Oh, all right, technically Indy is a fictional character. But Edward Chiera, Robert Braidwood, and J.H. Breasted were possible models for Indy, (I can’t remember which one was said to escape office hours at the University of Chicago by crawling out his office window….) and they were all involved in the OI, building up the collection, going on adventures… But I digress.
A review of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
What can I say about this hidden gem of Chicago? Well, to start your adventure, you may likely drive to the museum. Street parking is very easy and free!
Enter the unusual art-deco-gothic building, under the very curious deco-gothic tympanum carved in a deco motif of modern westerners (and American Buffalo) greeting ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians (with Assyrian lion), and you already know you are in for some adventure. As you enter, you may notice that the museum is FREE. A modest suggested donation of $7 for adults and $4 for Children is beyond reasonable, and I have seen many people enter without donating, and no one minds or even blinks. When entrance for one to many museums is as high as $18 per adult, plus parking or transit, it is a lovely bonus to find an inexpensive outing.
This museum was established in 1919, and the current building opened in 1931. It houses the university’s collection of Middle Eastern art and antiquities. (Orient being Near East, not Far East.)There are mummies, Elamite (like Cuneiform) tablets, daily goods like makeup cases and personal items, tiny Sanskrit tax returns (more or less, upon reading the translations provided- they really loved meticulous paperwork!) systems of weights and measures in the shape of graceful ducks… Fascinating items.
And then there are some real show-stoppers: A 17+ foot tall (tallest in existence, other than it’s twin) statue of Tutankhamen, one of a pair. The other is in Cairo. Monstrous 40 ton stone Assyrian mythological creatures, part man, part lion, part eagle, part bull. (an Iamassu) Ponderously massive bull heads that once guarded Persepolis’ Hall of One Hundred Columns. Sections from the enameled-brick lion gate- I saw another section of it in the British Museum.
The collection is gorgeous. The daily-life pieces are almost more informative than the jaw-droppers, but wow, you won’t want to miss any part of it.
It’s also very easy and accessible to people with limited mobility.
There’s a charming gift shop with affordable items that are hard to find anywhere else. There are docents and audio guides available.
Also of note, most of the collections were not purchased, unlike most museums. These are the research collections of archaeologists, finds from excavation expeditions. So when they are talking about “the museum” in the movies, you’ll know where to find it!
I love this museum! I highly recommend going, if you have the means.
See more photos here