Stuart Grannen (aka Chucky), Treasure Hunter
It is rare to meet someone with such a monumental appetite for architecture paired with a vivacious spirit and passion for unearthing, restoring and passing on the history of antiques. Stuart Grannen, owner of Chicago’s Architectural Artifacts, celebrating their 28th year in business, is one of the world’s most interesting and knowledgeable antiques dealers.
Grannen’s 50 year storied career began at age seven when he made his first antique purchase- a stained glass window with a $100 price tag. “I had to rake a lot of leaves to earn enough money for the piece, it was quite rare. It was from a Baptist Church and had black angels, I didn’t know it was worth anything at the time- I just liked it”. Stuart kept the piece for 10 years and then eventually traded it for contraband.
In 1963, Stuart’s father Jim started collecting antique tools. Stuart helped him collect and display what turned out to be the largest antique tool collection in the world. Stuart recalls his father fixing everything around the house with his antique tools. The family often visited antique shops. Stuart was eagerly along for the ride and during the journey was privy to the art of deal making.
Grannen grew up in New Jersey. His father, James, was a chemical engineer and the president of a chemical company; his mother, Alta, was a homemaker. The couple shared an interest in collecting American furniture from the late 1700s to the early 1800s, and the family, which included Grannen’s older sisters, Sheila and Laura, frequently spent weekends at museums. “We didn’t go to Disneyland,” says Stuart. “We went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters, The Breakers, Edison’s Birthplace and the big old Vanderbilt homes. I was exposed to quality things, and I liked it- most of the time.”
In high school, Stuart became a skilled tennis player and upon graduating in 1975, he attended the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He double majored in archaeology and black studies and spent time working on Cherokee Indian digs. One of the digs involved Tellico Dam on the Little Tennessee River and the Snail Darter Controversy. Stuart worked with the team to get the artifacts out as quickly as possible before the area was flooded. After seven years of school, Stuart did not graduate due to what he calls “a misspent youth”.
Stuart started poking around in the old houses of Knoxville, uncovering fireplace surrounds and stained-glass windows and in 1981, the year before the World’s Fair was held in Knoxville, many houses were razed in preparation for the fair. “I had a field day,” Grannen says. “I bought everything I could and stored it in barns and warehouses. When the brother of my girlfriend at the time came to visit from New Orleans, he bought everything I had. Then he told me to come work for him.” So Grannen moved to New Orleans in 1981 and started working in a huge antiques store called The Bank. New Orleans in the early eighties was a playground for debauchery and fueled his downward spiral with addiction. “So I got worse, much worse. At 27, I lost my job, my money, and I had a heart attack from my behavior.”
In 1984, his family sent him to rehab at Hazelden in Minnesota and from the window in his room there, Grannen could see a demolition company at work in the distance. “You were supposed to get a job during rehab, and everyone else there was working at McDonald’s. But I thought I was a hotshot and could do better.” So for two weeks, he went to the wrecking site and persuaded the crew into giving him little bits and pieces of the building. “I didn’t have any money, but within two weeks I sold everything to some antiques stores, paid the construction crew and pocketed several thousand dollars. The hospital didn’t care for the whole thing.”
Eventually, Grannen came to terms with his addiction and has been straight for 30 plus years. After Hazelden, he stayed in Minneapolis. Within six months, he owned half of an architectural resale company. Although he loved life in Minneapolis he decided that winters were too cold. Grannen moved to Nashville, where he continued buying and selling antiques and architectural details. He found himself buying more and more items during his visits to Chicago. In 1987, he moved to the city and rented a 3,000-square-foot operating space. Six months later Architectural Artifacts was open to the public.
Over the years, Architectural Artifacts has grown to 80,000 square feet of retail space and has recently expanded its events spaces. Grannen’s purchasing has evolved over the years and now he is able to make higher quality, more unexpected and considerably riskier purchases. He buys and sells all over the world to the public, private collectors, designers, artists, museums and businesses.