Permanent Exhibit

The Dream of America: Swedish Immigration to Chicago

dream-of-americaOur main exhibit, The Dream of America: Swedish Immigration to Chicago, is located on the second floor of the Museum. The exhibit explores the struggles and triumphs of the Swedish immigrant experience and asks the question: would you leave home today in search of a better tomorrow?

The exhibit follows Swedish immigrants from the arduous journey to the new world to building a life and community in Chicago. It examines topics such as why so many Swedes left their homeland and what they packed for their voyage, as well as careers they chose in the Chicago area and the social lives within their immigrant communities. Visitors will encounter authentic artifacts that reflect the experiences and perspectives of immigrants – from household items they brought from Sweden and travel items such as passports and steamship tickets to memorabilia from Chicago-based Swedish-American organizations and Swedish folk crafts produced in the United States and abroad.

Visitors meet many characters within the exhibit, including, Stina Olofsdotter, who is helping her son prepare for his journey to America in 1868; Karl Karlson, whose family arrives in New York in 1893; and Elin Hedman and her daughter Birgitta who passed through Ellis Island in 1924.

Special Exhibit in the Main Gallery

The Puppets of Chicago’s Kungsholm Miniature Grand Opera

Exhibit Opening, Friday, Sept. 28, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Start with Art, Friday, Oct. 26, 9 a.m. – noon
Family Night, Friday, Oct. 26, 4 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Exhibit Closing, Sunday, Nov. 25, 4 p.m.

The Swedish American Museum is thrilled to present an encore from the dazzling puppet divas of Chicago’s world-renowned Kungsholm Miniature Grand Opera. The puppets astounded audiences from 1941 to 1970 at Chicago’s famous Swedish-themed restaurant Kungsholm (today’s Lawry’s restaurant), before arriving here at the Museum. Visitors of all ages will learn about the history of the restaurant and theater, and hear the stories of both Kungsholm puppeteers and visitors alike. Along with dozens of puppets, the exhibit includes elaborate set pieces, meticulously detailed props, and smorgasbord and Kungsholm-related items.

Sponsored by:
Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation
Rose Grossinger
Verdandi Lodge #3
MacArthur Fund for Arts and Culture at Prince


Exhibit Opening, Friday, Dec. 7, 10 a.m.
Exhibit Closing, Sunday, Jan. 19, 4 p.m.

One of the most remarkable examples of Scandinavian folk art is the painted picture indigenous to the Swedish peasant home. The commonly used name for these peasant paintings is bonader, and their provenance was to decorate the walls and ceilings of the homes at Christmas time and on feast days, thus adding a note of color and gaiety to the otherwise dark interiors. Between festivities, these canvas or paper panels were taken down and carefully kept, to become a part of the family inheritance. The collection of bonader at the Museum is a collection of extraordinary works on linen and paper, with vegetable and mineral pigments that achieve arrays of color. They were sized for specific wall spaces and hung unframed. Several of the artists were identified, and more than 100 may have practiced the craft. Donated to the Museum in 2000 by the Art Institute of Chicago, the 29 Bonader represent the eighth largest known collection. They originated in 1931 among acquisitions from world traveler Florence Dibell Bartlett of Chicago. Inspired by what she viewed as a decline in creation of folk art, Bartlett acquired pieces she found in 37 countries. She was the founder in 1953 of the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Special Exhibits in the Raoul Wallenberg Gallery


Modern Antiquity – The photographs of Charles Erik Spaak

Exhibit extended due to popular demand
Exhibit closing, Sunday, Nov. 25, 4 p.m.

Most everyone born before the age of the digital camera has “that box” – a container tucked away in a closet that contains the glossy photographic snippets of life’s most memorable, and most forgettable, moments. Over time, burgeoning technology has antiquated processes and devices at a dizzying speed – photographs in those boxes once printed and framed are now uploaded and scrolled passed. It seems the only constant in photography, irrespective of technological progress, are the humans standing in front of the lens.

Photographer David Girson purchased a cache of turn-of-the-19th-century glass plate negatives at an estate sale in 1998. Decades of research revealed an unexpected and intriguing artist – another amateur photographer, Charles Spaak, an 1885 Swedish immigrant, draughtsman and engineer in Chicago. His random assortment of photographs, while taken nearly 130 years ago, capture the gamut of all of our experiences – work, nature, friends, family – featured in candid and jokingly serious tableaus and portraits easily recognizable in the selfie and Instagram culture of today. In one series of photos, Spaak even inadvertently captured a defining moment in American history.

David Girson has spent 20 years restoring, printing and framing nearly 100 photographs from Spaak’s glass plate negatives, of which more than 40 are on display for the first time nationally at the Swedish American Museum.

It’s Just Ducky! A Modern Swedish Christmas Tradition

Exhibit opening, Friday, Nov. 30, 10 a.m.
Exhibit closing, Sunday, Jan. 19, 4 p.m.

Photo by Carl-Johan Söder

Following the Swedish tradition of watching Donald Duck on Christmas Eve, the Museum will bring back “It’s Just Ducky” in time for Christmas. The annual viewing of “Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul” among Swedes on Dec. 24 is a charming, unique holiday tradition that stops nearly half of the population in its tracks. That day’s activities are relegated to three time slots: pre, during, and post-“Kalle Anka.” This exhibit will delve into the history of this nearly 60-year tradition, and shed light on the show’s longevity, the show’s hosts, and even Swedish public television. Featuring personal quotes from SVT1 employees, cultural heritage historians, the hosts, and Swedish viewers themselves, the exhibit is a fun and enlightening examination into the surprising pathways where American and Swedish cultures intersect and influence each other.


Textile Bonader

Exhibit opening, Friday, Jan. 25, 10 a.m.
Exhibit closing, Sunday, March 24, 4 p.m.

Embroidered and woven bonader became very popular at the turn of the century thanks to mail-order catalogues and pattern magazines. In the beginning they were mostly found at the homes of the upper class, but as the practice spread it became more popular with farmers and workers. In these homes the bonader got center stage since paintings were unaffordable.