Friday, August 9, 2013

Day 14: Farväl

The Pioneers' Crafts 
Today was the last day of Pioneer the World Camp at the Swedish American Museum. The children have been learning about different customs, new dances, and fun crafts from around the world.
The mood was celebratory, a fine end to a fine session. It was my last day too. I was rushing to finish my Swedish sites project before I ended for the summer. Using the museum's database, I was able to find a number of pictures of sites that were long gone or that I wasn't able to visit. I put on my trusty cotton muslin gloves and scanned the photos at 600 pixels. I was relieved to find two beautiful photographs of the Salem Lutheran Church, one exterior and one interior
(I will add these to the entries on Swedish-American churches). I was able to obtain a number of lovely photos from a brochure on the Swedish Club. Looking through booklet, I was amazed at how many services the Club offered. There were bars, dining areas, a restaurant, administrative rooms, a music room, and lovely lounging areas. It is a shame the organization no longer exists.
The format of my project is as follows: a photo or several photos of the landmark, followed by its title and location, then a short description. All this must fit on a word document, because they will be printed, put in plastic sleeves, and placed in a binder that will be on display in the museum. The file will also be sent to Riksföreningen Sverigekontakt, or the National Society of Sweden Contact. Their website,, lists the various Swedish landmarks around the world. The museum has access to the rest of the photos if they wished to send in larger versions. With that, I ended my summer internship. The time I spent at the Swedish American Museum gave me a better perspective on educating the public with pieces of history. I will definitely be back to visit or volunteer at the museum. 

Day 13: The Cage

Last Friday, our curator Veronica was kind enough to take me on a tour of the Cage, an area in the center of the museum's basement that is gated off. Honestly, this was the highlight of my internship. Inside, there were several desks, filing cabinets, and humidifiers. Along the sides were rows of shelved cases that were covered in plastic sheets to protect the artifacts inside. Veronica and I had a very interesting talk on the ethical debate pertaining to the preservation of artifacts. There are many preservationists who believe exposure in museums have a negative effect on artifacts, and that their preservation outweighs the public's need to see them. Others believe that the museum has an obligation to show these artifacts to the public for the sake of knowledge. Balancing the two is a difficult task, and one that curators have to deal with daily. We also discussed the best ways to preserve artifacts while they're in storage. I have to say, it's made me rethink the way I store things in my crawlspace. The plastic sheets that cover the shelves protect them from dust or any potential water catastrophes. For the more delicate items, such as wedding or confirmation dresses, acid-free boxes are essential. For the more durable items, acid-free tissue in a standard box is acceptable. Clothes that are hanging should have cotton padding on the hangers and covered completely in muslin. Cotton muslin is a delicate fabric that doesn't have any harsh chemicals, and is therefore used often when dealing with artifacts. Banners are rolled and placed in a cotton muslin bag; the white gloves used when handling the artifacts are made of it. The tour definitely increased my fascination with preservation.
Back in the office, I read the transcripts from the interview with the owners of the Swedish Bakery. I outlined a rough map of the places the named. When I look at photos in the archives, I will be able to confirm these locations visually.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Day 12: D is for Donation

