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Travel Through Time to the Gilded Age

Discover What Makes Chicago's Driehaus Museum Special

Transport yourself to Chicago’s Gilded Age by stepping inside a fully restored mansion filled to the brim with history in the form of decorative arts. The Driehaus Museum is an immersive experience of works from the Victorian period (post-Civil War through 1910,) primarily from the collection of businessman, collector and philanthropist Richard H. Driehaus. Thanks to his deep appreciation of classical art and architecture, his collection connects you to the Gilded Age in different ways. Executive director Lise Dubé-Scherr explains what makes The Driehaus Museum so unique.

“This is a decorative arts museum in a restored, historic house. We embrace both those personalities and draw from both the collection and the mansion itself, in how we interpret the experience,” Dubé-Scherr explains that visitors connect with the arts in different ways. Some people gravitate toward the social history, other people admire the design of the building while others marvel at the collections of decorative art.

The family that owned this magnificent piece of property was the Nickersons. Samuel Nickerson, a lucrative businessman rebuilt the house after the Great Fire, designed to be a showpiece for the family who loved to entertain “The house itself is a stunning example of a very particular movement within the Gilded Age, the Victorian Aesthetic Movement. It’s a very artistic house and it follows some popular design trends of the time. It was intended to be uniquely American. No expense was spared, and it cost $450,000.” (Based on average inflation rates compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, $450,000 in 1910 would equate to close to $11,000,000 in 2016.)

The first floor of the home contains period rooms where you can walk through and envision what life would have been like in a typical home of the period. The historic bedrooms on the second floor have been converted into exhibition space. The current exhibition is “With a Wink and a Nod,” seventy-four original cartoon drawings from Puck Magazine, a satirical publication from the Gilded Age. “With this, you can make the connection and get a sense of not only what artists were creating, but the issues and concerts during the time period,” explains Dubé-Scherr. 

The third floor, in addition to housing historical photographs, a lounge and space for lectures and concerts, also features a gift shop with a wonderful selection of objects inspired by the home itself. Purchase books, home décor items, contemporary and vintage jewelry and more custom products.

Plan to spend an hour and a half in the museum. “People are welcome to self-guided tours with interpretive labels and an audio guide. Or take a daily guided tour, offered four times a day,” says Dubé-Scherr.

What makes The Driehaus Museum most special, according to Dubé-Scherr, is its ability to add context to art. “Instead of seeing a vase in a traditional art museum, ours is on a mantle, of a house, that it would’ve been designed for. The museum is immersive, intimate and beautiful with its details and craftsmanship.” 

-By Ettractions Digital Content Editor, PAULA MARINO

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