Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The 1% in the Gilded age: Dreihaus Musem Chicago

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of exploring the Dreihaus Museum in downtown Chicago.  Click the link for more information and the background on the website which is really good. My pictures included below in no way do justice to this experience. I do use the work experience deliberately - while there is phenomenal artwork, word work, furnishings, etc... the Dreihaus Museum left me with a superb visualization and awe for life in the Gilded Age as one of Chicago's uber-elite.

Entry Hall and Staircase - The Driehaus Museum
In a nutshell this residence was built by one of Chicago's elite. It was commissioned by Chicago's Fist National Bank President, Samuel Mayo Nickerson, in 1879, after the Chicago fire..  When the house was built, it was one of the most expensive residences in Chicago.  The home was nicknamed the "marble Mansion" for it's extensive use of variety and volume of marbles use from entry to top floor.  The estimated cost was $450,000. Today - it would be $$$$ Millions.   It is clear that cost was no issue and all considerations were to impress visitors as well as create a showplace for their vast art collection. As the years passed, the residence changed hands and was until recently an office and gallery.  Luckily Mr. Dreihaus purchased the building and spearheaded it's restoration and  opening as a museum.   It is difficult to describe the richness. Would visitors in the 1880's have been equally impressed? I definitely think so. I hope it continues to impress for generations to come.

THANK YOU Mr. Richard H. Dreihaus.  Chicago could use more people like you to help us preserve our legacy and open it up to the public.

Louis Comfort Nautilus Tiffany Lamp -
Driehaus Museum
I lost track of the number of Tiffany Glass items in the museum. In 1982 I went to "The Treasures of Tiffany" exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry. I've been hooked ever since. My indulgence is the replica stained glass items and postcards or texts that I have read on the art of glass.  So when I saw this Nautilus shell lamp that I was taken. WOW, just gorgeous.  If you like stained glass lamps, I venture to say this lamp alone is worth the trip.  In an interview about his collection Mr. Dreihaus said "One of my collection’s favorite pieces is a rare nautilus shell centerpiece lamp. The lamp base is inlaid with mother of pearl and features eight real nautilus shells. The shade itself is composed of panels of pearlescent shell instead of stained glass, and is completed with a fringe of chain mail tiles in amber iridescent glass. While there are a small number of other Tiffany lamps that share similarities with this one, there is no other quite like it."  

I suggest reading the website completely in advance and then playing "stump the tour guide" :)  I took the general tour which was very worthwhile for the additional detail regarding the prior owners and the artwork. 

I was disappointed to find out that the home’s conservatory had been removed to make room for the office building next door.  I know that women of the period loved their conservatories and desired to find a unique flower varietal to show and have named after them. Perhaps the Nickerson Chrysanthemum? I could just see the green off the dining room, with a wonderful floral aroma melding into the dinner service.  Well, I love my plants and conservatories - so it was sad to not have it present. Moreover, there were no plants throughout the museum. In touring other period homes, and reading of the time, I understood that elite homes were showcases of antiques, expensive furnishings, and works of art. Most often a wide and equally diverse and valuable collection profusion of plants and flowers helped to tie such assemblages, carefully considered to form satisfying color harmonies into a pleasing, picturesque uniform whole. 

One of the biggest things that I have on my mind is what did life in Chicago look like for the "regular folk." In the years after the fire, with continued immigration, crowding, lack of infrastructure... what would my life have looked like? I wish there were a similar museum to the experience for those people who are immortalized in Upton Sinclair's "the Jungle."  This visit made me want to reread that classic - and I am doing just that! Time to go to the Back of The Yard neighborhood.

I hope you will explore Chicago and see this gem.

I don't know what the top sheet music of the late 1890's was... 

Happy Day;

Teresa Marie

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