You've probably passed by the Polish Museum hundreds of times when driving on the Kennedy east into the city. Unless you're Polish, you've probably never felt a reason to stop. But since Chicago holds the largest Polish community outside of Warsaw, a little education on the culture couldn't hurt.
Unlike other museums with scores of children oohing and aahing, the Polish Museum typically remains low-key, except during peak times like Casimir Pulaski Day and during Polish Heritage Month in October. Most days, upon entering the four-story building, you might feel like you're intruding. Follow the stairs to the second floor and hang a quick left; the library-looking office to the right is actually the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America. Wait by the doors for the faint buzz that allows you to enter.
Inside, a stairwell full of charcoal-drawn ads used to recruit Polish soldiers during WWI commences your experience. You'll climb these stairs and witness oil portraits of frozen faces, unsure eyes and pursed lips. The third floor offers a number of galleries and rooms. The Maritime room, for example, demonstrates Poland's fascination with the sea, dedicating much of this space to novelist Joseph Conrad and all his voyages. Spin the globe resting atop a glass case and rest your finger on since-renamed nations like Ceylon, Palestine or Siam.
The auditorium offers additional surprises, like a gallery dedicated to Pope John Paul II and another of mannequins dressed in traditional folk clothing rich in color and intricate in design. Room dividers showcase photos submitted into the Polish College Student Photography Contest. The winner usually gets honored before a grand audience.
The remainder of the museum houses landscape paintings with scenes of churches in the distance, a snowed-in countryside, mountain valleys, blank farmlands and bustling cities. The tour ends in the gift shop where painted wooden eggs, dolls and jewelry are sold. Requested donations are $3 for children 12 or younger, $4 for seniors and students and $5 for adults.
Centerstage Reviewer: David-Anthony Gonzalez