(Chicago, Illinois) In the early 1950s, a mom and dad took their little boy from their apartment in the South Shore neighborhood to see the George F. Harding Museum at 4853 Lake Park Avenue. What the little boy saw that day was a castle filled with Renaissance armor and arms, plus art, furniture, tapestry, and sculpture. The little boy thought he had walked into the world of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. There were knights in shining armor and even one mounted on a horse, ready for a good joust in the lists. If the little boy thought he had been transported back to a time he was just beginning to dream of, it was all thanks to the bold Chicago politician and real estate magnate George F. Harding Jr. who expressed his love of the tales of King Arthur by amassing over a thousand pieces of the aforementioned Medieval and Renaissance armor and art, some directly from palaces and castles in Spain and Germany.
In 1927, Harding had a castle addition built onto his South Side Home. After his death in 1939, Harding left his collection and home as a “gift to the public,” establishing a museum that remained in operation until the building was demolished in 1965. So that little boy wasn’t seeing things in the early 1950s when his parents took him to that strange and wondrous armor-filled castle on Lake Park Avenue. He was awakening to a life-long interest in Renaissance armor and art that was reinvigorated just the other day when he visited the Art Institute of Chicago’s recently reopened galleries of many of George F. Harding’s treasures appropriately called the art of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. For decades after the demolition of the Harding castle, Harding’s collection was in limbo. But then, in 1982, a court-approved settlement gave Harding’s collection to the Art Institute. The legacy of George F. Harding’s amazing museum thus continues at the Art Institute of Chicago where that little boy from the 1950s gazed in renewed wonder at the world of King Arthur. That little boy, of course, is yours truly.