I remember my first visit to the Lizzadro Lapidary Museum in the 1970s, large display cases holding earth’s priceless treasures. There is dimmed lighting, creating a feeling of traveling on a dark river at night with beacons of light shining and drawing you nearer as you proceed amongst the collections. If you are a lover of minerals and gems, you will be blown away, trying your best not to drool on the glass and remembering to just breathe. I have never seen as many old, very large jade carvings as in this place. It’s worth a visit just for the jade.
The museum first opened in Elmhurst, Illinois, in 1962 and houses one of the largest collections of lapidary art in the world.
Joseph Lizzadro began collecting stones on family trips to the Keweenaw Peninsula in Upper Michigan and began cutting and polishing stones for gifts for family and friends.
As a lapidary hobbyist and collector, he especially loved to cut and polish jade. At the time, it was difficult to obtain rough jade. However, carvings of jade were plentiful and not very expensive, so they were often recut and made into other pieces. Joseph’s admiration for the original carvers’ work helped make his decision to collect the pieces, rather than recut them, an easy one. So began his collection.
The museum has many different and unusual displays. As a hobbyist, it is wonderful to visit and contemplate the skill, time and energy that brought something out of the earth in its rough form to create pieces of such beauty.
The museum features collections of mosaics, cameos, gemstones, jade carvings, dioramas, rocks, minerals and fossils. In addition, a commissioned piece, a castle of 18K gold and gemstones, is also displayed as a memorial to Joseph’s grandson Chris.
Although the museum is currently closed to move to a larger facility, the museum website has wonderful pictures and short video clips featuring descriptions of various pieces (www.lizzadromuseum.org). The Jade and Symbolism YouTube video is delightful, with narration and music included. In addition, there are links listed under education that will guide you to the Gemological Institute of America. They have campuses around the world and classes for training in gemology and jewelry repair and design (www.gia.edu).