Catch the Spirit at the Art Institute’s Holiday Themed Thorne Rooms
Art Institute: 111 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603
In 2014, Trip Advisor rated the Art Institute as the #1 museum in the world! That’s a pretty impressive accolade and one visit to the museum will show you why it’s loved by so many. The Art Institute does a great job making art accessible to families by offering free admission for children under 14. And let’s face it, you can’t beat free! The museum offers wonderful workshops and activities for all ages, so plan ahead so you can take advantage during your visit.
One of my children’s favorite spaces at the Art Institute are the Thorne Miniature Rooms. I invited some family friends to join me to explore the model rooms, which were created between 1932-1940 at the direction of Mrs. James Ward Thorne. Each of the 68 rooms are meticulously designed based on interiors and furnishings from different periods. During the holidays, some of the rooms are decorated with different themes representing various cultural traditions. Visitors will notice that there is a holiday decoration around the rooms with holiday themes. We particularly enjoyed the southwestern room with traditional Mexican decorations and holiday foods.
We were fortunate to arrange a tour with Lindsay Mican Morgan, the Keeper of the Thorne Miniature Rooms. She explained that the scale of the rooms, and the items within, are one inch to one foot. She took the time to point out the intricate details and enjoyed learning about the woman who created the rooms, Mrs. Thorne. To discover more, check out Chicago Tonight’s special about the Thorne Miniature Rooms.
We had enough time to enjoy some of the art in the museum. We saw the huge Seurat painting, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. There was a group in front of the painting listening to a teacher explain the painting. We walked through several galleries and talked about the sculptures and paintings that moved us. Inspired, we used the sketch pads we brought with us and had fun creating our own works of art.
Before leaving for the day, we went to the Elizabeth Morse Touch Gallery, which was especially designed for visually impaired visitors. The Touch Gallery is located just inside the Millennium Park entrance to the Modern Wing, near the Ryan Education Center. It is open to all visitors and offers four sculptures from different periods that people are allowed to touch. The sculptures are of faces made of different materials coated with a special wax that protects the art from being touched. Make sure your kids know that this is a special experience to touch the works of art…it’s not permitted in any other part of the museum!
There was so much more to see and experience at the Art Institute. It’s #1 for a reason so be sure to include it on your family vacation itinerary when in Chicago. Don’t try to see it all, but do have fun exploring.
Some Additional Tips and Fun Facts:
- Every weekend, kids can make art from 11am to 2pm for free.
- Visit the Family Room in the Ryan Education Center, open daily from 10:30am-5pm. It’s chock full of hands-on activities.
- The Lion’s Trail audio tour is specially designed for children.
- CityPASS admission includes an audio tour.
- Art is to be treasured! Respect the rules that are set to protect the art.
- Wheelchairs can be borrowed for free and are on a first come, first served basis.
- Parking is hard to find near the Art Institute. Take public transportation or try Parking Panda, the parking service that partners with the museum called
- Illinois residents gain free General admission every Thursday from 5 – 8:00 p.m.
- Chicago Public Library card holders can access the Kids Museum Pass giving access to several family members – see guidelines for how it works.
- A free app is available for download to help you navigate the museum.
- Visitors can request American Sign Language interpretation for any scheduled gallery talk by scheduling 2 weeks in advance via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Curious Corner, located in the Ryan Education Center, is a wheelchair–accessible station where families can learn about art through interactive stories and games.
- The Art Institute lends works of art to other museums. You can check updates on the collections if you want to make sure the art you want to see is on display.