When you think of museums, a few ideas probably come to mind. Boring. Old. A school field trip that got you out of going to class. Long. Although I enjoy museums and make a point to visit many when I live or travel somewhere, I have also experienced museum burnout and I can’t take being indoors staring at another oil painting. However, when I arrived in Chicago, I found this wasn’t the case at all. Instead I found myself discovering new museums, each with characteristics that completely fascinated me. From history to architecture to textiles, Chicago has it all when it comes to museums and I wasn’t disappointed with any displays. Here are a few of my favorites I discovered while living in this mid-west city:
The Field Museum
When I first read that The Field Museum was a natural history museum, I didn’t think to put it at the top of my list, until I saw a special exhibition for Cyrus Tang Hall of China. Immediately my attention was drawn to signs featuring a Chinese Opera Mask and I knew I had to visit. Entering the museum, SUE, the giant Tyrannosaurus Rex greeted me along with a pair of elephants. Making my way to my desired exhibit, I found artifacts that delight from all over China and the Pacific including a Tibetan Buddhist temple bell that was cast in 1762, weighs nearly 200 pounds and is decorated with chrysanthemums, dragons, and a poem written in Chinese and Tibetan. But it’s not just Asia that resides in The Field Museum. There are also plenty of artifacts from Africa and America as well exhibits for various plant and animal species. What I come to love about this museum is that there is a priority for preserving everything from the environment to historical artifacts that tell stories about the world. Whether it’s a dinosaur or a Maori artifact, everything is important and significant to the Field Museum.
The Driehaus Museum
Originally known as the Samuel M. Nickerson House, The Driehaus Museum features stately architecture and lavish interior design from the Gilded Age. Designed by Edward J. Burling, just about every kind of ornate décor, architecture, and detail can be found in the rooms of this house. Decorative tiles, carved wooden furniture, and stained glass decorate every inch of ceiling, floor, and wall in this home and fine art and statues are no stranger to its interior. In the Smoking Room, panels of walnut feature carvings that reflect Chinese and Japanese influence along with Moorish-style blue tiles. A window with stained glass on the upper border, long gold curtains and a stained glass lamp give the room its ornate feel. This intricate and lavish style is what follows me in every room and continually gives me something to look for as my eye darts along wooden pianos and vintage furniture. I’m also happy a display of Art Nouveau jewelry is upstairs that takes me from America to Germany to Great Britain. The museum is already a feast for the eyes and having an elaborate jewelry display is a delightful and decadent dessert.
Art Institute of Chicago
Although there are many museums with famous works of art like the Louvre and Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago is no second-rate museum in comparison. The Art Institute of Chicago’s most famous painting may be A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, there are plenty of other artists I was thrilled to find. Monet, Degas, and one of my favorite artists, Cezanne, can all be found in the Impressionist section as well as contemporaries like Georgia O’Keefe. I carefully map out everything I want to see including Islamic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Art, but it seems as though there are more distractions as I pass by Indian, Native American, and African art. The Arms and Armor section is small but not to be missed as I discover displays of traditional armor from all over Europe. Once I’ve finally made my way to Nighthawks by Edward Hopper I find there is even more to experience in the contemporary art section when I find American Gothic by Grant Wood and The Weaver by Diego Rivera.
Jane Addams Hull House Museum
Originally I knew very little about the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum other than a suggestion from my dad and I was excited that it was free. However, I discovered a kindred spirit in Jane Addams as I walked through this residence built in 1856 that was originally owned by Charles Hull and inhabited by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr. The Hull-House became known as a place of change and progress as Addams and Starr started the settlement as a place for art and literary education for the impoverished neighborhood. Eventually the Hull-House grew beyond either woman’s expectations as it became a cultural center that provided a place and opportunity for those doing research and work to improve urban living. As I learn more about Addams and others advocating for policy reform and change on everything from workers’ rights, appreciation for artists, labor unions, immigration, and child labor, it’s enlightening to learn more about their work, but it’s also disheartening to realize these are still issues that linger today throughout the world. My recent advocacy in sustainability and ethical practices in fashion, travel, and other aspects of life is what connects me to Addams and makes me realize that change is possible. There is still a lot of work to be done, but if Addams and Starr can both provide the groundwork for activists of government programs and start-up unemployment benefits, food and drug safety regulation, and housing standards, then it is still possible to influence the changes that need to happen for the better of the environment and its people in the 21st century.
As you can see, there is just about everything when it comes to museums in Chicago. If you’re looking for classic art from around the world, historical artifacts or a place that will take you to a completely different place and time, Chicago will not disappoint you. Chicago’s museums have provided me more than unique displays of artifacts, they’ve given me a direction and path to continue my advocacy and activism for the causes that matter to me.
Hours and Locations
The Field Museum: 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Open Daily 9am-5pm (closed Christmas).
The Driehaus Museum: 40 East Erie Street, Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm (closed Fourth of July, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Years Eve).
Art Institute of Chicago: 111 South Michigan Avenue, Open Daily 10:30am-5pm and Thursday until 8pm.
Jane Addams Hull-House Museum: 800 S. Halstead St., Tuesday-Friday 10am-4pm, Sunday 12pm-4pm (closed Martin Luther King Day, Easter, Memorial Day Weekend, Fourth of July Weekend, Labor Day Weekend, Thanksgiving, and Winter Break).
Have you visited museums in Chicago? Which ones are your favorites?
This post is a part of Travel Photo Thursday hosted by Budget Travelers Sandbox, Photo Friday hosted by Pierced Wanderings, the Weekly Postcard hosted by Travel Notes & Beyond, Fly Away Friday hosted by Time Travel Blonde and Life in Wanderlust, and City Tripping hosted by Wander Mum and Mummy Travels.