BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Beneath an opalescent dome and amidst opulent triumphs of the Gilded Age in Chicago, leading figures from that long ago era seemed to look approvingly from their golden frames upon the elegantly attired guests below celebrating the Driehaus Museum’s tenth anniversary and first gala.
Blair, McCormick, Pullman, Field and Eastern counterparts courtesy of the New York Historical Society seemed to be saluting Richard Driehaus, founder and board president, who restored the stunningly beautiful and culturally significant home commissioned by Samuel Nickerson in 1879. Nickerson’s portrait hangs across from an Art Nouveau glass mosaic fireplace, a significant part of the current show running through January 6.
In greeting his guests—many from Chicago’s chicest younger set—at dinner in the Murphy Memorial Auditorium next door, Driehaus described what others on the program called his “heroic act of preservation”:
“In 2002 I was thinking that I might buy a bust from the Nickerson Mansion for my office, but a friend said: ‘Buy the whole building.’ I have always had a passion for preserving beautiful objects from the past. We feel that we have put the Gilded Age in context, and that it is so alive and vital again is a real plus.
“We were not the first to preserve the house when it was endangered. In 1919, 100 concerned city leaders joined together to protest at threat to its survival.”
Joseph Antunovich was selected for the 2018 Driehaus Museum Award. An architect, preservationist, and self-described “Croatian farm boy who grew up in the hills of New Zealand,” Antunovich is responsible for the Nickerson Mansion and the Murphy Memorial Auditorium, in addition to his work on the Reliance Building and many others. In describing his ongoing collaboration with Driehaus, he said: “Why is preservation so important? In this age of virtual reality and flat screens, to have significant buildings for us to see in three-dimension is the best way to learn about the past.”
Gary Metzner had the busiest role of the evening: co-chair (alongside Patricia Besser), auctioneer and board member. Live auction items included an opportunity to taste rare wines from the Driehaus cellar in the philanthropist’s Gold Coast home as well as stays at his St. Thomas and La Quinta, California, getaways.
WTTW’s Geoffrey Baer, whose passion for preservation shows in his programming, served as Master of Ceremonies, introducing versatile singers from the Ryan Opera Center and the Driehaus Museum’s new executive director, Richard P. Townsend, who spoke of the museum’s commitment to expanded educational programs and tours and exhibits of modern artists set in the context of the Gilded Age.
When was the Gilded Age? Most say it stretched from end of the Civil War until World War I—one of Chicago’s most extraordinary times peopled with the leaders now on the museum’s walls. Its name comes from a satire Mark Twain co-authored. Inviting the public in to learn in what is one of the finest examples of the age and to relate that past to the present is an opportunity the Driehaus Museum underscored at their glorious and gilded gala.
Photo credit: Robin Subar Photography