Print Friendly and PDF With Strings Attached: Field trip: the Driehaus Museum

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Field trip: the Driehaus Museum

(This is my "Perspective" column for the August 13 Zion-Benton News.)

(photo from the museum website)
My good friend Pat retired July 31. I treated her to a welcome-to-retirement outing on Wednesday. (Her bookshelf quilt is here.)

She and and I had both walked past the building at 40 East Erie St., just north of the Loop, but until this week we’d never gone inside.  Once Chicago’s most elegant residence, the Nickerson Mansion is now the home of the Driehaus Museum, one of the city’s newest museums. 

After the 1871 fire Chicago rebounded to become the industrial, transportation, and financial hub of the Midwest.  It was an era of great fortunes and conspicuous consumption, aptly called the Gilded Age.  

Samuel Nickerson, president of the First National Bank, spared no expense for his family’s 24,000-square foot mansion.  Construction took four years, from 1879-1883, and employed 500 craftsmen. The project  cost $450,000, equivalent to more than $80 million today. 
Dome in the library/sculpture gallery 

The Nickerson family suffered financial reversals and sold the house, completely furnished, for $75,000 in 1900.  The new owners, Lucius Fisher and his family, lived there until 1916. A consortium of businessmen bought the house for $100,000. They donated it to the American College of Surgeons which occupied it until 1963. ACS leased it to several businesses, including an art and antiques gallery. Richard Driehaus, founder of Driehaus Capital Management, bought the mansion in 2003.  Restoration took five years and the Driehaus Museum opened in 2008.

 The restoration conserves 95% of the original structure.  It is furnished and decorated much like it was in the Nickersons’ time.   The style is a mix of Asian, European, and Classical motifs.  Rooms feature craftsman-style built-in cabinetry.  Fireplaces have elaborately carved mantels and ceramic tile surrounds. The oak floors have intricate parquet borders.  A stained glass dome dominates the library and sculpture gallery.   Period furnishings are complemented by decorative pieces from Mr. Driehaus’s collection.

Tiffany lamp with matched nautilus shells
“Maker and Muse: Women and Early 20th Century Art Jewelry” is the museum’s special exhibit.  More than 250 pieces of jewelry made by American, British, French, German, and Austrian craftsmen are on display.  There are brooches and necklaces, hair combs and hat pins.  The exhibit runs through January, 2016.

The Driehaus Museum provides a glimpse into an era of grandeur and beauty.  It’s close to home and a great place to visit!

This brooch features a Billiken . It was made by the Craftsmen's Guild of Highland Park, IL.

A women's suffrage necklace -- green / white / violet (Give Women the Vote). (Unknown maker; silver, amethyst, pearl, enamel, circa 1900-1920.)

P.S. Quilters take pictures of floors.  These are a few of the parquet borders.


  1. Makes me think of the Sistine Chapel where I was making note of the floors and not the frescos! Thanks for telling about this; I hope to visit some day.

  2. Thank you for the virtual tour of this little gem of a museum!

  3. What a neat museum. Love the parquet borders.

  4. Wow thanks so much for sharing Nann, I never would have know. Now I'm going to plan a visit with my daughter and her mother in law. Fascinating!! You can bet I'll be watching those floors!!


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