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

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.