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Velvet Scenes in Chicago

Water Tower in Chicago
Water Tower in Chicago

I rarely go to Chicago without  visiting the Art Institute of Chicago.  Usually the priority  is some big blockbuster of a show, but recently I popped into the grand old institution on Michigan Avenue to meander the familiar favorites and to view a   modest but lovely exhibit on the textile Velvet.

Before I take you there let me share something I love about the Art Institute of Chicago.  The contrast between   the old building, built in 1893 and the Modern Wing, added in 2009 is like traveling through design time.  See what I mean?

Chicago Institute of Art
Art Institute of Chicago –old section
Chicago Institute of Art
Art Institute of Chicagt–Modern Wing

I also love a leisurely lunch in the restaurant on the top of the Modern Wing with its dramatic city view.

Chicago Institute of Art
Art Institute of Chicago

But let’s take a look at the Modern Velvet exhibit, tucked in a far corner of the lower level.  It is a pleasant  look at the collection of velvet fabrics representing a diverse range of ornamental themes.   Gorgeous.  If you like textiles and design I think  you will enjoy.

Modern Velvet-Chicago Institute of Art
Modern Velvet-Art Institute of Chicago

Velvet is a marvelous fabric, made with a looming and cutting method regardless of the fiber–silk, wool, cotton, rayon or animal fiber. It’s history goes back to the 1200s in Baghdad and continued with refinements in France and Italy, both countries known for luxury textiles.

In Europe in the 14th century, silk weavers guilds controlled the production. Sumptuary laws dictated who could wear velvet, even imposing a fee for the option, adding to the association  with luxury.

You may think about velvet more recently as striped coverings on sofas in the 70s or  the backgrounds of Elvis paintings sold along the roadways.  Mostly though velvet is associated with wealth, splendor and proclaiming one’s status.

The elegant exhibit shows a wide variety of design approaches to velvet over the last two hundred years. Here are a few examples.

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I’m also including some photos here of some of my favorite museum pieces of art, a small exhibit on post-modern design and a handful of people enjoying their time at the museum.

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Before I sign off on this mostly visual blog post, I hope you enjoy some random Chicago scenes.

Wonder what the story is here? Was this mannequin put in “time out” for bad behavior?
On view at the Museum of Contemporary Art
On view at the Museum of Contemporary Art

And lastly, a self portrait of sorts, looking out the hotel  window.

Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


  1. posted by
    Feb 13, 2017 Reply

    Susan – fun blog! I love velvet, and am so glad it seems to be everywhere these days, so it was fun for me to ‘see’ the exhibit!

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Feb 14, 2017 Reply

      Thanks, Julie. I appreciate your comment.

  2. posted by
    May 8, 2017 Reply

    What a fun blog. Velvet has always been one of my favorite fabrics. So fun to see the different colors and designs captured in your photography!!

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