40th Anniversary Celebrations

Kurt Mathiasson

Kurt Mathiasson, founder of the Swedish American Museum

2016 is an exciting year for the Museum as we celebrate our 40th anniversary, as well as Brunk’s 15 fantastic years. What started out as a small storefront log cabin in 1976, has evolved into the renowned Chicago landmark that it is today thanks to the dedication and support of our leaders, both past and present. Founded by Kurt Mathiasson, the Swedish immigrant affectionately known as the “Mayor of Andersonville,” the Museum’s first location served as a modest symbol of Swedish-American culture and heritage in Chicago. While humble in size, Mathiasson’s cabin was still able to garner the attention of his majesty Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Sweden, who was present for the Museum’s opening day during the U.S. Bicentennial Year.

As the Museum grew and increased in support and popularity, we moved to our current location in 1987, the former site of Lind Hardware. Once again, the King of Sweden returned to celebrate a new beginning with the Queen by his side. Building on that excitement, Mayor Eugene Sawyer was inspired to declare 1988 the “Year of New Sweden” and the city of Chicago donated $40,000 to the Museum.

In the late 1990s, the Museum underwent renovations adding new gallery space and the “Dream of America” exhibit. This exhibit was made possible by the generous donations of the Nordiska Museet in Stockholm, Sweden. Renovation continued in the early 2000s when the grand staircase was added, providing direct access to the second floor exhibit. We then opened our doors to the nation’s first children’s immigration museum–the Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration.

In 2006, we celebrated 30 years with the “A New Face in Andersonville” campaign, which brought about a modernized front façade and signage, as well as the Kerstin Andersson Museum Store and the remodeled Barbro Osher Lobby. Seven years later, our Buzz Aldrin exhibit became a permanent addition to the Children’s Museum and we acquired a dedicated parking lot thanks to the Nelson Funeral Home.

Today, as we are inspired by our early leaders to continue our mission into the future, we are embracing fresh opportunities for growth that enable us to better connect with new generations. With the one million dollars we hope to raise with our 40th Anniversary Campaign, we plan to give visitors a deeper understanding and appreciation for the ongoing immigration story. We will continue to build the Museum’s reputation as a premier destination for Swedish art, history and culture through interactive exhibits, digital storytelling, and an improved Genealogy Center.

Our plans include increasing opportunities for involvement for students, young adults and families, through modernized classroom areas and technology updates. We also intend to expand the Kerstin Andersson Museum Store and open an adjacent Swedish café that will help preserve Swedish heritage in Andersonville.

We ask you to join us in realizing this vision that will serve our community well into the next 40 years. We invite you to commemorate 2016 with our 40 and 15-year birthday celebrations, the arrival of the new Andersonville Water Tower replica, and the launch of our 40th Anniversary Campaign.

– Allison Deerr, Fundraising Coordinator