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Laura-Caroline, Collections & Exhibitions Manager at the Driehaus Museum

Laura-Caroline, Collections & Exhibitions Manager at the Driehaus Museum

Our staff is always asked about our backgrounds and how they came to work at the Driehaus Museum.  So we wanted to share some of our amazing team with everyone.  And, as always, let us know if you have any other questions.

First name?  Laura-Caroline

What is your title and what role does your position play at the Driehaus Museum?  I’m the Collections & Exhibitions Manager at the Driehaus Museum. I help care for and manage the historic interiors of the house and our decorative arts collection; and, in addition, I manage the planning, organization, and installation of our permanent and temporary exhibitions, like Maker & Muse and our upcoming Dressing Downton installations.

How long have you worked at the Museum?  I joined the team in May of 2014, so just a little over a year.

Where are you from/where do you currently reside?  Originally, I’m from Greenville, South Carolina. I live in Chicago’s exciting Logan Square neighborhood now and moved to the city about six years ago, by way of Memphis, TN and Washington D.C.

What is your education/experience background? How or why did you come to work at the Driehaus Museum?  I started working in galleries and museums at the age of 16 and never looked back. So, my art background is already a bit of a long one. I studied Art History at Rhodes College in Memphis (go Lynx cats!). When I finished, I received a year-long academic internship working in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s curatorial and registrar’s departments, organizing exhibitions and researching for exhibition catalogues. I eventually returned to Memphis to act as project coordinator for a public art organization called the UrbanArt Commission, taking care of the city’s art collection while planning new art projects throughout Memphis with local, regional, and national artists.

But, being a total nerd and missing school, I moved to Chicago to attend The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), where I received dual master’s degrees in Modern Art History, Theory, & Criticism and Arts Administration & Policy. While at SAIC, I worked as Chief Registrar for the Roger Brown Study Collection a house museum in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, I was curator for the school’s Creativity in the Workplace program, curating approximately fourteen exhibitions a year throughout Chicagoland, and for a year I served as the program coordinator for SAIC’s Visiting Artists Program before deciding to go back into exhibitions and collections management, which is how I found myself at the Driehaus Museum. Previously, my focus was in modern and contemporary art, so this Gilded Age collection is a new and exciting venture for me!

If you were trapped in the Museum overnight, what would you do?  While painstakingly installing 275 pieces of jewelry last January for our Maker & Muse exhibition, it sometimes felt like we WERE trapped in the museum overnight—these shows don’t install themselves, you know!

But, if I were not installing, had free reign of the place, and were allowed to break every collections-care rule in the book? I would absolutely post up in the Library’s (attributed to the Herter Bros.) chair under the gryphon lamp with a glass of scotch, a cigar, and a good book for the night. I also played piano for many years when I was younger, so I’d likely spend time on our Chickering & Sons piano in the Drawing Room. And, if friends are invited, then I wouldn’t pass up on a dance party opportunity in the Ballroom either. The house offers lots of great overnight possibilities, now that I think about it…

What is your favorite holiday/program or event at the Museum?  If you’ve never been to the Museum around the winter holidays, you really have to put it on your bucket list. We’re over-the-top, but tastefully decorated with holiday décor that—while wreaking havoc on the collections team for the amount of glitter that gets deposited everywhere—looks absolutely stunning and will immediately put you in the holiday spirit, even after a long afternoon of Michigan Avenue holiday shopping. Therefore, I’d have to go with Santa Saturdays being my favorite program at the museum. Because, who doesn’t want to have brunch with the jolliest man alive in such a lovely setting!?

