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 Exhibits in the Main Gallery


Inspired: Contemporary Swedish Folk Paintings and Haiku Paintings by Hans Öhman

Exhibit opening, Friday, Jan. 19, 6 p.m.
Gallery Walk, Saturday, Jan. 20, 11 a.m.
Start with Art, Friday, Feb. 23, 9 a.m. – noon
Family Night, Friday, Feb. 23, 4 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Exhibit closes, Sunday, March 18, 4 p.m.

Hans Öhman is an artist living in Värmland, Sweden. When he was 23 years old, Hans started to search for the true meaning and purpose of his life, a search that lead him to the Baha’i Faith. Hans used art as a means in the process and realized that he had a talent for it. Because art is much encouraged in the Bahá’í Faith it became his calling.

Today Hans and his wife are working to establish an art garden/art center at Norra Mon. A place where people can come to relax and enjoy the garden and café during the summer months or join a course or program. Hans wants to create a place where people can come in search of inner peace and creativity.

The upcoming exhibit is a presentation of two different styles of art. One is decorative and based on an older traditional way of painting furniture and walls. Hans’s grandfather restored paintings in churches and built furniture that were decorated in a regional style. This has inspired Hans to create a style that is more contemporary and free. The other style is philosophical. It is based on the kind of haiku poetry that expresses the span between micro and macro cosmos. These are all watercolor paintings. It is a relatively fast technique and the challenge is to catch the right moment when to add next step in the painting process. Sometimes they challenge him to write a poem.

Special Exhibits in the Raoul Wallenberg Gallery


An Ocean Apart: Swedish Immigrant Letters

Exhibit opening, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 10 a.m.
Exhibit closing, Sunday Feb. 4, 4 p.m.

More than one million Swedes left their homeland between 1850 and 1930. Though these people left their home country behind for opportunities abroad, many continued to keep close ties to their family and friends back in Sweden. Often these ties took the form of personal letters written to and from Sweden between parents, children, friends, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles all separated by an ocean, but still able to share their lives with one another.

Few historical texts are as interesting and compelling as personal letters. They help to show us who these people were and reveal how they shared many of the same kinds of hopes, interests and even humor that we have today. The letters also give us the past from personal and individual points of view, which can be very valuable to researchers. These personal accounts detail the lives of those on both sides of immigration including those who left and those who remained in Sweden. Many of the letters in collection of the Swedish American Museum are written to the immigrants here in the U.S. from friends and family back in Sweden. The letters are a peek into the lives of their writers and receivers from how the crops were doing that year to news about marriages, births and—of course—who else was beginning to feel the pull of “America Fever.”

This exhibition contains a selection of stories pulled from the hundreds of letters in the collections of the Swedish American Museum Association of Chicago. Discover the world of Swedish immigrants to the United States Midwest, as told by those who lived it.

Available Light by Erika Råberg

Exhibit opening, Thursday, Feb. 8, 6 p.m.
Exhibit closing, Sunday, March 29, 4 p.m.

Erika Råberg is a Swedish-American artist working with both still and moving images to explore the intricate relationship between language, image, and sound. At the Swedish American Museum, Råberg will share work made over the course of many years on the farm in rural Värmland, Sweden, that has been in the family since the early 1600s. In one short film, her father and eleven-year-old cousin play variations on a Swedish folk tune as they move about the farmhouse, a call and response between past and present. A newer companion piece explores the fleeting feeling of fall during harvest time. Themes of intimacy and distance, sense of place, and sense of home emerge, with archival material woven into present-day footage.
Recent exhibitions include the Elmhurst Art Museum, ACRE Projects, COLLABO as part of Second Floor Rear, Chicago Artists Coalition, Roman Susan, the InVisible Culture Retrospective at the University of Rochester, and a project in collaboration with Kelly Lloyd for the 2017 Terrain Biennial.

Råberg earned her MFA in Photography from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2015, and was a Research Fellow at the Shapiro Center for Research and Collaboration in 2015-16. Råberg was recently the recipient of a grant from the American-Scandinavian Foundation in New York, and is currently a guest artist in project studies at the Royal Art Academy in Stockholm, Sweden.