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Women And The Artistry Of Jewelry

From the Chicago Tribune:

While a bandeau-style silver crown festooned with lilacs is lovely, its creation also reflects the struggle of women to be recognized as artists.

The crown, owned by the Lombard Historical Society, was transported this week to Chicago where it will go on display this year at the Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

Elyse Zorn Karlin, curator of the exhibit, said the artistry that went into making the crown makes it noteworthy.

“It’s a frieze of lilacs. It’s three dimensional. It’s very sculptural,” Karlin said. “It’s very charming.”

The simple headdress, which was made in 1930, will be missing from this year’s May Lilac Time festival in Lombard, but that’s OK with representatives of the historical society. They say the crown’s creator, Christia Maria Reade, like many women artists of yesteryear, deserves wider recognition.

The crown will be on display starting April 7 as part of the Driehaus Museum’s “Maker & Muse: Women and Early Twentieth Century Art Jewelry” exhibit. There are 50 artists and 250 pieces in the exhibit.

The decorative items include cloak clasps, hair ornaments, pins, brooches, rings, bracelets, pendants, necklaces and several tiaras. They were made by both female and male jewelers, but all have motifs or functions that relate to women.

“It focuses on art jewelry of the early 20th century,” Karlin said. “Women became jewelers in their own right for the first time during this period.”

Before that, making jewelry was not considered a proper occupation for women, she said.

“Eventually society came around and said this is something women can do in their own homes,” Karlin said. “It’s all right.”

The exhibit also represents the arts and crafts movement that emphasized items hand wrought and inspired by nature.

“It was a desire to go back to handmade things,” Karlin said. “It was a reaction to the Industrial Revolution.”

Reade was commissioned to create the repousse piece that features a design hammered out from the back.

“Reade petitioned the ladies of Lombard to donate spoons so she could make the crown,” said Nicole Louis, director of education and exhibits at the Lombard Historical Museum.

Reade is listed as an artist of note in the Illinois Women’s Art Project, which keeps a database of 450 female artists who were active in Illinois between 1840 and 1960 and whose work was exhibited in public.

“We do what we can to familiarize people with these artists because they weren’t written up in history books,” said Channy Lyons, executive director of the project.

Reade is profiled in the book “Hand Wrought Arts & Crafts Metal Work and Jewelry, 1890-1940” by arts and crafts historian Darcy Evon.
“She’s one of the most significant artists in her time in the Chicago arts and crafts movement,” Evon said.

Reade was born in Lombard and lived from 1868 to 1939. She was the daughter of Lombard’s third Village President Josiah Reade. She studied decorative arts at The Art Institute of Chicago under Louis Millet, who was famed for designing and making stained-glass panels for Adler and Sullivan buildings. Millet hired Reade to work for his firm, Healy & Millet.

Karlin said she learned about the lilac crown from a contact at the Chicago Historical Museum.

The silver crown was used to adorn the queen of the Lilac Festival Court who is named during Lombard’s annual celebration of the flower. The village became known for lilacs about 100 years ago when founder Col. William Plum and his wife, Helen, brought two lilac specimens back with them from a visit to Nancy, France. Today, Lilacia Park, which was created from the Plums’ estate, has 700 lilac bushes, 200 different cultivars, which are created by cross breeding, and 10 species.

Through the years, other crowns replaced the Reade creation, including one made from cardboard and another fashioned from tin. The Reade crown even was missing for a time.

“We think they either forgot about it or someone took it away,” Louis said. “Something went wrong because clearly you’d want to use it.”

More recently, the crown has been on display at the Lombard Historical Museum during Lilac Time, this year from May 2 through 17. The queen and her court are allowed to try it on for photos before it’s returned to safekeeping to the museum’s archive. The court now receives rhinestone crowns.

As pretty as the lilac crown is, Karlin said it also represents a time when women fought simply to be allowed to practice and earn a living from their artistic endeavors.

“It was a struggle for rights, just like all the other struggles women had,” she said.

The exhibit continues through Jan. 3 at the Richard H. Driehaus Museum, 40 E. Erie St., Chicago. Call 312-482-8933.

Lilac Time will include concerts, a wine tasting, an arts and crafts fair and a parade. The queen will be crowned May 2. Learn more at lombardlilactime.com.