Charles Deering (1852–1927) was an American businessman, art collector, and philanthropist. He was an executive of the agricultural machinery company founded by his father that became International Harvester. Charles's successful stewardship of the family firm left him with the means and leisure to indulge his interests in the arts and natural sciences. His activities and benefactions in the US were centered on Chicago and Miami; he also aspired to found an art museum in Spain.
Deering was born July 31, 1852, in South Paris, Maine, the son of Abby Reed Barbour and William Deering. His father was a successful businessman then engaged real estate speculation and in the manufacture and sale of woolens. In 1856, Charles's mother died, and, the following year, his father married Clara Barbour Cummings Hamilton, a cousin of his late wife. The two children of this marriage were James Deering (1859–1925) and Abby Marion Deering (later Mrs Richard Flint Howe). Charles remained close to his half-brother and sister throughout his life.
Charles attended Kents Hill School, graduating in June 1869. At first, he set his sights on a career in the Navy. Obtaining a midshipman's warrant, he entered the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, where he graduated second in the class of 1873. He served as a naval officer until 1881, when he resigned in order to join his father's company. Naval service shaped Deering by exposing him to the cultures of Europe and Asia. He supplemented these experiences with extensive personal travel, developing cosmopolitan tastes, a cosmopolitan outlook, and a particular affinity with the arts of Spain. While still in the Navy, Charles met and married Ana Rogers Case, the daughter of Rear Admiral Augustus Ludlow Case; the couple were wed in 1875 in Newport, Rhode Island. Ana Deering died October 31, 1876, shortly after giving birth to a son, Charles Case Deering (1876–1924).
Deering was a gifted amateur artist, and while still in the Navy he used his free time to become acquainted with leading artists and to visit the world's great art galleries. He began a lifelong habit of collecting art, both by acknowledged masters and contemporaries. In 1876, he met the painter John Singer Sargent, who became a close friend. Other artist-friends included sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens, the Swedish artist Anders Zorn, and Catalan artist Ramon Casas i Carbo. In 1893, Deering took time off from his other duties to study painting in Paris under Zorn for an entire season. Throughout his life, Deering enthusiastically supported and championed the work of many living artists while also avidly purchasing hundreds of older, more obscure works along with many acknowledged masterpieces.
By 1881, William Deering's business activities had shifted to Illinois, where some earlier investments had led to his founding the Deering Harvester Company. As it grew, he enlisted both his sons in running the company. Charles moved to Chicago, taking up permanent residence in Evanston and becoming the company's secretary. His father retired in 1901. In 1902, J. P. Morgan financed a deal that combined Deering Harvester and the company founded by Cyrus McCormick, along with several others, to form the International Harvester Company. Charles Deering became chairman of the board of the newly created company. He served in this capacity until 1910, when he retired.
Art Patronage and Collecting
Deering devoted the rest of his life to art collecting and to the creation of several estates in the United States and Europe. Deering dreamed of creating an art center in Spain, and in 1910 he had the Palau Maricel built with the help of the artist Miquel Utrillo i Morlius in Sitges, a town just south of Barcelona. The building was connected by a bridge across the lane to a second building he purchased, which now houses the Museu Maricel. A portrait of him by Catalan artist Ramon Casas i Carbó can be seen in the museum, which is open to visitors. The Palau Maricel is also open to visitors, but only in the summer. Deering's hope was that the complex would become a magnet for artists and artistic life, where people of many nations would come to make art and study. In addition, Deering's own large and many-sided collection of Spanish art and decorative objects would be on display. In the end, however, Deering abandoned much of this plan. Instead, much of his collection was given to the Art Institute of Chicago, while other works were transferred to his estate at Cutler, Florida.
Beginning around 1890, the William Deerings began wintering in Florida, first around St. Augustine, and later in the vicinity of Miami. Visiting them, both Charles and his half-brother became deeply interested in South Florida. Around 1908, Charles purchased some 212 acres of land in Buena Vista. In 1910, he hired Clinton Mackenzie to design a Spanish-style villa for the property. He hired the great Chicago landscape architect Ossian Cole Simonds to lay out the grounds. Here he supported the New York Botanical Garden by providing them 25 acres to grow cacti. Around this time, Deering made the acquaintance of botanist David Fairchild and allowed the US Department of Agriculture to establish an experimental station on 25 acres of his property. Deering became an avid naturalist and preservationist. The book Ornamental Gardening in Florida by Charles Simpson is dedicated to him.