Tell us about one of your favorite moments during your time working at the Museum?  I work with amazing colleagues here at the Driehaus Museum, so picking one favorite moment is difficult and with a job as multifaceted as this one, every day is an adventure! I’ll give two examples. The first is one of the most memorable, though perhaps not necessarily my favorite. Our second floor features an original water closet in between Addie’s and Mrs. Nickerson’s bedrooms, which now act as exhibition galleries for us. During my third week of working at the museum, it came to my attention that the non-functioning original facilities within that water closet had been put to use for their originally intended purposes. It was in the process of determining how to handle that situation that I realized that this new job would not be like any other I’d ever experienced…

One of the sweetest moments I’ve had yet came on the last day of installation of the Maker & Muse exhibition. Our team worked many late hours for two weeks to install this extensive exhibition. The last day of install in particular was filled with intricate installation needs and last minute touch ups, in preparation for Mr. Driehaus’s first viewing of the exhibition that evening. But, the team finished with about an hour to spare. That brief period, between putting the last necklace in its case and showing the exhibition to its first visitor, found our team sitting on the main hall steps, having the first moment in months to really absorb and observe what it was we’d all been working towards. That shared sense of calm, pride, and enthusiastic exhaustion was really very special.

Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection (1884), a beautifully bound two-volume set that brings to life William H. Vanderbilt’s monumental “Brownstone Twins” and their contents on New York’s Fifth Avenue, is now on view in the Sculpture Gallery at the Driehaus Museum.

The Museum’s new acquisition forges a special and important link between two prosperous late 19th-century businessmen and their devotion to collecting art. Samuel M. Nickerson may have lived in Chicago, while the name of William Henry Vanderbilt was synonymous with New York. But they were both enthusiastic parts of the same wave of artistic interest across America at the turn of the century, which resulted in real cultural phenomena: rooms like our Sculpture Gallery, private collections open to the public as a precursor to museums, and publications like Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection.

William Henry Vanderbilt I (1821-1885). Illustration originally published in Harper's weekly, v. 29, no. 1513 (1885 December 19), p. 845. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

William Henry Vanderbilt I (1821-1885). Illustration originally published in Harper’s weekly, v. 29, no. 1513 (1885 December 19), p. 845. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

William H. Vanderbilt was the eldest son of railroad mogul Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, and inherited the largest slice of his father’s massive fortune. He did a fine job in railroads himself, and nearly doubled his inheritance by the time of his death. In 1879 he embarked on a $3 million building project that would permanently etch the Vanderbilt name in New York brownstone and American architectural history. “Nothing so magnificent had before been attempted in New York in the way of a private residence,” The New York Times remarked afterwards.

Exterior. Corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty First Street, 1883. B/W negative, 4x5in. The Brooklyn Museum.

Exterior. Corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty First Street, 1883. B/W negative, 4x5in. The Brooklyn Museum.



Fifth Avenue at Fifty-First Street, 1900.

Fifth Avenue at Fifty-First Street, 1900.

The Vanderbilt residence at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-first Street was technically two mansions connected by an atrium; his daughters lived in the second with their husbands. It was a feast for the eyes. The architect-decorators were Christian and Gustave Herter, German-born cabinetmakers favored by New York’s elite, and they worked with experienced architects Charles Atwood and John Snook to anchor their profuse decorative elements to a standing structure. No two rooms were alike, and all were exactly to the taste of the moment. Just like the original interior designers of the Nickerson Mansion, the Herter Brothers favored a creative pastiche of historical and cultural styles all arranged together in interesting ways. You had vast groupings of artistic objects heaped on fireplace mantels, walls divided into three or more sections before reaching the ceiling, elaborate carvings in exotic wood, and jewel-tone colors. One’s eye never quite knew where to land.

Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection is really a book of description. And just as we trawl through Curbed or Pinterest to see how tastemakers arrange their interiors or tune in on television for sneak peeks of celebrity’s homes, this description was hungered for by America’s new middle class and nouveaux-riche.

Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection, The Holland Edition, Volume I and II, by Edward Strahan, published by George Barrie, 1884. The Collection of the Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection, The Holland Edition, Volume I and II, by Edward Strahan, published by George Barrie, 1884. The Collection of the Richard H. Driehaus Museum.



