My mom and I spent the day at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and were able to explore several areas of the grounds for the first time. My favorite part of the day was spent on a tour of the Oldfields, the home of Josiah Lilly Jr. and his family. I work for Eli Lilly Pharmaceuticals, so I was interested to see the home of my employer’s family. But I was mostly ecstatic about it because I love architecture so much and this mansion is a wonderful example of the Country House Movement. It was built in the early 1910s and the Lilly family bought it in 1932 and it remained their residence until Mr. and Mrs. Lilly’s death in the 1960s. They left the home and all its contents to what would become the Indy Museum of Art and it is now fully restored to how its glory days in the 1930s.
I was so excited to go inside I couldn’t stand it. The home is open to the public and for tours on Saturdays during the spring and summer. Our guide was fascinating and we learned so much about the Lilly family and the culture of the time. There are 22 rooms in the mansion. The layout was incredibly open and airy and I loved how the rooms flowed into each other. After a brief orientation in the garage, we moved to the main floor and went into a receiving room and then into the library. I was completely agog by the architectural details and sometimes didn’t even notice the furnishings until I had pored over the walls and ceilings and admired the beautiful trim and detailing. But the library was fascinating. JK Lilly put in floor to ceiling bookcases made of bleached walnut to lighten the atmosphere of the room.
Eventually the library expanded into 2 rooms. The Lillys converted an outdoor patio into a second library. Both Mr. and Mrs. Lilly were avid collectors and upon his death, he had 20,000 books and 17,000 manuscripts which were left to Indiana University. Because of the detailed records he kept of his collection, the Art Museum was able to track down every volume he shelved in his library and replaced each one with an identical copy so that the library would be intact.
Lilly fashioned busts of his favorite authors to grace the tops of the bookshelves. Although Poe was not in favor at the time, Lilly encouraged scholarly examination and appreciation of his work and played a great role in increasing his popularity among subsequent generations. Behind the library was the music room where Mrs. Lilly would entertain a variety of musicians.This room was notable for the beautiful flora and fauna wallpaper which she displayed as framed units, instead of papering the entire room. The whole room was light and airy and felt like a European salon. I was crazy about the wallpaper – the guide told us that a factory in Belgium recreated the prints from period photos of the room.
And from there we went to the dining room. Originally paneled in heavy mahogany walls, the Lillys replastered over the wood and painted the room pale blue with white accents to lighten the feel of the room. A portrait of their daughter Ruth graces the mantel of the fireplace. Behind the dining room was my favorite room – the Butler’s Pantry. Down both sides of the room and along the back were filled with glass-fronted cabinets!
I love cabinets with a passion I can’t explain – and this room was incredible! The china sets the family used are housed in this room. There was even a special sink for cleaning just the china! Plates were stacked attractively so that we could see the patterns and cups hung from eye-hooks placed underneath the top shelves. It was so neat to see a whole room full of cabinets! This room led to the kitchen, which was fascinating as well.
Lots of cabinets, painted a popular shade of mint green, and old appliances made the room charmingly vintage. I don’t remember the brand of the oven range, but it was made in Indiana and was lovely. The bedrooms are upstairs and these rooms are currently used for traveling exhibits. They had an impressive collection of silver from Tiffany and Gorham on display right now. Then after the tour we were free to roam the gardens, which were designed by the famed Olmstead Firm from New York.
It was a thrilling experience to walk through this magnificent historic home. I loved learning its story and seeing its face and character in each of the rooms. I’m so thankful that the Lilly family chose to preserve their home and make sure future generations could enjoy the beautiful mansion and grounds as a glimpse back in time.
Blessings to you,