Deering correctly foresaw that development would soon engulf the Buena Vista property, and by 1913 he had begun buying land further down on the coast, along Old Cutler Road. By 1915, he had acquired several hundred acres near Cutler and moved his winter quarters there permanently. His Buena Vista estate was broken up by developers during the land boom of 1925. Deering built a fine stone house on his second property. Now named the Charles Deering Estate, it is open to the public as a museum and nature preserve. Meanwhile, his brother James built an estate, Villa Vizcaya, on Biscayne Bay in Coconut Grove.
In 1883, Deering had married Marion Dennison Whipple, the daughter of Major General William Dennison Whipple. The Deerings had three children: Roger, Marion, and Barbara (later Mrs. Richard Ely Danielson).
On July 6, 1914, Deering's daughter Marion (1887–1965) married Chauncey McCormick in Paris over his objections. After a civil ceremony, a religious rite was held at James Deering's Paris residence. Mrs. McCormick became a patron of art in Chicago and "one of the nation's richest women". Her son Brooks McCormick (1917–2006) was the last family member to head International Harvester.
Death and Memorial Library
Charles Deering died February 5, 1927, in Miami. In 1930, construction began on the Charles Deering Library at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Funding was provided primarily through donations made by the Deering, McCormick, and Danielson families. Dedicated in 1933, it served as Northwestern's primary library until 1970, when an adjacent library was constructed. The Deering Library now houses certain special collections of the Northwestern University Library, along with art, music, government information, maps, and the University Archives. Deering's son Roger (1884–1936) also was an art patron and benefactor to Northwestern.
- Carstensen, "William Deering."
- Carstensen, "William Deering"; Scott and Harshe, pp.55-59.
- Scott and Harshe, pp.3, 30-32.
- Scott and Harshe, pp.36-7.
- Scott and Harshe, p.15.
- "Education:Northwestern Harvest". TIME magazine. February 24, 1936. Retrieved December 27, 2010.
- Scott and Harshe, p.52.
- "Museu Maricel". Retrieved 17 March 2011.
- "Museus de Sitges (in Catalan)". Retrieved 17 March 2011.
- Scott and Harshe, pp.17-18.
- Scott and Harshe, 18.
- Rybcynski and Olin, pp. xv-xvi; Ceo and Lombard, p. 21.
- Fairchild 1947. p. 57.
- Rothra 1995 p. 88
- Simpson 1916
- Fairchild 1938. p. 419.
- Deering Estate "Deering Estate at Cutler". official web site. Retrieved January 2, 2011.
- "Art in the Eloise W. Martin Reading Room". Northwestern University Library web site. Retrieved December 27, 2010.
- "Chauncey McCormick Weds Miss Deering, Whose Parents First Objected to Union" (pdf). New York Times. July 7, 1914. Retrieved January 2, 2011.
- "Mrs. Chauncey McCormick Dies: Chicago Patron of Art Was 78; Leader in Cultural Affairs Was Said to Be One of' Nation's Richest Women". New York Times. January 14, 1965. Retrieved January 2, 2011.
- Carstensen, Fred. "William Deering." American National Biography (online edition). Retrieved September 27, 2011.
- Ceo, Rocco J., and Joanna Lombard. Historic Landscapes of Florida. The Deering Foundation and University of Miami School of Architecture, 2001.
- Fairchild, David. The World Grows Round My Door. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1947.
- Fairchild, David. The World Was My Garden. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1938.
- Rothra, Elizabeth Ogren. Florida's Pioneer Naturalist. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1995.
- Rybcznski, Witold, and Laurie Olin. Vizcaya: An American Villa and Its Makers. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007.
- Scott, Walter Dill, and Robert B. Harshe. Charles Deering: An Appreciation; Together with His Memoirs of William Deering and James Deering. Boston: privately printed, 1929.
- Simpson, Charles Torry. Ornamental Gardening in Florida. Little River, FL:(Self Published), 1916.