Zimmeth: Chicago museum jewelry exhibit a gem
The book caught my eye recently in a bookstore on Paris' left bank. "Maker & Muse: Women and Early Twentieth Century Art Jewelry," it read, with the gorgeous art nouveau cover piece by Rene Lalique just a small taste of the glittering temptations inside. I happily ogled the hundreds of exquisite examples and was surprised to realize a few pages in that the book was based on a collection and exhibition much closer to home – Chicago's Richard H. Driehaus Museum.
Back in Michigan and planning a trip to the Windy City, I looked up the museum and was thrilled to find out that the exhibition the book was based on was still on view (it's open through Jan. 3, 2016). I've wandered Chicago's wonderful museums many times, but had never visited the Driehaus, which I was surprised to find just steps from the Magnificent Mile.
Driehaus museum founder and art collector Richard H. Driehaus began acquiring art nouveau and Arts and Crafts jewelry in the 1990s and has never shown his collection publicly before.
The exhibition's more than 250 pieces — 150 from Driehaus's collection — were created between the late Victorian period and World War I. At that time, jewelry makers in the world's design centers responded to the world's growing industrialization and women's changing roles with daring new jewelry styles. Boldly artistic, exquisitely detailed, hand wrought and inspired by nature, their work became known as art jewelry, according to the museum.
"The urge for a new aesthetic emerged simultaneously in many countries at the turn of the century," according to Elyse Zorn Karlin, exhibition curator. "Together they were defined by a rebellion against the strictures of the past and a look toward an exciting, less-encumbered future."
Many pieces were made not only for women, but by women artists and jewelry makers. Highlights include works by Charlotte Newman of London, who paved the way for jewelry makers of the British Arts and Crafts movement, a daring nude brooch by French jeweler Rene Lalique, rare designs by Julia Munson, first director of Louis Comfort Tiffany's jewelry studio and works from Chicago's own renowned Kalo Shop, founded by Clara Barck Welles.
The museum's second floor galleries are devoted to the exhibition, divided into sections on the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, art nouveau in France and Belgium, Jugendstil in Germany and Austria, Louis Comfort Tiffany in New York and American Arts and Crafts in Chicago. Favorites included a breathtaking moth necklace by Lalique, a zircon piece by Louis Comfort Tiffany, a sterling pin by Josef Hoffmann of the Wiener Werkstatte and an intricately beautiful spider web necklace by Charles Boutet de Monvel.
Museum director Lise Dube-Scherr says the museum recently undertook a five-year restoration and reopened in 2011. They mount one special exhibition per year; Driehaus is a Chicago businessman and philanthropolist who has been collecting European and American decorative arts for 40 years. "Many of these pieces have never been seen before," she explained.
The Driehaus Museum is at 40 E. Erie St. in downtown Chicago. Admission to the exhibition is free with $20 museum admission. For more information, visit driehausmuseum.org or call (312) 482-8933.
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