The Morrison residence, now the office of The Morrison-Shearer Foundation.

On the outskirts of Northbrook, Illinois, two properties – just a short walk apart – have been important in the history of mid-twentieth century modern dance and portrait photography. Separated by the now-defunct Green Acres Country Club, both properties overlooked the golf course. At the corner of Lee Road and Morrison Lane, the residence built by Robert and Helen Morrison in 1941 is now the headquarters of the Morrison-Shearer Foundation. Just down the Lane is the Sybil Shearer Studio, built a decade later.

When the Morrisons bought the land in 1939, this was a remote rural area, a paradise of nature, but its solitude was intruded upon in the 1950s, when the I-90 Eden’s Spur expressway was built immediately to the north. The future of the golf course, vacated in 2016, remains uncertain. Nonetheless, the area retains its charm and historic associations even as the Foundation explores its future.

Sybil and Louis Horst having tea on the porch, c.1950

The Experience

A glimpse into the past, as told by Morrison-Shearer Trustee, Sue Boléa:

“For many years, this Northbrook compound was a quiet mecca for renowned artists, theatre personalities, writers, critics, dancers, and musicians, [among them musician/artist John Cage and dancer Ruth St. Denis.] Whether stopping in Chicago for appearances or passing through on tour, they found their way to Sybil Shearer’s studio and Helen Morrison’s door. These and people of all walks of life who struck the fancy of Sybil or Helen were invited for tea — a formalized ritual that initiated you into the magic of their rarefied world. As the afternoon sun waned and the shadows spread across the living room floor, you realized that there existed another kind of light inside and it had been there all along. The dinner hour came and went without notice and the mundane outside world slipped away and relinquished its pull. Sybil got up to dance. Helen quoted her favorite authors. Photographs were shown. It was an interlude out of time. When at last, you gathered the bits and pieces of the person you came in as and stumbled out into the dark night, your heart and soul had the unusual sensation of being both wrung out clean and completely inspired.”