I hope that, through it, we will demonstrate how to live your life – and how his life is an example of how you can be committed in your own life,” Cahan explained. “Of course those who love Chicago and who love architecture will be drawn to this, but it is much more than architectural history. It is a story of commitment and determination and in taking a stand for what one believes.”
Nickel spent his life photographing celebrated architectural buildings in danger of destruction due to urban renewal. He fought to preserve the rich architectural history held within these buildings, and, when he couldn’t, he threw himself into dangerous situations in an effort to capture the work in photographs.
At the height of his efforts, Nickel’s life tragically was cut short as he attempted to salvage more history from the Chicago Stock Exchange building. He was killed April 13, 1972, when a portion of the building collapsed on him while he was working inside.
“I used to work by the Stock Exchange Building, and I remember the building well. It is sad that so many buildings have been lost in this way. … For [Richard Nickel] to die doing what he did best, it makes such a poignant story,” Creative Living Series co-chair Marsha Portnoy said.
Cahan and Williams have used images in the book of notes and postcards Nickel’s wrote. “It is so important to see what these letters looked like – the notes on crumpled pieces of paper, the torn edges … these are what tells the story,” Cahan said.
“Dangerous Years is Cahan’s third book on Nickel. His first book, “They All Fall Down”, is a biography of Nickel’s life. His second book, “Richard Nickel’s Chicago: Photographs of a Lost City”, is a picture book. This newest book, “Richard Nickel/Dangerous Years: What He Saw And What He Wrote” is a compilation of Nickel’s photographs, words and papers. “The papers themselves tell the stories – not just of the buildings and the architecture, but of what was going on and the stories of the age,” Cahan explained. “People don’t write letters anymore.”
Nickel’s architectural black-and-white photographs have been displayed in the Art Institute of Chicago and his negatives, photographs and research papers also are preserved at the Art Institute.
During the hour-long Creative Living presentation, the audience will be treated to a, “dynamic, congenial and entertaining pair [who are] very conversational and wonderful to listen to,” according to Portnoy.
Books will be available for $50, and Cahan and Williams will be on hand to sign them.