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Loyola University Museum of Art


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Locking it Away: Signs, Secrets, and Symbols of Keys

Patricia Brett Erens’s Collection of Locks and Keys

CHICAGO, December 16, 2008 – The Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA), through a generous donation from Patricia Brett Erens, will host Locking it Away: Signs, Secrets, and Symbols of Keys from January 31 to March 8, 2009.

Erens’s fascinating collection of 135 keys and locks is primarily European in origin and dates from the Roman period, the Middle Ages, and the 18th and 19thcenturies. In addition, there are locks from 19th-and 20th-century China, as well as a large, impressive wooden lock from Africa. All of these treasures were collected by Erens beginning in the 1980s, with the help of the late Chicago art dealer Bud Holland.

“Keys are traditionally associated with Saint Peter,” says Pamela Ambrose, LUMA’s director. “While the keys in this collection may not open the gates to heaven, they do have an intriguing history.”

Collections of locks and keys appear in several prominent museums, with the largest housed at the Victoria and Albert in London. In the United States, the Cloisters (New York) holds a number of fine medieval locks and keys, and the Cooper-Hewitt (New York) has several dozen good examples that range from ancient to contemporary times.

In Locking it Away: Signs, Secrets, and Symbols of Keys, each key is a decorative object with delicate castings and emblems. One of the most charming keys in the Erens Collection is the figure of a lioness that is a miniature sculpture in its own right.

"Throughout history, keys were symbols of status and authority. Each society has had an investment in keeping its prized possessions safe, and that continues to this day," says Erens. "This collection really highlights the history of keys and will delight LUMA’s visitors."

Public Programs:

Locks and Keys: One Collector's Obsession
Tuesday, February 3, at 6 p.m.
Second-Floor Galleries, LUMA

Patricia Erens, adjunct professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, began collecting keys and locks in the 1980s, and her collection is comprised of over 135 pieces from all over the world. Join us in the galleries for an informal walkthrough by Erens, who will talk about her collecting obsession and will discuss her favorite pieces and the stories behind them.


Under Lock and Key: Power, Closure, and Disclosure in Medieval Art
Tuesday, February 24, at 6 p.m.
Simpson Lecture Hall, LUMA

Professor Aden Kumler from the art history department at the University of Chicago will discuss the place of locks and keys, both material and symbolic, within medieval culture. She will consider surviving examples of medieval locks and keys as well as representations of locking and unlocking in medieval art, and will explore how locks and keys participated in the play of power, control, and revelation in the Middle Ages.


Locking it Away: Signs, Secrets, and Symbols of Keys is partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.

About LUMA
Opened in 2005, the Loyola University Museum of Art is dedicated to exploring, promoting, and understanding art and artistic expression that illuminates the enduring spiritual questions of all cultures and societies. As a museum with an interest in education and educational programming, LUMA reflects the University’s Jesuit mission and is dedicated to helping people of all creeds explore the roots of their faith and spiritual quests. Located at Loyola University Chicago’s Water Tower Campus, the museum occupies the first three floors of the University’s historic Lewis Towers on Chicago’s famous Michigan Avenue. For more information, visit the museum’s website at LUC.edu/luma.

Art illuminating the spirit!