I'm very proud.
Last weekend was Andersonville's annual Sidewalk Sale, when shops up and down Clark Street dust off their old wares and sell them for a fraction of the price. I happily agreed to assist with the costume jewelry table. The Swedish American Museum had a large quantity of donated costume jewelry that weren't sold last year, which I marked down and placed in what I hoped was an aesthetically pleasing manner. Some were even packaged in old Marshall Field's boxes, to which a volunteer at the museum joked were heirlooms on their own. All fine jewelry (silver, gold, any precious stones) were reserved for the Tantalizing Treasure Sale, an annual benefit that where precious donated items were sold. The Treasure Sale included donated works of art, fine antiques, etc. I learned that in order to maintain a non-profit organization, the museum held certain events such as these. I'm not complaining. I had a lot fun setting up and getting to know the patrons. The sale drew in a lot of traffic; many of the visitors had never been to the Swedish American Museum before. After purchasing their items, many of them took a tour of the exhibits.
When I was done setting up, I headed back to the office to continue working on my Swedish Sites Project. As I was, I passed by Veronica, our curator. She was inspecting late 19th century dresses that an elderly member had donated to the museum. They were his great-aunt's, and he had generously contributed them, along with several photos. Veronica explained that when someone decides to make a donation, they have two options: 1) donate the items and leave them completely at the museum's disposal or 2) donate the items and have the museum return any they might not place in an exhibit. If a museum does not need certain items, it is plausible to transfer them to other museums. The second option, therefore is for individuals who would prefer to know the location of their heirlooms. The man who donated his great-aunt's items chose this option. I could understand this. If I have a special connection to the Swedish American Museum, or if I live near it, I could visit my relative's personal items and take pride that they are on display. Others, however, are happy to share their ancestors' legacy wherever they may end up. Or they just want to clean their crawlspace.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Day 11: Having My Cake and Eating It Too

Last Thursday, I accompanied my co-intern Kate to the Swedish Bakery to conduct an interview. Kate had scheduled an appointment at 12 PM with the owner, Marlies Stanton. We were escorted to the kitchen by her daughter, Kathy, who was very helpful and hospitable. The museum leant us an iPad with a recording device that could easily transfer our interview to a computer. Since Kate is working on the oral history project, her questions are more about Marlies's life and her experiences in Andersonville. Marlies had worked for the previous owner, Gosta Bjuhr, from 1971 to 1979. When he retired, she took over and slowly recruited her family members, officially making the Swedish Bakery a family business.
They expanded the bakery greatly, tripling its size and increasing its staff. Although Marlies is German, she has upheld many of the traditional Swedish pastries, namely Princess Cake and Swedish Fruit Cake. In addition, the Swedish Bakery has coffee cake, breads, spritzes, and dommars. I was fortunate that Marlies and her employees have lived in the Andersonville area for many years, and were able to recall many of the establishments that are now gone. They were able to assist each other in identifying and confirming past businesses. What interested me most about the interview was a particular cigar shop that everybody remembered, but no one could remember what it was called or who the owners were, despite associating with them for many years.
As part of the oral history project, Kate will transcribe our interview, which will allow me to map out the places they recounted. Fortunately, they recalled the places by remembering which order they were in. It was a pleasure meeting with the owners of the Swedish Bakery, a business that maintains a family atmosphere and excellent quality desserts. On our way out, Kathy was kind enough to give us "goody-bags" as a memento of our visit.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Day 10: Talking Shop

Today, I worked in a part of the museum that many can't resist drifting into: the gift shop. I was surrounded by an assortment of interesting items that ranged from novelties to children's books to kitchenware. Working in the gift shop also allows you to interact with patrons in a different way from the rest of the museum. Usually, they are buying souvenirs; however, the rarity of these items draws many local residents regularly. One customer bought a large number of Läkerol, a Swedish brand of licorice candies, to take to her mother in California. "They help sooth her more than any cough drops or syrup. You can't find these anywhere.
Many of the products attested to the practical and simplistic beauty of Scandinavian art. A bobèche is a glass ring at the end of a candle that is used to catch the wax as it falls. My personal favorite product, however, is the Gastromax potato and vegetable slicer, proudly made in Sweden.
These products were interesting, and certainly different, but the store was not short on fascinating history-related items. Take the runes pendants, for example. According to the card that accompanied them, the Nordic tribes of northern Europe conceived of these symbols in 200 B.C. to represent the forces of nature. Picking the right rune enabled the wearer to harness the power that the rune represented. The rune in the picture is feoh, the rune of success. This is to be used if something you desire is within your grasp.

