Founded in 1966 in Chicago, Illinois, the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture 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 Collections
The Balzekas Museum is the largest repository of Lithuanian cultural artifacts outside of Lithuania. Current exhibitions include “No Home To Go To: The Story of Baltic Displaced Persons, 1944-1952” “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 South Archer Avenue, next to the former site of 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 and support of members and donors, 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 in to 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 3,000 active members.
Where is the Museum located, and how do I get there?
The Museum is located in the West Lawn neighborhood of Chicago, 1.6 miles southeast of Midway Airport and approximately 20 miles southwest of downtown. It is accessible by public transportation and car. See directions to the Museum.
How can I contact the Museum?
Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture
6500 South Pulaski Road
Chicago, IL 60629
When was the Museum founded?
The Balzekas Museum was founded in Chicago in 1966 to preserve and perpetuate Lithuanian culture in America. The Museum celebrates the notable achievements of Lithuanian Americans, the Lithuanian nation, and Lithuanian communities worldwide.
Can anyone sign books out from the Balzekas Museum library?
The library is not open to the general public and does not lend books. If you are interested in accessing the library’s resources, please call the Museum to make an appointment with the Librarian.
Can anyone come to the Museum to search for obituaries or other files in the genealogy archives?
Museum Genealogy-level members may only access archives at the discretion of the Genealogy Department and only on scheduled and prearranged visits. We suggest calling the Museum to make an appointment to schedule a consultation. Our knowledgeable representatives are eager to help you find what you are looking for.
What exhibits does the Museum have?
The Museum’s diverse temporary exhibitions complement the extensive permanent collection. The main exhibit, “Lithuania through the Ages”, presents artifacts from pre-history to present day Lithuania. The Women’s Guild Room displays Lithuanian folk art, jewelry, Easter eggs, and traditional costumes and textiles. The “War After War” exhibition describes the struggle of the Lithuanian Partisans, also known as the “Forest Brothers”, who fought the Soviet occupation of Lithuania after the end of World War II. Our newest permanent exhibit, the “Chronicle of Violence”, features photographs, documents and historical information in English and Lithuanian about the history of Soviet deportations from Lithuania during and after World War II. This exhibit and “War after War” were prepared by the Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius, Lithuania, and are an excellent resource for educators teaching 20th century European and/or Lithuanian history, World War II, and/or Soviet history. The history of World War II refugee experiences and resettlement is told through the exhibition “No Home To Go To: The Story of Baltic Displaced Persons, 1944-1952”. This exhibition, which is concurrently on tour throughout North America, is indefinitely on view in the Museum’s third floor Art Gallery. The Children’s Museum offers a hands-on opportunity for visitors who are young in age, or young-at-heart, to explore a traditional Lithuanian homestead as well as a Medieval castle.
What does the Museum offer children?
The Children’s Museum of the Balzekas Museum, offers hands-on exhibits and experiences for children of all ages. The Passport to Lithuania section includes an interactive miniature homestead, including a replica of a Lithuanian thatch-roofed farmhouse, traditional Lithuanian utensils, tools, instruments, and folk art objects. Children are encouraged to handle these items and experience day-to-day life in historic Lithuania. To go further back in time, children can cross a drawbridge to enter Castle Quest, an exploration of medieval pageantry. Here children can design their own coat of arms, dress up for castle life, put together a realistic knight’s armor jigsaw puzzle, or pose for a photograph by peeking out from behind a Lithuanian mural. Children enjoy touring the rest of the Museum to see prehistoric artifacts, a decorated Christmas tree featuring traditional straw ornaments, and the medieval armor exhibited in the Lithuania Through the Ages main exhibit, as well as the folk arts, Easter eggs, and dolls in the Women’s Guild Room. Each visit begins in the Ed Mankus Audio-Visual Room with a film about Lithuania, which sets the stage for the rest of the tour.
Does the Museum have artifacts dating before 1795? How old are the Museum’s artifacts?
The Museum’s collections have a wide range of items which span Lithuania’s history, including the period before 1795, when the Grand Duchy of Lithuanian was subsumed into the Russian empire. The Museum’s main exhibit, Lithuania Through the Ages, houses the Museum’s oldest artifacts: prehistoric items used by the first inhabitants of what is today considered Lithuania. The Museum also has a collection of rare, antique Lithuanian books, medieval armor, coins, and maps. The period of Lithuania’s independence between World War I and World War II is also represented. The Soviet occupation of Lithuania from the end of the Second World War II to 1990, including the War after War, the Lithuanian Partisan movement, and the subsequent rebirth of Lithuanian nation are also featured. An important aspect of the Museum is the history of Lithuanian immigration to the United States and the contributions Lithuanian’s have made for themselves here and in other countries around the world.
Is Stanley Balzekas, Jr., the Museum’s owner?
Stanley Balzekas is the Museum’s founder and President. The Museum is a registered Illinois non-profit 501(c)(3) organization supported through the generous contributions of its donors and members. Mr. Balzekas, the Museum’s staff and the Board of Directors oversee the administration and day-to-day operations of the Museum.
What should I see when I visit Lithuania?
The Balzekas Museum Tours to Lithuania visit the most popular cities and landmarks. (See a tour itinerary, for suggested sites.) The capitol of Lithuania, Vilnius, is an important stop on any tour of country. The Museum online Gift Shop sells several good guide books about Vilnius.
Where can I find Lithuanians in Chicago?
Chicago is home to the largest Lithuanian population outside of Lithuania. Today, the largest Lithuanian center is in the Chicagoland area is in the southwestern suburb of Lemont, Illinois, the location of the Lithuanian World Center/Pasaulio Lietuvių Centras. However, Lithuanians live all over the Chicago area, including the Beverly Shores region of Northeastern Indiana and the Racine area of Southeastern Wisconsin.
Do Lithuanians still live in the Marquette Park neighborhood?
There are still some Lithuanian residents in the Marquette Park area. However, all of the Lithuanian stores and restaurants have closed. The community is still worth a visit, nevertheless. Landmarks such as Nativity Blessed Virgin Mary church, which still holds masses in Lithuanian, and the Sisters of St. Kazimir are located there. Just north, off of Western Avenue, is the Lithuanian Youth Center, which is home to the Jesuit Fathers, the Lithuanian Research and Studies Center, a Lithuanian heritage Saturday school, and an Art Gallery. A visit to the area should include a stop at the Art Deco Darius and Girėnas commemorative monument at the northeast corner of Marquette Park, at S. California Avenue and 67th Street.
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