I have been interested in visiting the Richard H. Driehaus Museum for many years but it was the debut of the inaugural exhibition, Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection that inspired me to actually visit. I was sorry that I waited so long because the museum is a treasure. It contains so many items of beauty and the architectural features are visually satisfying and the history of this home built by banker, Samuel Mayo Nickerson is fascinating.
The 60 objects on view in this magnificent historic setting represent the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany over his prolific 50-year career with the Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company and Tiffany Studios, among his many other interrelated firms. The Tiffany artwork from the distinguished Driehaus Collection is remarkable and unique and represents the unique collecting vision of philanthropist Richard H. Driehaus over the course of several decades.
Visiting the museum with a friend, we found the architecture beautiful, forward looking and unique. We were impressed with how grand this home is. The Gilded Age home of banker Samuel Mayo Nickerson is a wonderful example of 19th-century Chicago. The fact that this home was built in the same location as an earlier home that burned in the Great Chicago Fire, meant that many fireproof features are in place. Philanthropist Richard H. Driehaus founded the museum on April 1, 2003 with a vision to influence today’s built environment by preserving and promoting architecture and design of the past. To realize his vision, Mr. Driehaus commissioned a five-year restoration effort to preserve the structure and its magnificent interiors. The galleries we visited, feature surviving furnishings that are paired with elegant, historically appropriate pieces from the Driehaus Collection of Fine and Decorative Arts. Included are important works by such celebrated designers as Herter Brothers and Louis Comfort Tiffany.
That the museum is a premier example of historic preservation makes visiting the museum especially interesting and rewarding. My friend and I were thrilled with the opportunity to experience its architecture, interiors, collection, and exhibitions, which are great examples of the design philosophies of the period interpreted by artists, architects, and designers at the time it was built. It is also impressive to see the ways in which future design was anticipated in many features of this home built at the end of the 19th century.
According to the museum, “The Richard H. Driehaus Museum embodies the highest ideals of preservation, conservation, and restoration. Between 2003 and 2008, Richard H. Driehaus supported a meticulous restoration of the historic Samuel M. Nickerson House. While the preservation of the Nickerson House stands testament to one man’s commitment to and investment in stewardship of 19th-century culture, the restoration project was the undertaking of more than 40 specialist firms.
The uniquely gifted team of architects, conservators, craftsmen, and technicians assembled to achieve this feat were united by the creative vision of the Museum’s Founding Director and Director of the Nickerson Restoration, Dr. M. Kirby Talley, Jr."
Arriving as the museum opened, at 10:00 am was an advantage. The museum was not crowded yet and we were there to take advantage of a wonderful tour of the Tiffany collection that was offered at 10:00. I didn’t expect to learn so much about Louis Comfort Tiffany, stained glass and the history of the times but our docent was extremely knowledgeable, and very interesting. I will never see stained glass the same way again.
The way in which this exhibition connects to the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 was especially interesting to me, having visited the exhibition at the Field Museum. You can see this exhibition review
I was intrigued with the Louis Comfort Tiffany – Chicago connection. It was the World’s Fair that propelled Louis Comfort Tiffany to world prominence. The sole distributor for “all things Tiffany” was Marshall Fields. It was also interesting to observe how the range of artwork developed over time including a wide range of offerings, eventually including moderately and reasonably priced items that could grace most homes at the time. The fact that a Tiffany signature did not necessarily indicate that it Tiffany, himself designed it or created it, was, of course, another interesting piece of history.
Although most of the members of the group on our tour were from the Chicagoland area, I think that tourists to Chicago would be greatly rewarded if they can find the time to visit this museum. One of the group commented that she comes to the museum frequently and that she just loves it. I can see why.
Richard H. Driehaus Museum
40 E Erie St, Chicago, IL 60611
Photos: B. Keer or as otherwise noted