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Swedish American Museum: From Knitting To Nyckelharpas

By Laura M. Browning in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 20, 2010 10:20PM

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Andersonville's Swedish American Museum. Photo by Laura M. Browning.
We love a good cultural experience here at Chicagoist, but, like you, don't always want to pay out the nose for it. Good news: for a measly four bucks, you can meander through the Swedish American Museum in Andersonville, which contains rotating art exhibits and a permanent exhibition on Swedish immigration to Chicago.

The subject of the current art exhibition is, we kid you not, Swedish cows. Though we could've lived without the ambient mooing, the unpretentious gallery was a nice place to get a taste of contemporary Swedish art. The gallery showcased two contemporary artists, Pia Sjölin and Patrik Gunnar Helin, under the title "Swedish Cows: Slow Art, An Audiovisual Journey in Stillness." Sjölin's cow-spotted glass art and Helin's ersatz Warhols are all available for sale.

If you're a Chicagoan of Swedish descent, you're in good company---literary luminaries like Carl Sandberg and Nelson Algren boasted Swedish ancestry, as did Charles R. Walgreen, founder of the eponymous drugstore chain. And if the only thing you know about Sweden is glögg, maybe it's time to brush up on your history, since Swedes formed an important immigrant group to the city you now call home. In fact, by 1900, Chicago had the largest Swedish population outside the country itself.

The Swedish American Museum has collected hundreds of artifacts detailing the journey to America, as well as Swedish life in Chicago, in their permanent exhibit, "The Dream of America: Swedish Immigration to Chicago." The labels are occasionally text-heavy, but you can still get a strong sense of the narrative through the wide variety of objects---we loved the floor-to-ceiling bookshelf packed with enormous family Bibles and the turn-of-the-century medical equipment from an early Swedish hospital. There's also an exquisite nyckelharpa, a keyed string instrument that looks a bit like a viola. If you have history buffs in the family, this is definitely the place to take them during their next visit.

We were pleasantly surprised to learn how many programs the Swedish American Museum offers. Whether you have kids, want to learn Swedish, or want to brush up on your knitting, the Swedish American Museum has you covered.

Swedish American Museum, 5211 N. Clark Street. Admission is $4. Free admission is offered on the second Tuesday of every month.