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

First Look: Still Life
by Karin Broos

Exhibit opening, Friday, July 6, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Start with Art, Friday, Aug. 3, 9 a.m. – noon
Family Night, Friday, Aug. 3, 4 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Exhibit closing, Sunday, Sept. 23, 4 p.m.

Karin Broos is one of the most acclaimed Swedish artists of our time. Her photo-realistic work seemingly mundane motives express ambiguous meanings and universal feelings of melancholy and sadness. Broos gains inspiration from within her home and family, as well as for the nature and landscape of Värmland, where she resides. Karin Broos ‘Still Life’ include paintings from 2011 until today, many of which are new to the public.

Special Exhibits in the Raoul Wallenberg Gallery


Modern Antiquity – The photographs of Charles Erik Spaak

Exhibit opening, Friday, Aug. 3, 11 a.m.
Exhibit reception, Friday, Aug. 10, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Exhibit closing, Sunday, Oct. 28, 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.