John Anton Mallin, Artist / Decorator
John A. Mallin was born Jan Anton Malinkovič on April 14, 1883, to parents Jan Malinkovič and Barbora Drobilič in Hlohovec, in what is now the Czech Repubilic. Hlohovec is located in southeastern Moravia near Břeclav, and borders Slovakia and Austria. The town is in a wine growing region once owned by the Liechtenstein family, and is approximately 55 miles northeast of Vienna. When he was 15 years old, he went to Vienna where he was a student in the School of the Interior and Decorative Painters Guild, and learned the art of church and interior decoration. He apprenticed in Vienna and throughout Europe.
For lack of work, he came to Chicago in January of 1907, where his future sister-in-law, Fanny Vokáč Chmatal was living. Fanny was the older sister of his bride to be, Rosalie Vokáč, a native of Prague whom he met in Vienna. She joined him in Chicago later that year along with their infant daughter Angela, who died within a few months of arrival. They subsequently had five additional children, Mildred, born in 1908, John, born in 1909, Louise, born in 1911, Anthony, born in 1923, and Ralph, born in 1925. Sadly, Louise died of tuberculosis in 1922.
Malllin originally worked as a contractor on jobs throughout the Midwest and some further from home. One of his first jobs in 1907 was as a decorator of facades for the Riverview Amusement Park in Chicago. His other contracting jobs between 1907 and 1918 were in banks, theaters, courthouses, homes and churches in the following locations– Illinois: Chicago, Minonk, Quincy, Sullivan, Moline, and Peoria; Davenport Iowa; Crown Point and Fort Wayne Indiana; and Utica, New York. Little documentation of these earlier works exist except in postcards he sent to his family and some photos. Most of the buildings are no longer standing.
According to Mallin’s daughter Mildred, he also worked on silent film backdrops for S.S. Hutchison, who owned the American Film Manufacturing Company in Chicago that was founded in 1910. Mildred remembered playing the piano at Mr. Hutchison’s house when she was a young girl. Mr. Hutchison also created the ‘Flying A’ film studio in Santa Barbara, California in 1912. Mallin traveled to Santa Barbara in 1917 to see Mr. Hutchison, and to look for work. Postcards he sent to his wife Rose from Santa Barbara discuss his meeting with Hutchison, who gave him a recommendation to Los Angeles. However he only worked a few days before he came home, stating that ‘if it weren’t for that war, there would be plenty of work.’ Presumably World War I had an effect on the film industry in Los Angeles.
In 1918, he formed his own decorating company, John A Mallin, Interior Art Decorations, and one of his first contracts was the decoration of the Main Chapel in the Bohemian National Cemetery (BNC) Columbarium, now referred to as Ceremony Hall. According to his contract, he was paid $545 for the job. In 1929, Mallin added to the decorations in the chapel. In 1931, plans were made to construct a new Columbarium wing in the East Wing of the Crematory. These plans included the creation of emblems in the Italian style windows, as well as emblems to be painted in the Chapel. The Czechoslovak Society of America (CSA) emblem was placed above the speaker’s podium in the Chapel, and emblems of various veteran’s organizations were added. Other emblems in the Chapel, were also designed and painted by Mr. Mallin. Alterations in the columbarium in 1940 were followed by decorations in the lobby and hallway. It was decided in 1945 to build niches in the entry hallway, so the lobby decorations were replaced with the new niches. Mallin also decorated the Gatehouse which was used as a reception area. The BNC office ceilings were also decorated by Mallin. However, due to structural and heating problems a dropped ceiling was created in the office, and the decorations are still intact but can only be seen from the attic. The Columbarium decorations have never been altered, but need restoration. The group Friends of BNC has raised funds to have one section restored by Anthony Kartsonas of Historic Surfaces, LLC, with plans to raise additional funds to complete the restoration.
Mallin later changed the name of his company to John A. Mallin and Sons, although his eldest son John was the only one of his sons who worked with him on a permanent basis. His other two sons Anthony and Ralph had their own interests which did not include the decoration business. His daughter Mildred also worked as his secretary until the 1950s.
