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The Art Institute of Chicago --

Click to enlargeA Visitor's Experience: The Art Institute of Chicago
An article by Sean A. Flynt

George F. Harding, Jr. (1868-1939) was a prominent Chicago businessman and political figure with a passion for collecting fine art and artifacts. Between the world wars he assembled one of the finest collections of arms and armour in the U.S. and housed it in a purpose-built castle that was a Chicago landmark until its destruction in 1965. The Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) rescued Harding's collection from storage in 1982, and Harding's arms and armour have since become one of the museum's most popular attractions.

The AIC isn't able to display all 1, 500 items in the Harding arms and armour collection, of course, and ongoing construction of a new museum building has further squeezed the Harding exhibit. The new building, due to open in 2009, is expected to give the exhibit more space, but for now approximately 225 items from the Harding collection are on permanent display in the museum's Gunsaulus Hall. There you'll find several dozen arms, 10 or so armours, many fine helmets (especially later forms) and isolated items of armour and accoutrement. All the objects are well preserved and of exceptional quality and beauty, and represent a cross-section of fine arms and armour dating primarily from the 15th through 17th centuries.

Click to enlarge Visiting the Art Institute of Chicago

The entrance

A weeklong visit to Chicago in March allowed me to visit the Art Institute and devote special attention to the Harding collection. Fortunately, the museum is near the heart of Chicago's tourist district and within walking distance of many other museums, hotels and fine restaurants.

At the time of this writing, admission to the museum is $12 for adults and $7 for students, seniors (65+) and children over the age of 12. Younger children enter for free, and sponsorship by Ford Motor Company allows the museum to open for free to all visitors on Thursday and Friday evenings from 5:00-9:00pm.

The Art Institute is open Monday through Wednesday from 10:30am5:00pm, Thursday and Friday from 10:30am9:00pm. and Saturday and Sunday from 10:00am5:00pm. The museum is closed only on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas day, and New Year's Day.

Be sure to double-check the museum's opening times before you visit. Even in late March, Chicago's notorious wind will freeze you down to your bones if you have to wait with the famous bronze Guardian lions on the museum's steps.

Viewing the Collection
Most of the Harding collections items on display are presented in well-lit cabinets and are positioned close to the viewer. The full armours are freestanding in glass cases and may be viewed in the round. This is an especially welcome feature for students of armour as even minor details of construction and decoration are readily viewed.

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It was serendipitous

by causeimthesquid

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