The United States was largely influenced by immigration from many regions of Europe in the 19th century. The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library located in Cedar Rapids, IA allows visitors to learn about the history and culture of the Czech and Slovak people, who were a big part of this early immigration initiative. Motivated by a desire to educate the public about their cultural heritage, the National Czech and Slovak Museum was started by a group of Americans descended from Czech immigrants.
These second and third-generation Czechs started by founding the Czech Fine Arts Foundation, though which they were able to collect and display Czech artifacts and give talks and presentations about Czech culture. Just 4 years after starting the foundation, the group opened the Czech Museum in a small three-bedroom home.
As their collection of documents and artifacts grew, the museum moved to a commercial building, where a permanent collection was displayed. In the early 1980s the museum acquired an authentic Czech immigrant home that originated from the last decades of the 19th century. The house was moved onto museum grounds and remains there to this day as one of the museum’s most popular exhibits.
By the early 1990s, it was apparent that the museum was in a dire need of a bigger space due to its growing collections. After gaining official recognition as a museum from the Congressional Record, construction began on a new building to house the museum’s collections.
The presence of Bill Clinton, Vaclav Havel, and Michal Kovac at the museum’s dedication put the institution on the world stage. Thereafter, the museum saw a surge of visitors from all around the world. The turn of the century brought yet another expansion as well as the birth of the museum’s culture and history journal, Slovo.
A devastating flood in 2008 forced the museum to operate from temporary locations. However after much work, the museum was moved to higher ground and expanded once more before reopening again in 2012.
The immigrant home located on the museum grounds was the real life abode of the Sleger family from the 1890s all the way to 1984. The family originally immigrated from Bohemia, as it was then known, to the United States in the late 19th century. The home has been curated to reflect this era in the lives of its inhabitants so that museumgoers can appreciate what life was like for the newly arrived family. This humble one and half story home is filled with period furniture and decorations that reflect the way the newly arrived Bohemians forged ahead while balancing their cultural identity with their newly acquired membership in American culture.
The Spiritual Dimension in Czech Printmaking
Much of central European printmaking has spiritual or religious underpinnings. To help the public become better acquainted with how Czech artists explore these themes, the museum collaborated with the HOLLAR Association of Czech Graphic Artists to showcase their 2012 exhibit titled The Spiritual Dimension in Czech Printmaking. Visitors were able to view 33 works by 11 artists, whose treatment of spirituality ranged from pagan nature-inspired motifs to biblically informed images.
Guts and Glory the War Train that Shaped a Nation
The spring of 2018 will welcome a historically based exhibition to the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library. As 2018 is the centennial celebration of the formation of Czechoslovakia, the museum put together an exhibit centered on Czech and Slovak Legions and their role in WWI. Visitors can experience a virtual reality bakery as well as physical replica of a train car much like the ones that would have been used during WWI. The artifacts on display will accentuate the story of the challenges these brave soldiers faced as they fought for independence and nationhood.
Witness to the Revolution
The late 1980s saw the decline of Communism across Europe, which culminated in multiple region-specific uprisings. The Witness to the Revolution exhibit chronicles how revolutionary ideas affected Czechoslovakia and its people. Told through the eye witness accounts and oral testimonies of people on the ground at the time, the exhibit presents the revolution through the lenses of embassy staff, a student, a professor, and a reporter. The multiplicity of perspectives represented gives visitors a well-rounded view of the events.
The Skala Bartizal Library is intended to be used by both scholars and lay people alike. The library’s collection of genealogical records, recordings, books, and other publications are a great resource that allows visitors to enhance their knowledge about Czech and Slovakian history and customs.
1400 Inspiration Place SW, Cedar Rapids, IA 52404, Phone: 319-362-8500