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Chicago History Museum presents exhibition dedicated to city’s Polish community

Chicago History Museum inaugurated an exhibition dedicated to the history of the city’s Polish-American community dating back to the mid-19th century on Saturday, May 20. “Back Home: Polish Chicago” presents a collection of artifacts, documents and over 100 photographs.

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“Through the lens of Chicago’s Polish communities, experience the journeys immigrants have taken to get to the city, the ways they have established themselves in its neighborhoods, and the duality of feeling a deep connection to two places at once,” reads the description in the website of the Chicago History Museum.

Today's the day—"Back Home: Polish Chicago" is officially open!🎉 Through the lens of Chicago’s Polish communities, learn about immigrants' journeys, how they made a home here, & the duality of feeling a deep connection to two places at once. #BackHomeCHM

— ChicagoHistoryMuseum (@ChicagoMuseum) May 20, 2023

The exhibits have been loaned to the museum by families of Polish Chicagoans as well as Polish organizations. As the exhibition’s main curator, Peter Alter, said, the Museum collaborated closely with the donors to accurately represent the history of their ancestors.

As he explained, the goal of the Chicago History Museum is to bring together the various communities who call the Windy City their home.

Among the institutions that have donated or loaned the exhibits are Polish parishes, the Polish American Congress, the Alliance of Polish Clubs, Rzepicha Theater, Dwell Studio, and scouting organizations.

The Museum has collected over 90 artifacts and documents as well as more than 100 photographs that illustrate the vibrant life of the city’s Polish community from the mid-19th until the present day. The exhibition relates personal narratives, and presents the community’s music and its involvement in the life of Chicago. It also includes artistic installations by five local Polish-American artists.

Posters, theatrical costumes, Polish Highlander folk attire, U.S. naturalization papers, a wedding dress are just some of the items on display. It also tells the story of prominent community members, such as Dan Rostenkowski and Roman Pucinski, who served as Representatives for Chicago to the U.S. Congress, as well as those of religious communities and the labor movement.

CHM senior conservator Holly Lundberg & mount maker Michael Hall carefully assess a Polish Highlander jacket in the CHM conservation lab. Take a close look at this jacket & so much more when "Back Home: Polish Chicago" opens on Sat., 5/20. #BackHomeCHM

— ChicagoHistoryMuseum (@ChicagoMuseum) May 11, 2023

“This is the first such exhibition presenting more than 150 years of the Polish diaspora in such an important museum. It is located in the very center of Chicago and that makes us very proud and happy,” said Dr. Małgorzata Ptaszyńska-Kulujian, who volunteered to support the museum stuff in preparing the exhibition.

History of Chicago specialists, such as Dominic Pacyga, Joanna Wojdon, and Rebekah Coffman have also lent their expertise.

The exhibition was organised in collaboration with the Warsaw-based Polish History Museum, the Chicago’s Polish Museum of America, and the Polish Studies program at the Loyola University Chicago. It has also received funding from the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.

It will remain open until June 1, 2024, after which it will travel to Warsaw.

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