Saturday, September 27, 2014

What a Pane in the Glass: Rueing the Impending Closure of Navy Pier's Smith Museum of Stained Glass

See article at
Navy Pier is perennially ranked as Chicago's #1 tourist attraction--with supposedly 9.2 million visitors each year--and was recently listed as the 26th most popular tourist destination worldwide.

I have no idea why.

Sure, the views offered of Lake Michigan are glorious, but not better than myriad other lakefront locales, and I've loved several productions at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, but I doubt it accounts for a large percentage of tourists counted in the statistics.

Navy Pier isn't a bad place to take a walk and the Ferris Wheel offers a decent photo opportunity, but as I detailed in this Chicago Travel Guide, there are just many more compelling--and convenient--places in and around Chicago for people visiting this great city to visit.

Though its operators have seemingly been doing something right, despite the pier offering little more than overpriced chain restaurants (Bubba Gump, Margaritaville, etc.), a run-of-the-mill food court and mediocre gift shops, Navy Pier is now undergoing renovations that will supposedly bring more green space, additional food vendors and a hotel.

Personally, without meaning to endorse it as a means of municipal or personal financial salvation, I think they should turn most of the pier into a mega-casino.

As it is, the rehab project--timed to commemorate Navy Pier's 100th anniversary in 2016--is erasing the only thing I really liked on the pier, other than the Shakespeare Theater.

Though I have noted most other people obliviously rushing through it, perhaps presuming it to simply be a hallway, The Smith Museum of Stained Glass (Wikipedia) has been, since opening in 2000, one of the city's great hidden gems. At least among those offering great artistic beauty with no admission fee.

Particularly relevant to Chicago given the legacy of Louis Comfort Tiffany and the art glass windows of Frank Lloyd Wright, the easily-strollable galleries housed many beautiful panels of varying styles and eras. 

According to this Chicago Tribune article, the Smith Museum was offered a much smaller space within the renovated Navy Pier, but declined given the size of its impressive collection. It has not yet been revealed if the pieces will be displayed elsewhere, but it is said to be unlikely they will all be exhibited together.

Full closure of the Smith Museum of Stained Glass will happen by mid-October, but it seems that many of the pieces have already been taken down by conservationists.

The adjacent Richard H. Driehaus Gallery of Stained Glass Windows--which houses 11 Tiffany windows and a fire screen--was a seamless accompaniment to the Smith Museum collection and will remain in place on the pier, at least for now.

So if anyone goes to Navy Pier for whatever reason, and can't help thinking, "Is this all there is?" you'll still be able to find some cultural enrichment deep within the pier's indoor underbelly.

Just not nearly as much.

These are just a few examples of what you'll be missing:

(Note: some photos may be of pieces in the Dreihaus Gallery that might remain visible)

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