Elmhurst Art Museum established its collection in 1981, when the museum opened its doors in a single classroom in the former Eldridge School building. Through a second move, the purchase of Mies van der Rohe's McCormick House and the opening of the current building in 1997, the collection grew to encompass nearly 500 objects from around the world. Focused largely on contemporary local and national artists, including many participants in EAM exhibitions, the collection chronicles the institution's history and development.

EAM's Collection ranges from a Han Dynasty bronze vessel and a 19th century iron spear from the Democratic Republic of Congo to early 20th century architectural drawings by Mies van der Rohe and late 20th century paintings by self-taught artist Lee Godie. The collection includes several works from the mid-20th century, providing a context for the museum's McCormick House, designed by Mies van der Rohe in 1952 (often referred to as the largest "work" in the collection). Mies himself is further explored through his iconic furniture designs and portraits by Hugo Weber and William S. Engdahl from Hedrich Blessing Photography. Fused glass objects by Frances and Michael Higgins, sculpture by Abbot Pattison, and prints by Richard Florsheim and Richard Koppe are among EAM’s many examples of the modernist impulse in Chicago.

Prints and drawings from the 1960s-80s by important American figures such as Peter Saul, Ellen Lanyon, Barbara Rossi and John McCracken join those by Elmhurst favorites Sandra Jorgensen, Keith Achepohl and EAM founder Eleanor King Hookham. Chicago painting from the 1980s and 90s forms a significant part of the collection with canvases by Phyllis Bramson, Michiko Itatani, Wesley Kimler, the Zhou Brothers and many others who are still working in Chicago. The collection is brought into the 21st century with works by Nikki Renee Anderson, Doug Fogelson, Melissa Oresky, Billy Tokyo, Leslie Baum and many others, representing EAM's compelling exhibition program from the past decade.

Mies and Mid-Century Modernism

The McCormick House, designed by Mies van der Rohe in 1952, is the EAM Collection’s largest work, inspiring EAM’s acquisition of art and design from this significant postwar period. Often called Mid-Century Modern for its clean lines, simple forms and geometric or organic shapes, this design style, popular in the 1950s and 1960s, continues to be sought after today, especially with the success of TV’s Mad Men.
EAM’s mid-century concentration includes art, objects and furniture by Mies himself, Charles and Ray Eames, Florence Knoll, Eero Saarinen, George Nelson, Frances and Michael Higgins, Haeger Pottery, Richard Koppe and John Teyral. In addition, several major works about, by and related to Mies van der Rohe include portraits of the architect by his Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) colleague Hugo Weber, a set of Hedrich-Blessing photographs of Mies in IIT’s Crown Hall, Mies’ MR Lounge Chair prototype for Knoll, an original architectural drawing by Mies and concurrent works on paper by influential Bauhaus artist Josef Albers and Chicago-based designer Angelo Testa.