The Swedish American Museum in Chicago.
In 1976 Kurt Mathiasson founded a small museum in a storefront log cabin, in which family histories were collected. A decade later the Swedish American Museum Center opened
A decade later the Swedish American Museum Center opened at its current location. With a mission to preserve and present the Swedish American heritage in the U.S, the Swedish American Museum Center offers a multitude of programs as well as the interactive Children’s Museum of Immigration. The first smaller museum had some 2,500 visitors. Today the museum has 43,000 visitors a year (2008) and is an important component in the Swedish Anderssonville community, on the north-side of Chicago.
“We have 1500 memberships and 2000 members,” says Karin Moen Abercrombie, Executive Director. “Most of our visitors are 2nd and 3rd generation Swedes. Most people come to our permanent exhibition to learn about the Swedish immigration to the U.S. or they come to our arts exhibitions, which change four times a year. Then of course, families come to our Children’s Museum. I think the museum’s holiday celebrations are important to many and help keep the Swedish traditions alive – Midsummer, Lucia, and Christmas. We are also the ‘anchor’ for Swedes and Swedish-Americans here in Andersonville.”
Meeting place with traditions
Solveig Mathiasson, widow of Curt Mathiasson, says the museum has changed for the better lately. “Although many people keep coming back,” she says, “there’s a lot of new visitors, too, especially families. The museum is an important meeting place for Swedes, a meeting place with traditions.”
Read about the start in the words of the first and founding Executive Director: Kerstin Lane, creator, founder, visionary
Kerstin Nicholson, [former] Chair of the Board of Directors, has been involved “one way or the other” since the start more than 30 years ago. “My favorite moment is our fundraising ball in the new location, when we were all wearing hardhats because it was still a construction site!”
Treasurer Joan Papadopoulos says people nowadays come from all over the U.S. to the museum. “They hear about it and read about it; it’s definitely on the tourist track. We’ve worked hard to make it interesting to non-Swedes, by embracing other immigrant groups. The immigrant story is pretty universal.”
Board member Karen Lindblad got involved because the museum was just a few blocks away from her home. “I asked if there was something I could do, I thought the programs were interesting and the people wonderful. The museum promotes cultural awareness for Swedes, but also addresses the need for bridging different cultures.”