May 28, 2012

A Real Tiffany Dome

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The stained glass dome in the Driehaus Museum, attributed to Giannini & Hilgart. The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

Is it a Tiffany?

As my tour group and I, necks craned, watch sunlight streaming through the colorful stained glass in the Driehaus Museum sculpture gallery’s dome, this is one of the few times in the Museum that I must answer: “Nope.”

Our glass dome, which features four trees forming an autumnal canopy against the sky, was installed during the George Washington Maher redesign of the gallery in 1900, commissioned by the mansion’s second owner, Lucius G. Fisher. It is attributed to Giannini & Hilgart, an art glass design firm associated with the Prairie School.

So I usually tell the group, especially the out-of-towners, to head south and visit the Chicago Cultural Center after touring the Museum. There they can see not only a Louis C. Tiffany art glass dome, but the world’s largest Louis C. Tiffany art glass dome.

Tiffany dome in the Chicago Cultural Center
View of the dome in the Chicago Cultural Center’s Preston Bradley Hall. via

Tiffany dome in the Chicago Cultural Center, detail
Detail of the fish scale pattern depicted in art glass. via

The dome, spanning Preston Bradley Hall with a diameter of 38 feet, commands all attention despite the opulence—imported marbles inset with mosaics of mother of pearl, Favrile glass, and colored stone—of the room beneath it. Within its cast iron frame, there are 30,000 pieces of Tiffany glass, most of them arranged in intricate, turquoise-hued fish scale patterns. Those in the center converge to form signs of the zodiac.

I recently downloaded the Chicago walking tour from the Poetry Foundation to my iPod, and it starts you beneath this very dome in Preston Bradley Hall before leading you down to the Art Institute, the Fine Arts Building, and the Harold Washington Public Library. I listened to Carl Sandburg reading from “The Windy City” (“I will die as many times/as you make me over again,/says the city to the people…I am stone and steel of your sleeping numbers;/I remember all you forget./I will die as many times as you make me over again.”) while staring up at the simple, repetitive fish scales in the jewel-like glass.

The Tiffany dome underwent a restoration that was completed in 2008 (in fact, the same year the Driehaus Museum opened). If you like those epic tales of restoration and have already perused our slideshows, Explore Chicago has a detailed account of prepping, removing, restoring, and reinstalling the stained glass. The project was tackled by Botti Studio of Architectural Arts, Inc., the same Evanston-based firm that undertook the Driehaus Museum’s restoration of the Giannini & Hilgart dome. See here for the full story.


—Lindsey Howald Patton

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