Published in limited number—1,000 editions, of which the Driehaus Museum’s acquisition is #712—of beautiful materials, included richly grained and gilt-edged brown leather and deep blue silk inner linings, Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection offered entrance to the private world of the wealthiest man in America. The reader is treated to a vivid tour of the home, from the Boudoir’s ivory-inlaid ebony walls to the grand three-story Picture Gallery, as well as Vanderbilt’s private art collection, which included around 200 paintings.


BOUDOIR. Second Floor—North-East Corner. In the foreground, Turner’s Fountain of Indolence, “by far the largest and most important Turner in America. It was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1834, and was obtained in 1882 from the dealers Agnew & Sons.”

BOUDOIR. Second Floor—North-East Corner. In the foreground, Turner’s Fountain of Indolence, “by far the largest and most important Turner in America. It was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1834, and was obtained in 1882 from the dealers Agnew & Sons.”


The author, Edward Strahan (Earl Shinn), was an influential self-made American art critic who studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and returned with a mission—not to make art, but to write about it. He wanted to dazzle American eyes and minds with the wonders of great art, examples of which so few of them had seen. Even the publisher, George Barrie, seemed to emphasize the artistic quality with his beautifully bound books filled with lavish artwork. A year before coming out with Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection, Barrie put the visions of the 1893 Chicago’s worlds fair into people’s homes with an illustrated two-volume set, World Columbian Exposition MDCCCXCIII, Art and Architecture. He also collaborated with Shinn on a series called Art Treasures of America.

They were proponents of a vast sort of gentrification campaign for young America taking place at the end of the 19th century, which needed men like William Henry Vanderbilt. You might call this a kind of Mediciean mindset. Many Gilded Age barons like Vanderbilt saw themselves as bringers of an American Renaissance in which the powerful and wealthy contribute to the public good and encourage the flourishing of the arts. So when Vanderbilt spent over $1 million to amass works by Alma-Tadema, Bougeureau, Corot, Daubigny, Delacroix, Dupré, Fortuny, Millet, Millais, Rousseau, Troyon, and Turner, he had more than his personal financial portfolio in mind. Upon the grand opening of his mansion in 1882, Vanderbilt hosted two receptions, “to one of which he invited other multi-millionaires of the town to inspect his treasures, and to the other poor artists who had never been able to see the great galleries of Europe.” Afterwards, visitors were admitted by card on Thursdays. This was, according to one publication, “an important element in cultivating the artistic taste of the metropolis.”

Gallery of Paintings


"Figures from 'Down to the River' by L. Alma-Tadema."

“Figures from ‘Down to the River’ by L. Alma-Tadema.”



Incroyables, by F. H. Kaemmerer.


Like Vanderbilt, Samuel M. Nickerson opened the Sculpture Gallery to art students and other interested Chicagoans, not only his personal guests. Art collections were viewed as public treasures, obtained by privilege but not to be hoarded. Rather, they were to be shared for the enjoyment and betterment of society at large. There was a deep belief during the aesthetic movement that exposure to exceptional beauty somehow elevated us, changed us, improved us as humans. Writing about that subject today, Alain de Botton puts it like this:

“What we seek, at the deepest level, is inwardly to resemble, rather than physically to possess the objects and places that touch us through their beauty.”






Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness
Bibliopolis, “Publisher: George Barrie”
Dictionary of Art Historians, “Shinn, Earl / Edward Strahan, pseudonym”
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, In Pursuit of Beauty: Americans and the Aesthetic Movement
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Library Table, Herter Brothers (1864-1906)
The New York Times, “Frick Remodeling Vanderbilt Mansion, Will Make Over One of Famous Brownstone Twins. Alterations to Be Costly: William H. Vanderbilt Built the Two Houses in 1880 at the Cost of $3,000,000—George Vanderbilt’s Tenure.” April 16, 1905.
The New York Times, “C. Vanderbilt Gets Mansion and Art, Property Worth $6,000,000 Reverts to Him by Grandfather’s Will on Death of George W. House Let to H. C. Frick. Stands at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-first Street and Cost $1,600,000—Art Valued Above $1,000,000.” March 10, 1914.
Nathan Silver, Lost New York, p. 121-122

By: Tasia Hoffman

On February 14, 2015, The Driehaus Museum will open an exhibit entitled Maker & Muse: Women and Early Twentieth Century Art JewelryThis exhibition will focus on women as the creators of and inspiration for Arts and Crafts-style and Art Nouveau-style jewelry.

