As in years past, this month I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. 2016 marks my fifth anniversary, so to celebrate, I’m hosting Friday Blog-Ins here in San Diego; you can find out more info about where we’re meeting each week on my A to Z Challenge page.
My monthly theme is Chicago From A to Z, so stay tuned from Monday to Saturday for new posts on the Windy City. Or sign up for my mailing list (delivered weekly, on Fridays) so you don’t miss a thing!
Here is a place you’ve probably never heard about, even if you’ve explored Chicago from top to bottom:
Question: Why haven’t you heard of this museum?
Answer: Because, technically, it’s not in Chicago.
Not to quibble, but it’s actually in the greater Chicagoland area, which encompasses many Chicago suburbs.
To pinpoint it precisely: it’s in Elmhurst, the town where I grew up. Which is why I know about it, and have visited this rather odd little museum repeatedly, and you are probably still scratching your head right about now.
Quick! To the observatory, where all your queries will be answered!
What’s “lapidary art”?
First of all, you may be wondering what the heck is “lapidary art”?
Excellent question, curious reader! The word “lapidary” refers to rocks, and more specifically the cutting and polishing of stone. Therefore, a museum dedicated to “lapidary art” is all about art created by cutting and polishing various stones, including precious and semi-precious gems.
So, if you were ever a nerdy kid who asked for a rock tumbler every Christmas (guilty!), then you probably understand why this museum still holds such a soft spot in my heart.
Here’s what the museum looks like from the outside:
It’s described as resembling a “jewel box” on their website, which is apt, given the fact that their focus is on showing off pretty polished rocks and sculptures.
The museum’s biggest claim to fame is its jade collection, which is surprisingly vast with more than 200 pieces. You’ll find pieces that were originally part of the imperial palaces of China, like an altar set from the Ming Dynasty, as well as a decorative screen that was a birthday gift for Emperor Qianlong in 1791. Apparently the museum’s founder simply “wrote away” for pieces of jade, which he originally intended to make into jewelry, but was so impressed with the items he received that he decided not to break them up for his lapidary hobby, and instead housed them in the museum.
Most fascinating to me as a child were the 20 stone dioramas, with figures that were carved in Idar-Oberstein, Germany, as well as “Castle Lizzadro” – a combination of gemstones and 18K gold, created by English sculptor William Toliday:
In addition to the jade collection, you can also find items made from amber, ivory, coral, agate, and a variety of gemstones – including quartz – throughout the museum’s displays.
You can even see some petrified wood there! (Cue dirty jokes in 5, 4, 3…)
The gift shop
Of course, any kid’s favorite part of a museum is the gift shop. And the Lizzadro Museum has a great gift shop, full of geological finds, polished stones, agates, geodes, quartz crystals, fossils, and all kinds of stuff that rockhounds love. My best friend and I were constantly heading for the gift shop to stock up on new rocks to add to our collections, competing to see who had the most different kinds of rocks, as well as the prettiest individual stones. (Mine eventually became so large that I stored my “specimens” in a display case that I got at the hardware store, with labels for each drawer.)
Oddly enough, we never paid much mind to the jewelry made out of these stones… we were there for the stones themselves!
I even remember once being invited to dig through several boxes of “rejected” quartz, which a family member of the founder had stashed in his basement. Although these rocks were uncut, many of them were quite unique and fascinating even without professional polish. My friend and I must have stuffed our pockets with dozens of these rocks, which were essentially worthless (at least without stonecutting tools… and we certainly didn’t have any of those), but we found them beautiful. Even to this day, I still find non-precious rocks far more interesting and desirable than those that others claim are a “girl’s best friend.” Perhaps I’m still just a nerd at heart?
Visit the museum and see it all for yourself! Find the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art at 220 Cottage Hill in Elmhurst – where admission is free on Fridays.
What kinds of things do you collect, and when did you first get started?