Also on display are products boasting the talent of artist Carl Larsson, a renowned Swedish painter from the Arts and Crafts Movement in the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. The Arts and Crafts Movement emphasized simplistic art, calling back to pre-industrial days. One of Larsson's most famous pieces is "Breakfast Under the Birch Tree (1886)," which includes charming, natural details, such as the two wine bottles under the tree and the initials carved into it.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Day 9: The Sami

The new art exhibit at the Swedish American Museum is about the Sami, a peaceful indigenous people from northern Scandinavia. The artist is Danish-American photographer Birgitte Aarestrup, who spent a significant amount of time in Sapmi, the Sami region which spans across northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and parts of Russia. In addition to the photographs, Sami artifacts and handiwork, known as duodji, were on display. I had the privilege of assisting before the opening, both with the art and the Sami artifacts. The descriptions were already printed, I only had to pair them with their object.

The artifact I found most fascinating was a needle case made out of reindeer horn. Needles are apparently very useful in Sami life, so much so that the case hangs from a person's belt. One of the leather pouches had a flap that held needles as well. 

For the photographs, a fellow intern and I measured and numbered them, then used a key to determine their prices. That way the patron only needs to say the number he or she wishes to enquire its price or purchase the piece. We had to be a bit resourceful when describing them, for the artist gave us no information as to their titles. We went through the photo book with her pieces in it and recorded the captions under the photos. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Day 8: Church History Part II

Another Christian sect Swedish-Americans found interest in were Baptist Churches. There are two Swedish Baptist churches that were established in Chicago whose buildings exist today: Edgewater Swedish Baptist Church and First Swedish Baptist Church. As is the case with many Swedish churches in Chicago, the parishioners of Swedish descent moved out to the suburbs. These churches also started conducting their services in English to accommodate for the diversity of their new members. Edgewater Baptist dropped "Swedish" from their name in 1940, and have Spanish and Korean congregations. As I was taking a picture of the First Swedish Baptist Church, a member of the congregation approached me and gave me some background on the church that I couldn't find in my research. The First Swedish Baptist Church was established in 1854, but this church was built in 1911. At some point, the First Swedish Baptist Church became Wrigleyville Worship Center, then Christ's Church. Today, the building is owned by MissioDei, a non-denominational Evangelical community.


The Swedish Covenant Church was founded by the Swedish Evangelical Mission Covenant of America (now ECC). The organization was founded on February 20, 1885 by Swedish immigrants in Chicago. The Edgewater Swedish Covenant Church dates back to 1909; today, it is known as Iglesia del Pacto Belen Covenant Church. Englewood Swedish Covenant Church is now the Rust Memorial United Methodist Church, but the stained glass over two doors still reads “Svenska Missions Kyrkan.”

Englewood Swedish Covenant Church, now the Rust Memorial United Methodist Church

The St. Ansgarius Episcopal Church is the oldest remaining Swedish Church building and one of the oldest churches in Chicago. The first church built was located at Indiana (today Grand) near Wells St., but was  destroyed in the great Chicago fire of 1871. The first pastor was Gustaf  Unonius (1810-1902), a prominent Swedish religious figure. He returned to Sweden nine years later after dispute with newer immigrant Scandinavian Lutherans. The second church was erected in 1872 on Chicago Avenue, but was razed in 1920 after also burning. The current church was built farther north in 1849, but changed its name in 1940s to St. Francis. The last congregation to utilize this church was Cristo Rey Iglesia Episcopal Church. At present, the church is closed and for sale. The Inscription over the main door reads “Jenny Lind Memorial Chapel." Jenny Lind was a famous Swedish opera singer, called the Swedish Nightingale, who donated a priceless communion silver chalice and paten to the church in 1851. When the great fire broke out in 1871 the silver was saved by an old Swedish woman. She hurried inside the burning church, brought out the silver, placed it in a buggy, which she then drove to the prairie outside the city limits, and kept it there until danger was past. The silver must always be kept in this church according to a letter, written in 1851 by the donor herself. Today, however, the only remaining items are the communion chalice and paten, which are kept at the Episcopal Church Center