An Italian immigrant arriving in the United States in the early 1900s, Joseph F. Lizzardo, Sr. began working in his father’s cobbler shop. Growing up, he went on to become an electrical engineer and eventually Chairman of the Board of the electric company where he worked. Throughout his life, he maintained an interest in lapidary, the art of cutting and polishing stones, with a special fondness for jade and would often create pieces for his friends and family. As his collection grew over the years, Joseph felt the desire to display them so that the public could both enjoy them and learn more about the beauty of rocks and gemstones. To this end, he petitioned the City of Elmhurst and was granted permission to build a museum within the city’s Wilder Park. Construction was completed on a building that resembles a jewelry box and the museum’s doors opened in November 1962.
Today the museum welcomes visitors from its new location in Oakbrook to both view some distinguished examples of the art of lapidary and learn more the array of minerals that make up our world. Housed within the museum are rare pieces such as a jade imperial altar set completed during the Ming Dynasty, (1368-1644), and a cinnabar screen encrusted with gemstones that was a gift to the Chinese emperor, Qianlong, in 1791. Both pieces were originally housed in the imperial palace of China.
There is an interactive earth science center containing unusual rocks, fossils, and hands-on exhibits. The museum houses many exhibits including examples of mosaics from the Roman era, gemstone jewelry and an 18-carat gold castle sculpture containing diamond windows that have come to be called “Castle Lizzadro.”