A palatial Chicago home from the Gilded Age is the setting for a new exhibition called Maker & Muse at the Driehaus Museum, featuring hundreds of pieces of one-of-a-kind jewelry. Beyond the artfully made works in Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts styles, the exhibition also looks at the growing role of women in early 20th century design and craftsmanship. The exhibition began Feb. 14 and runs through Jan. 3, 2016.
Below, an interview with Driehaus Museum Executive Director Lise Dube-Scherr.
Can you talk about how this exhibition got its start? Where did the idea come from?
We knew Mr. Driehaus had a wonderful jewelry collection, with more than 500 pieces. [Exhibition curator] Elyse Karlin—who was recommended by a colleague—viewed a sampling of the collection in storage. When she saw the scope and depth, she realized it would be a great opportunity for an exhibition. The exhibition is made up of pieces from his collection and loans brought in to complement the work.
What does the title Maker & Muse mean?
Elyse was struck by the number of pieces representative of women and made by women. That’s when she began to pull together the theme of “maker and muse”—women as makers and women also as muses or inspirations for the jewelry design. Because with some of the countries we explored, women were not permitted to be makers at the time and couldn’t work outside the home.
What was the curating process like for this collection? Any particular standouts?
There were 500 pieces in Driehaus’ collection, and 150 are in the exhibition. Then the other 150 or so pieces are on loan to us from private collections. There is a beautiful chrysanthemum brooch by René Lalique—a blue carved brooch by Lalique. There’s also a pendant given to Emilie Flöge by Gustav Klimt.
But it is hard to pick a favorite. Also, because we’re in Chicago, we do have pieces from Frances Glessner. Not only was she a prominent Chicagoan, but she also made jewelry. Those pieces are on loan from the Chicago History Museum.
What thought was given to how the exhibition is displayed?
Going in, we knew we were starting with five galleries. And we wanted each to represent a different movement or geographic location. It naturally broke out to British arts and crafts. We also wanted to include Louis Comfort Tiffany in New York. We just had the exhibition, so we knew people would be interested in another art form Tiffany was making. He wasn’t just windows and lamps.
We also knew France and Belgium and Austria and Germany were vibrant centers of art jewelry. Our final gallery focuses on Chicago and American arts and crafts. Jewelry was very much a focus in Boston and Chicago. Naturally, we chose Chicago. We wanted to feature the wonderful women makers here in the early 20th century, like Clara Barck’s Kalo Shop. Her store was in business until the 1970s. And she was unique in that she trained women and men. They went on to their own careers.
The themes really came from looking at [Driehaus’] collection, looking at the space, and figuring what were the strengths of the objects we had to work with.
Did you learn much about the owners of the pieces or was the focus mostly placed on the designers?
We focused mostly on the designers. A lot of these, we don’t have provenance of the actual owners. We know who owns them now, but we don’t have the history of the pieces. We looked at the craftsmanship of the pieces and how they’re representative of the art jewelry movement, which was a pushback from industrialization. It really is about the makers, both male and female.
What’s the reception been like so far?
We did previews last week, and it’s been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve received national press and international inquiries about the possibility of traveling. We’re reviewing that now. It’s been very positive. There’s been nothing like this of this scale on art jewelry of the 20th century featuring women makers and their male contemporaries. It’s groundbreaking.
Interview has been condensed and edited.