…Arts and Crafts?  Art Nouveau?!

Whether these art historical terms are old friends or uncharted territory, let this month’s blog post serve as a mini-prep course for February’s bejeweled extravaganza.

First up: the Arts and Crafts Movement.William Morris, Green Dining Room, 1867.

The Arts and Crafts Movement began in England and was shaped by the ideas of writer/critic John Ruskin and designer/activist William Morris.  These men chose not to embrace “modern life” as brought about by industrialization, instead advocating an art and a lifestyle dictated by an intrinsic set of values including work ethic, community, spirituality, and equality.  Ruskin and Morris denounced industrial capitalism, which alienated workers from their own humanity, and opposed machine-made goods, which numbed the freedom and creativity of the brain.

(c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Charles Rennie Mackintosh, The Wassail, 1900-1912.

Art, they felt, should be crafted “…by the people for the people as a joy for the maker and the user” and designed in a manner that integrates functionality with supreme aesthetic quality.

Arts and Crafts objects and structures are known for their use of natural (streamlined or simplified) forms, fondness of floral and geometric repetitive patterns, and dedication to high-quality artisanship.  A wide range of influences, from medieval to Japanese, were drawn upon to produce a harmonious, but decidedly non-Victorian, aesthetic.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Detail of Thaxter Shaw House Living Area, 1906.

Tiffany & Co., Bowl, 1900.

Tiffany & Co., Bowl, 1900

In America, the British Arts and Crafts tradition was modified by a material shift to regional resources and an aesthetic shift to include local environmental forms.  Native American and Asian design influences were readily employed, paralleling a growing interest in “handmade” appearance and simplified geometric forms.  Architect/interior designer Frank Lloyd Wright and furniture manufacturer/publisher Gustav Stickley advocated the use of machinery alongside skilled craftsworkers to expedite the furniture-making process, allow craftsworkers to operate in a more “exclusively creative” capacity, and, ultimately, draw the cost of furniture down to a middle-class price bracket.

Craftsman Workshops of Gustav Stickley, Armchair, 1907.

Craftsman Workshops of Gustav Stickley, Armchair, 1907

 Stickley began publishing The Craftsman, a magazine that circulated the idea of Arts and Crafts interiors and products as a bridge to a more desirable, simpler life, one supportive of and connected to the ideals of an honest, hard-working America.  That being said, many of the Arts and Crafts products created still catered to an upper class audience, and, while the objects embodied romantic notions of unity, they did not make those ideas a tangible reality.

-Miller, Angela L., et al. American Encounters: Art, History, and Cultural Identity. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008.
-Kleiner, Fred S., and Christin J. Mamiya. Gardner’s Art Through The Ages. 12th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2005.
-Photo: “Charles and Henry Greene, Mary E. Cole House, 1906-1907.”
-Photo: “William Morris, Green Dining Room, 1867.”
-Photo: “Charles Rennie Mackintosh, The Wassail, 1900-1912.”
-Photo: “Frank Lloyd Wright, Detail of Thaxter Shaw House Living Area, 1906.”
-Photo: “Tiffany & Co., Bowl, 1900.”
-Photo: “Craftsman Workshops of Gustav Stickley, Armchair, 1907.”

