Elmhurst exhibit explores 'House and Home'

  • The National Building Museum's "House and Home" exhibit, visiting the Elmhurst History Museum this spring, explores the architectural and cultural variations of the American home through history.

    The National Building Museum's "House and Home" exhibit, visiting the Elmhurst History Museum this spring, explores the architectural and cultural variations of the American home through history. Courtesy of the Elmhurst History Museum

By Ann Piccininni
Daily Herald correspondent
Updated 4/5/2017 6:44 AM

The idea of home is different for everyone and, like the girl from Kansas said, there's no place like it.

Beginning Friday, April 7, visitors to the Elmhurst History Museum can take in "House and Home," an exhibit on loan from the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., that explores the American home throughout history, modeling many of the concept's architectural and cultural variations.


"The concept of home is something very basic to life in America," said Patrice Roche, communications specialist at the museum, "no matter what shape it takes."

Shipped in 20 or so large crates, the traveling exhibit is rich in artifacts, photos, video and storyboards and is arranged in a way that's intended to draw visitors in for in-depth reflection, said curator Lance Tawzer. It will be accompanied by a calendar of museum events celebrating the theme of "home."

"In the history business, we usually go down the road of 'chronological,'" Tawzer said.

But in this case, the timeline is not the main focus.

The exhibition is designed thematically, he said, incorporating such features as a study of building materials, a look at interior finishes and a survey of objects people use to live their lives and create a nest.

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"They try to give you a sense of materials that would have been in homes in lots of different eras, things people would bring into homes to make it feel like a home," Tawzer said.

He said the exhibit raises philosophical questions, too.

"What designates a home? How do people define a home?" Tawzer said.

"There's a diversity of points of view people bring to building a house and to what we call home," Roche said. "There's a lot of history to be told through homes, over time."

The time period covers several centuries of American homebuilding and includes pieces sure to spark nostalgia for some visitors and curiosity about the past for others.

"There're tons of artifacts," Tawzer said. "A lot of the objects are grouped together in object towers."

The oversized shadow boxes encourage visitors to view each object individually.


The collection includes a toaster oven from the 1920s, a stovetop manual, a sewing machine, an old milk bottle, garden gloves, commemorative plates and religious items, he said.

"There's everything from a 1990s laptop computer to an old thermostat and an old electric iron," Tawzer said. "It's a menagerie. It's supposed to be a menagerie."

Tawzer said artifacts and photos that reflect how Elmhurst's local housing and home scene fit into the American landscape also will be on display.

A host of events are planned at the museum's education center in conjunction with the exhibit's stay, Roche said. Events include a family keepsake-making workshop, children's story times, a lecture on the 2008 housing crisis, a workshop about how to research a home's history, and a lecture about Chicago-area housing history.

There also will be an April 30 Elmhurst Neighborhoods bus tour led by museum curator Nancy Wilson.

"That's already almost full. Our tours are very popular," Roche said.

Tawzer said he first encountered the exhibit about two and a half years ago while visiting a preview show in Mississippi, where it was met with enthusiasm.

"Museums all over the country were clamoring to host this exhibit," he said.

He subsequently made a bid for the exhibition to travel to Elmhurst.

"Part of our mission is to serve as a venue to community," he said.

The traveling exhibit's trip to Elmhurst was made possible, in part, by the National Endowment for the Humanities' On The Road initiative, Tawzer said. The museum previously hosted an NEH exhibition called "Our Lives, Our Stories" that focused on the post-World War II Greatest Generation.

"These exhibits are really wonderful. It's a pleasure to host them. It's a real wonderful opportunity for smaller museums," he said.

He said the scope and quality of the home exhibit is impressive.

"It feels more like a core exhibit that's going to be here for a long time," he said.

The exhibit will remain at the Elmhurst History Museum through the end of its run on May 25. It will be housed on the first floor; the museum's permanent collection will be housed on the second floor.

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