About the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture
Founded in 1966 in Chicago, Illinois, the Balzekas Museum is dedicated to the preservation and perpetuation of Lithuanian culture. The Museum celebrates the notable achievements of Lithuanian Americans, the Lithuanian nation, and Lithuanian communities world wide. The Balzekas Museum is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.
The Museum’s Resources
The Balzekas Museum is the largest repository of Lithuanian cultural artifacts outside of Lithuania. Permanent exhibitions include "Lithuania Through the Ages"; "Honored Lithuanians", "War After War", and the Women's Guild Room, which showcases a collection of Lithuanian folk arts: amber, textiles, Easter eggs, dolls, and traditional Lithuanian costumes. The Children's Museum of Immigrant History is a popular destination for the Museum's youngest visitors. Replicas of a medieval castle and Lithuanian farmhouse are the main features of this interactive space. The Museum's departments include Humanities, Genealogy, Fine Arts, Numismatics, Philatelics, and the Library and Research-Resource Center. Department programs highlight respective areas of interest. Maps chronicling Lithuania's dramatic history comprise the Irene Balzekas Memorial Map Collection. Events, such as concerts, workshops and social gatherings, are held in the Amber Ballroom and third floor Art Gallery, which is also the location of the museum's larger temporary exhibitions. The Ed Mankus Audio/Visual Room, named for its founder--the late photographer Ed Mankus--is used for film screening, lectures, and photography exhibitions. The Museum organizes many outreach programs for area schools and educators, who rely on the Museum's resources to supplement and enrich multiple subjects from medieval history to immigration. Popular tours to Lithuania are conducted biannually.
History of the Balzekas Museum
The Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian culture was founded in 1966 by Stanley Balzekas, Jr., in a two-flat building at 4012 S. Archer Avenue, next to the Balzekas Motor Sales automobile dealership in Chicago's Brighton Park neighborhood. The basis for the Museum's collection was the Balzekas family's collection of rare maps, armor, and art. Other major gifts and purchases followed. With the help of an active core of volunteers, the museum's collections, exhibitions and programs developed.
The Museum moved to its present location, at 6500 South Pulaski Road in 1986. After extensive remodeling, the former Von Solbrig Hospital building was turned into a modern museum with a permanent exhibition hall, art galleries, a library, a children's museum, a ballroom, a theater, workshops, and offices. The Museum has approximately 2,700 active members. Frequently Asked Questions about the Museum ...
The Museum mission is to educate others about Lithuania, its history, people and culture.
Lithuanian Christmas ornaments on display around Chicago
Left Photo: Balzekas Museum volunteer Mary Krauchunas poses with an official next to the Lithuanian Christmas tree she helped decorate at Navy Pier's "Winter Wonderfest". Right Photo: Mary Krauchunas puts the finishing touches on a Lithuanian tree at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Photos by Rita Janz.
Since it was established in 1966, Balzekas Museum volunteers and staff have painstakingly decorated Christmas trees with traditional straw ornaments at the Museum and at other Chicago landmarks. The trees showcase Lithuanian holiday traditions and folk-arts to the general public. For several years, two dedicated individuals have devoted considerable time and effort to ensure Lithuanian trees are on display at Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports and Navy Pier: Women's Guild Director, Museum volunteer extraordinaire, and the 2005 Award of Excellence recipient, Mary Krauchunas, and the Museum's Program Director, Rita Janz. Through their efforts, Lithuanian Christmas ornaments will be seen and admired by thousands of visitors to these popular city sites.
Straw Ornament Making Workshop Highlights
Participants at the Nov. 17, 2012, Straw Ornament Workshop at the Museum
Museum straw ornament making workshops continue to attract a large number of participants. Assembling and threading the intricate designs is a hands-on lesson in artistry and geometry that can be appealing and challenging to children and adults alike. Read more about our folk-arts workshops here>>>
Promoting the study and appreciation of America's diverse ethnic cultural heritage, seeking to foster greater understanding among all people, the Museum works cooperatively with numerous ethnic groups; cultural, arts and educational organizations; museum; fraternal orders; religious entities; and governmental institutions. Since its inception, the Museum has initiated and participated in cross-cultural programs exploring similarities and differences among cultures. In recent years, the Museum has been an active participant in the Chicago Field Museum's Cultural Connections program, which brings together diverse ethnic and cultural institutions city wide, in collaborative educational presentations and programs. In 2005, the Museum hosted a Cultural Connections program in conjunction with the Korean American Cultural and Resource Center. Dressed for the Part highlighted notions of beauty and dress in both Korean and Lithuanian communities and factors which influence the aesthetics of attire, such as tradition, family, and immigration.
"Talking About ..."
The Museum is also an active member of Chicago's Cultural Alliance and 2010-11, participated in several "Talking About ..." dialogues with other cultural institutions including Chicago's American Indian Center, Arab American Action Network, and the Chicago Japanese American Historical Society. Using a Civic Reflections model, participants at these events relied on short readings from poetry or fiction, and artifacts such as photographs to discuss issues such as aging, ethnic identity, sustainability and migration/immigration. Museum staff members were trained to facilitate these discussions.
Affiliations and Memberships
- American Association of Museums
- The Illinois Association of Museums
- The Vilnius-Chicago Sister Cities Program
- The Lithuanian Chamber of Commerce
- Field Museum Cultural Connections Partner
- Chicago Cultural Alliance