By Avery Glassman — Early next month the Driehaus Museum Book Club will discuss the novel, I am Madame X, presented by its author, Gioia Diliberto. Ms. Diliberto’s novel is based on the scandalous portrait of Virginie Gautreau by American artist, John Singer Sargent.  He originally titled it, Portrait of Madame ***, in an attempt to conceal his voluptuous sitter’s identity. As far as Paris society was concerned, the woman’s identity was far from the only asset the painting failed to cover. First exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1884, Madame X would swiftly undo the reputation Sargent had worked years to establish.

Driehaus Museum Chicago

Portrait of Madame ***, John Singer Sargent, 1884.

Portraiture was Sargent’s business, but Madame X was not a commissioned painting. Rather, Sargent sought out Gautreau as his subject. In a letter to his friend Ben Castillo, Sargent writes, “I have a great desire to paint her portrait and have reason to think that she would allow it and is waiting for someone to pay this homage to her beauty. If you are ‘bien avec elle’ and will see her in Paris you might tell her that I am a man of prodigious talent.” Born in New Orleans but raised in Paris, Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau was known in international circles as a professional beauty; she transformed the Gilded Age conceit of socializing and its notions of femininity into an act of performance. Inspired by her dramatic looks but just as influenced by her social prowess, Sargent was convinced that one confidently painted portrait of Gautreau would be enough to solidify his standing as the premier portraitist in France.

At the 1884 Salon, however, the painting was ridiculed by critics and the public alike, as indecent, obscene, and even morbid. The original composition depicts the left strap of Gautreau’s gown hanging off her shoulder. “Hanging” is a misleading descriptor, however, as the strap appears tightly bound. Gautreau’s flesh puckers around the strap’s encrustations as her deltoid muscle flexes from her hand’s firm placement on the table. Were the strap to drape limply over Gautreau’s shoulder, the slippage would seem accidental and therefore innocent; the lady a mere victim of gravity. But the tension of the strap within the exhibited composition instead affirms intention, a purposefully daring modification to an already provocative outfit. To viewers at the Salon it was aggressive—certainly the last thing a woman in 1884 was supposed to be. Madame X’s dominant womanhood is just as thoroughly imbued in her assertive stance, haughty profile, and ambiguous, undomestic surroundings. It is for these reasons that Madame X continued to offend viewers, even after Sargent’s sartorial edit.

Gautreau, who had expressed satisfaction with the work in Sargent’s studio, was humiliated and irate after its unveiling. She and her mother demanded that Sargent take it down.  He refused until the bitter dispute escalated with their threats to forcibly remove the painting. Ultimately, Sargent was compelled to evade disparaging remarks in Paris by permanently relocating to London. Sargent donated Madame X to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1916, along with some instructions. To the museum director Sargent wrote, “By the way, I should prefer, on account of the row I had with the lady years ago, that the picture should not be called by her name, at any rate for the present, and that her name should not be communicated to the newspapers.”

Throughout his career, the largest faction of John Singer Sargent’s clientele was American. One wonders if Samuel and Matilda Nickerson ever considered investing in a portrait by Sargent. It is unlikely that they gave it much thought after 1884, as Madame X’s unembellished, revealing gown presents a stark contrast to the heavily embroidered, conservative frocks Mrs. Nickerson was reported to have worn. The couple would certainly have caught wind of the Madame X scandal and, since their tastes were relatively traditional (as their art collection suggests), the Nickerson’s would probably have kept themselves far removed from a portraitist so avant-garde.



Centeno, Silvia, and Dorothy Mahon. “A Technical Study of John Singer Sargent’s Portrait of Madame Pierre Gautreau.” Metropolitan Museum Journal, 2005.

Diliberto, Gioia. “Sargent’s Muses: Was Madame X Actually a Mister?” New York Times, May 18, 2003.

Moss, Dorothy. “John Singer Sargent, ‘Madame X’ and ‘Baby Millbank’.” The Burlington Magazine, May 2001.

Ormond, Richard. Oxford Art Online / Grove Art Online entry on John Singer Sargent. September 27, 1999.

Sidlauskas, Susan. “Painting Skin: John Singer Sargent’s ‘Madame X’.” American Art, Autumn 2001.


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