Gallery Spotlight: Edgewater Historical Society & Museum

Gallery Spotlights are posts about randomly selected* art venues in Chicago
Carrie McGath

Edgewater Historical Society & Museum

The Edgewater Historical Society and Museum is a great place for education and enrichment about Edgewater and Chicago history, but it is also a great place for inspiration. This museum is a hidden gem that evokes a unique brand of inspiration to any artist. Unlikely places, such as this museum, give an artist a new way of looking at the world outside of a typical white cube gallery or art museum. This museum’s charm and endless imagery evokes unconventional inspirations for creating art and should therefore not be missed by any artists in the city.

The Edgewater Historical Society was formed in 1988 by a group of locals interested in the rich history of this urban neighborhood of Chicago. In 2001, the Society received enough money from grants and generous donors to find a home in a 1926 firehouse, and this is when the Society could also add “Museum” to its title. The old firehouse was rehabbed and the rest, as they say, is history. Now it is the home to many diverse and fascinating pieces of Edgewater and Chicago history.

I spoke with the President of the Edgewater Historical Society and Museum, Robert Remer, about the organization’s mission. He said the mission of the museum is for cultural enrichment. “Education, preservation, and service is our mission,” he said during our recent interview. In addition to its ongoing gallery exhibits, there is a permanent collection of local artifacts, many of them donated by people who found them in various places such as their basements and attics. “We have a photo of the Lone Ranger, Clayton Moore, in his costume without his mask. Every photo other than this one I have ever seen of him, he has been wearing that Lone Ranger mask.” He went on to tell me that Moore grew up in the Edgewater neighborhood, and current Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, was born there.

Edgewater Historical Society & Museum

“The most popular of our permanent collection is what we have about the Edgewater Beach Hotel. People have a lot of memories of the hotel and there so many requests from people who just want to know more about it,” said Mr. Remer. Though many of the exhibits and the permanent collection have an Edgewater focus, they are not always exclusive to the neighborhood. The show I attended that just closed was about the history of Chicago’s “L” system, and the photographs that document this history are rich and truly beautiful. It was an artful exhibit showcasing history along with art, and that was very inspiring to me as a visitor.

After musing about my appreciation of the exhibit and the photographs’ artful beauty, he said, “We want to tie history in with art.” He went on to tell me about the Edgewater Historical Society and Museum’s work with the Plein Air Painters of Chicago where these outdoor artists paint works of houses, buildings, and outdoor scenes around the city. Once a year, they stick to Edgewater, painting homes and scenes that embody the lakefront neighborhood. This is in collaboration with Andersonville’s annual Arts Weekend in October, and the Museum displays and sells the work during the event. Mr. Remer said, “We always want to be doing something with the arts community of the city.”

Edgewater Historical Society & Museum

In addition to exhibits and their permanent collection, they offer programming such as speakers and book signings relating to a particular exhibit. Up next is an exhibit about Politics and Edgewater that opens on Saturday, June 12th. In connection with the exhibit, there will be a presentation by John R. Schmidt, the author of The Mayor Who Cleaned Up Chicago, a book about Chicago Mayor William E. Dever who served from 1923-1927. For this exhibit there will be lots of ephemera and photographs, and as Mr. Remer described it, “It will be a colorful exhibit.” The talk is on Saturday, June 19th at 10:00 a.m.

The Edgewater Historical Society and Museum is open on Saturdays from 12:00-4:00 and on Sundays from 1:00-5:00. It is located at 5358 North Ashland in the Edgewater neighborhood. Their website is www.edgewaterhistory.org. This is a place for everyone from history buffs to artists, a place where everyone will invariably leave feeling truly inspired.

*Gallery spotlights are chosen based on a lottery, which we document by videotape, in order to be transparent and truly random. 10 were chosen out of a pool of 350.