Earlier this fall, we took a quick trip to Iowa to visit Josh’s family. I had never been to the Midwest at all before this trip, so while we did spend most of the time with his family we did make sure to include some sightseeing, too. On our last day before we flew back to Boston, we decided to stop at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library to check out one of their current exhibits, ‘Crowning Glory: A Feast of Slovak & Moravian Headdresses’ and see the rest of the museum.
The museum is a Smithsonian affiliate that works to preserve and share Czech and Slovak history through their permanent collections and changing exhibitions. If you are unfamiliar with Cedar Rapids, the city is home to a number of Czech and Slovak immigrants (and includes the Czech Village and New Bohemia neighborhoods of Czech shops and restaurants). Josh is also Czech, and coming from a predominantly Irish and Italian area of the country, I did not know much about Czech history and culture so I was excited to visit the museum.
On our way into the museum, we first stopped at the ‘Crowning Glory’ exhibit, which showcased 143 Slovak and Moravian headdresses. As the exhibit explains, headdresses can serve a variety of purposes and many of the ones on display are bridal crowns or wreaths, so the exhibit covered the different occasions where women would wear the headdresses as well as the traditions and ceremonies that went along with them.
The headdresses were all beautiful, with so many details you could definitely see how much time I’m sure has gone into creating them. The beading and embroidery on them created such intricate designs that along with the information on how these items are used, I could have spent our entire visit in just this exhibit. If you happen to be visiting Cedar Rapids soon, or are local to the area, this exhibit is on view until February 27, 2022.
We spent the rest of our visit exploring the museum’s permanent collection, and especially enjoyed the ‘Faces of Freedom: The Czech & Slovak Journey’ exhibit. Like I said before, I came to the museum with very basic knowledge of Czech history and culture, so I appreciated how thorough yet easy to follow and informative exhibitions like this one were.
I am also a total geek for public history and love seeing how exhibits are designed, and this one was very well done. The exhibit shared the history of Czech immigration through a variety of techniques, including interactive activities and lots of artifacts, and replicas of different settings relevant to telling this side of history.
Before we left the museum we stopped in the gift shop (I am also a geek for museum stores) and picked up some ornaments, postcards, and magnets. These are my go-to souvenirs when I travel, and this shop had gorgeous ornaments so I needed to get some of those (we actually just put them on our tree!) They also had some really beautifully designed jewelry and lots of books on Czech history, including cookbooks, if that’s your thing or if you are in the area and looking for some unique gifts for the holidays. (If you’re not in the area, you can check out their store online here.)
As far as COVID restrictions, definitely check the museum’s website (or the website for anywhere you may be going) as you plan your visit. During our visit, the only thing to really note was that masks were required, we did not need advance tickets and were able to purchase them right on site.
If you are looking for things to do on your visit to Cedar Rapids or are just curious to learn more about the museum, you visit their website at ncsml.org.