Chapter Eight- Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum

This will definitely be a site to revisit, as the Renaissance Garden in the back of the museum is probably its biggest attraction.  The garden faces Lake Michigan and is maintained to beautiful standards which you’ll definitely notice from Lake Drive if you happen to look left.  However, in March, you can imagine that the garden’s aesthetic isn’t at its peak.  I decided to take a trip here for an indoor/winter adventure without kids.  Perhaps my three year old would have tolerated the museum, but definitely not the twins.  So save this visit for a day without kiddos.

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Step into the gates of Villa Terrace and you’ll be greeted by this fellow above, The Giustiania Mercury.  I can imagine that in the summer, this courtyard is even more beautiful with it’s whitewashed walls (made of brick and limestone made in Italy).

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After entering the museum and paying anywhere from $3-$7, head to the Smith Gallery.  I started there and was greeted by these lovely folks, the Smiths.  Lloyd R. Smith and his wife (whose name I cannot find ANYWHERE) traveled to Italy and were so inspired by the architecture that they had this home built.  You can even see some home video of inside the Smith’s house from the 20’s and 30’s in this room.  You can also read all about the A.O. Smith company, which is part of this family.

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In the hallway outside of the Smith Gallery are some beautiful architectural drawings of the building.  After viewing them, I headed to the Colnik Gallery.

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Cyril Colnik was a famous blacksmith, originally from Austria, who completed the amazing ironwork on these grounds.  In the gallery is “Masterpiece”.  It’s a panel created for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, and won a Gold Medal.  It’s delightfully creepy, complete with a Vulcan in the center.  After being in this gallery, it gave me a greater sense of the craftsmanship in the ironwork at Villa Terrace.

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Next I headed to the Great Hall and Dining Room to see what this museum was all about.  Exquisite paintings, pottery, woodcarving, marble, furniture, and detail abound in these spaces.

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And the view’s pretty good, even on a Wisconsin winter day.

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Next I headed upstairs and got another view of the Renaissance Garden and Lake Michigan.

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The Drake Gallery has a beautiful ceiling you can daydream about having in your home one day.

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One of the dressing rooms upstairs holds these beautiful pieces.  Dressing rooms…plural.  I’ll stop here and say that my favorite part of the museum was imagining living in a huge mansion like this.  To have a room JUST to dress in is so dreamy.  I’ve always wanted to live in a huge home with secret stairways and lots of rooms to explore and play hide-and-seek in.

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Now THAT’S some fancy wallpaper!  It took 50 men to build the wooden plates to ink, and required 77,000 impressions.  Upstairs is also home to the special exhibitions.  Currently, it’s Modern Rookwood: 1918-1933.  There is a vast collection of works from the Rookwood Pottery Company back in the 1880’s.  Next in line to be exhibited is Michael Kutzer: Etchings and Woodcuts.  I’m a sucker for woodcuts, so I might make it back before summer’s here!

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On my way out of the museum, I noticed all the ironwork of Cyril Colnik for a second time.  It blows my mind to think of how much manual labor it took to build this home.  I guess that’s why I do things like learn…to give me a greater  appreciation for what my surrounding offer.  I’d definitely recommend this tour, especially in the summer when you can view the gardens in their full glory.  I’m already looking forward to another trip.

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  1. says:

    Since 1966 the house and grounds have housed the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum.


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