Joseph F. Lizzadro, Sr. was a rock hound from his youth. As an adult, lapidary—the art of cutting and polishing stones and mounting them in jewelry or metalwork settings—became his passion. First a hobbyist, then a collector, Lizzadro would go on to found the world’s largest museum dedicated to hand-carved stone, minerals, and gemstones. On November 12, his Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art (LMLA) reached a monumental milestone: the unveiling of a new home in Oak Brook.
Replacing the original facility in Elmhurst, where it had operated for 57 years, the expanded new museum sparkles with both gemstones and potential. Chicago architecture firm Wright Heerema captured the LMLA team’s vision for transforming a former office building into a showcase for the lapidary wonders of the world.
Chief among these is the museum’s Chang jade exhibition, which brings the Altar of the Green Jade Pagoda—a five-foot high, intricately-carved pagoda that sits atop a three-tiered platform—back to Chicago. Originally commissioned by Shanghai jade dealer Chang Wen Ti and carved by 150 craftsmen, the pagoda was displayed at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, and was then acquired by the Oakland Museum of California. Oakland donated the piece, along with other rare jade carvings in the Chang exhibition, to LMLA last year.
The new museum will also feature biannual special exhibits. The first, “Re-carving the Past: The Art of Chinese Bronzes and Jades,” focuses on the shapes and decorations of the two most prominent art forms in China, showcasing 11 bronzes from the MacLean Collection of Lake Forest, and 16 jade carvings from LMLA’s collection. Dr. Tongyun Yin, LMLA’s new Curator of Asian Art, worked with Dr. Richard Pegg, Director and Curator of Asian Art for the MacLean Collection, to create the exhibit, and will be offering lectures and programs on collections moving forward.
“We are thrilled that more than five years of planning has culminated in this beautiful new museum facility,” says Dorothy Asher, Museum Director. “With improved exhibits, and more space for educational programs, a 1,000-square-foot multipurpose room for private rentals, and a dedicated research library, our new home better equips us to share our unique collection with a new generation of art enthusiasts and museum goers.”
To better engage with tech-friendly visitors, LMLA has added fun, interactive elements to the museum. Mineral Match, a video game created by Brian Colin of Homewood-based Game Refuge, features mascot Rocky the Rock Hound. Rocky leads players through a challenge to match everyday household items with the minerals and gemstones from which they are made. “People really enjoy it,” says Asher. “Kids, but a lot of adults, too.”
Additional touch screens throughout the space include video tours of the museum’s collections and history, as well as an introduction to rocks and minerals, and demos of stone cutting, jade carving, and gemstone faceting.
In addition, the museum has a full and growing spate of educational programs on offer, enhancing understanding of earth science, geology, Chinese art history and Chinese religions and culture.
“Our aim, with the help of Dr. Yin and Sara Kurth, our geologist educator, is to expand our reach in both the cultural and science related programs and tours that we offer,” says Asher. “Not just grade schools, but junior highs, high schools, and colleges.”
LMLA will continue to expand its global collaboration with museum curators, visiting experts, and current lapidary artisans. For example, says Asher, “We have a large collection of Italian mosaics, both Roman and Florentine, and have had visiting scholars such as Anna Maria Massinelli come to speak in that realm. Also, Germany was a very large carving center and we are hoping to bring a traveling German cameo exhibit here.”
LMLA is a pubic charity 501(c)3 and as such, largely relies on donor support to run the museum. It also welcomes volunteers. “We have a broad range of volunteer opportunities and provide training for all of them,” says Asher. “From helping at the reception desk, or with programming or school groups, to serving as a docent, we welcome all interested participants.”
The Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art is located at 1220 Kensington Road in Oak Brook. For information on hours, programming, philanthropy and volunteer opportunities, visit lizzadromuseum.org.