Mallin specialized in church decoration and ecclesiastical paintings as well as art glass and mosaics. His philosophy as stated in one of his brochures stated, “As there is nothing too good for God, so there is nothing too rich or too precious for God’s earthly homes, His churches….” In his lifetime, Mallin decorated more than 100 churches in the Midwest and throughout the U.S., including many churches with Polish, Czech or Slovak parishioners. Some examples include the Benedictine Convent in Lisle Illinois, St Mary of Czestochowa in Cicero, Illinois, St Edmunds in Oak Park, Illinois, and in Chicago, St. Mary of Perpetual Help, Holy Rosary Slovak Church, St. Mary of the Angels, St Hedwig, St Hyacinth, St. Jerome, St. John of God, St. Basil, and St Procopius.
Other buildings decorated by Mallin include the Czech owned banks Kaspar American State Bank and Lawndale National Bank in Chicago, and in Cicero, Illinois, the First National Bank of Cicero. The First National Bank of Cicero was decorated in 1929, and most recently the building housed Fifth Third Bank, which was then sold to the Solis Law Firm. The decorations there are still intact. The dome of the First National Bank of Berwyn at 6407 W. Cermak, also shuttered, may have possibly been done by Mallin although no known documents exist to confirm this. The decorations in the dome are similar to other Mallin decorations, and he probably knew the President of the Bank, Frank Skala.
Mallin also decorated the Sokol Slavsky building in Cicero, now the Olympic Theater. Sokol is a youth sport and gymnastics organization founded in Prague in 1862. The building included a ballroom theater, an Olympic size swimming pool, and an indoor gymnastics facility. Mallin’s mural in the main ballroom still remains. He also decorated the lobby of the Theater which was recently restored, albeit not necessarily to his original decorations. The exact date of the decorations is unknown but was probably in the late 1920s or early 1930s.
Mallin was a friend of Mr. John Cuneo, a wealthy business man. Mr. Cuneo, a religious man, bought the former Insull mansion in Libertyville, Illinois (now Vernon Hills) in 1937, and decided to transform the sun parlor into a private chapel. He hired Mallin to paint the Stations of the Cross on the ceiling, as well as design the stained glass windows. In 1941 Mr. Cuneo obtained permission to consecrate the chapel by Cardinal Stritch of Chicago. Mallin also decorated the dining room, breakfast room and ballroom in the 1950s and 1960s. The home became a museum in 1991, and in 2009 was donated to Loyola University by Mr. Cuneo’s son John, and is currently undergoing renovations. Mallin also decorated Cuneo’s residence at 1500 N. Lake Shore Drive in the 1940s. Mr. Cuneo also hired Mallin to decorate some of the buildings at Saint Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois where his paintings are still intact. One of Mallin’s last jobs in 1962 was to decorate the Mother Cabrini chapel at the Frank Cuneo Hospital in Chicago. The hospital is now closed and the building is to be torn down.
Mallin traveled back and forth to Europe several times for his work, and to visit his relatives. He brought his entire family to Europe in 1929 where they spent a few months traveling. Mallin had a studio at the Fine Arts Building at 410 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago for many years. In 1929, he had a two story flat built at 2252 W. Devon in Chicago. The basement of the building became his studio and he eventually left the Fine Arts Building (date unknown). In addition to creating his murals in his studio, he also painted portraits of his family there. Mallin also purchased a farm property at the corner of Lake Cook and Waukegan Road in Deerfield. He and his family would spend some weekends there when he was not otherwise busy working. It probably reminded him of the farm and wine region where he grew up in Moravia. His granddaughter Katherine, remembers visiting the chicken coops he had there in the 1950s. There were also turkeys roaming the land and Katherine remembers her father beheading a turkey and plucking it’s feathers for a Thanksgiving dinner. She and her brothers Richard, Kenneth and Randolph also posed for pictures at the farm. The land was sold several years after Mallin’s death and a shopping mall now stands on the property.
On January 9, 1973, Mr. Mallin died at the age of 89 years old. His niche in the BNC Columbarium holds the ashes of himself, his wife Rosalie, his son John, and his daughter Louise. His daughter Mildred Mallin Fritz, has a niche in the Columbarium Hallway with her husband Walter. His son Anthony, was cremated and ashes sent to his widow Dorothy. His youngest son Ralph, is buried in Arlington Heights. He left behind four grandchildren, including Richard, Katherine, Kenneth and Randolph Mallin, the children of Ralph Mallin and Helen Shark.