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Serbian American Museum St. Sava

Posted under Stories by Peter T. Alter

DePaul University students Jeff Buchbinder, Haley McAlpine, Caelin Niehoff, Sam Toninato, and Wynn VanHaren met with Vesna Noble of the Serbian American Museum St. Sava in Chicago for this entry in the Museum’s People and Places series. They were students of the Museum’s archivist, Peter T. Alter, as part of DePaul’s public history program.

The Serbian American Museum St. Sava (SAMS) is in a quiet residential neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side. The museum’s home is literally a home—a house built in 1905. Its location and physical space reflect the intimacy of Chicago’s Serbian American community. “When I first walked in here, I just loved the building,” Vesna Noble remarked. As an organizer and influential member of SAMS, she shared with us the museum’s history and Serbian culture.

Serbian American Museum St. Sava, 448 West Barry Avenue. Photographs by DePaul students

While some rooms on the museum’s second floor serve as living quarters for Serbian visitors and dignitaries, several other rooms now house exhibitions. The display cases feature Serbian garments, immigration items, religious artifacts, and objects pertaining to inventor Nikola Tesla. One gallery features Serbian athletes, such as former NBA player Vlade Divac and tennis star Novak Djoković. Vesna and other volunteers work with institutions and individuals to borrow and acquire artifacts, posters, and documents for SAMS.

A display of Serbian cultural artifacts.

This organization was named for St. Sava, the twelfth and thirteenth–century Serbian prince who became a monk and founded the Serbian Orthodox Church. SAMS was not always a museum—Serbian immigrants founded it as the Serbian Cultural Club St. Sava in 1952. Vesna described its early decades as a meeting place for Serbian intellectuals.

Curator and secretary Vesna Noble by the museum’s fireplace with a portrait of St. Sava.

In the early 2000s, the organization grew from a private club into a cultural center and finally into a museum. “Becoming a museum,” Vesna explained, “was a change that this place needed, and we believed a lot more people would be interested in helping at an institution like this.” The museum preserves and nourishes Serbian and Serbian American culture. Its leaders, like Vesna, also hope to create an awareness of Chicago’s Serbian community among non-Serbs.

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