Elmhurst, Illinois, began with the building of the Hill Cottage Tavern where 2 roads crossed. Three years after it began welcoming thirsty travelers, a post office opened near the tavern and the growing town was officially named Cottage Hill. It became Elmhurst 24 years later. Now a suburb of Chicago, Elmhurst is a quiet, affluent community known as the home of Keebler until Kellogg bought and moved it. As nice as it is, Elmhurst isn’t my favorite Chicago satellite community. Evanston is. But Elmhurst has one stellar attraction, the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art that Ruth & I recently learned isn’t just as good as we remembered it. It’s better.
Now a Smithsonian Affiliate, it’s able to have special exhibits from our national storehouses’ vast collections. When Ruth I were there, for example, LMLA had 11 dazzling pieces on display. Called “Modern Designer Jewelry from the Smithsonian”, this popular exhibit has been extended until September 25, 2014.
Founder Joseph Lizzadro was born in Italy. When he was in his 30s, he married and began collecting stones on family trips. He cut, polished, and turned them into jewelry for family and friends. Described as a “lapidary hobbyist and collector” on lizzadromuseum.org, he especially loved jade, the Chinese “Stone of Heaven”. He acquired his own Chinese jade carving and a collection commenced that grew big enough to require a museum by 1962. Like any focused enthusiast, Lizzadro continued collecting hard stone carvings, etc. until his death in 1972.
From the outside, the Lizzadro Museum at 220 Cottage Hill Avenue in Wilder Park still looks like a plain, outsized cardboard box, but inside…. We began our nostalgic visit on the lower level. This happened because that’s where LMLA’s especially fine gift shop is. Drawn to its rocks, minerals, and jewelry, Ruth and I made some selections before exploring the part of the museum that we least remembered, Rock and Mineral Experience. We read that fluorite is Illinois’ most beautiful mined mineral, gaped at a stunning recreation of the 44 carat Hope Diamond, reviewed birthstones, admired a colorful example of rare ammonite, learned about cutting and polishing stones, etc.
Upstairs was the Smithsonian exhibit and examples of Joseph’s collection ranging from its oldest piece, a 2,600+ years-old Chinese prayer disc, to diverse dioramas to the poignant Castle Lizzadro, a Disneyesque 18 carat gold fantasy created in 1984 as a memorial to Joseph’s grandson, who drowned. I learned about this tragedy from Museum Director Dorothy Asher, Joseph Lizzadro’s granddaughter, who graciously answered my questions about her family and the museum.