The American College of Surgeons (ACS) is loaning one of its treasures to a major exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, IL—Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690–1840. The College’s ancient Irish deer antlers from Ballybetagh will be on display at the exhibit, which will open on St. Patrick’s Day 2015, and run through June 7. According to ACS Archivist Adam Carey, the massive skull and antlers of an extinct Irish elk displayed in the reception area of the College’s Chicago headquarters office was a diplomatic gift to the College from the Royal College of Surgeons in 1921.
Mr. Carey gives credit for the Art Institute’s pursuit of the antlers to Dan D. Steinke, ACS Office Services Manager, who oversaw the construction of the current display case, with staff from the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, providing assistance on proper mounting. “It was that connection that prompted the Art Institute to contact us for the loan,” Mr. Carey said.
The antlers are steeped in history. The College received the antlers at the height of Ireland’s “Troubles” in the 1920s. The Troubles refer to the decades of violence between elements of Northern Ireland’s Irish nationalist community, who are mostly Catholics, and its unionist community, mainly self-identified as British and/or Protestant. Ancient elk or deer antlers served as prominent symbols in Irish country homes. Preserved in Ireland’s bogs for thousands of years, antlers displayed in an entrance hall signified a family’s roots and claims to Irish land.
In a letter to the College, Douglas Druick, president and Eloise W. Martin Director of the Art Institute, expressed gratitude to the ACS for loaning this vital artifact to the exhibit. Mr. Druick explained that the agricultural depression in the British Isles in the 1880s resulted in the delivery of many extraordinary objects from Ireland to the U.S. and Canada. These relics are now scattered from Honolulu, HI, to Portland, ME, San Antonio, TX, and Ottawa, Canada. “Through this exhibition and the accompanying catalogue published by the Art Institute of Chicago in association with Yale University Press, these often little-known objects will be shown together for the first time,” Mr. Druick explained. Chicago will be the only venue for the exhibit.
The exhibition will present 300 objects drawn from public and private collections across North America. Arranged thematically throughout six galleries, the exhibit’s paintings, sculpture, and architecture, as well as book bindings, ceramics, glass, furniture, metalwork, and textiles, will celebrate the Irish as artists, collectors, and patrons.