Press Release: Exhibition Showcasing History of Chicago’s South Side, Northwest Indiana Opens at Field Museum

November 17, 2022 Exhibition
Graphic panels inside the Calumet Voices exhibition.

Calumet Voices, National Stories, a first-of-its-kind traveling exhibition co-curated with over 15 local museums, includes industrial and natural history of the area. © Field Museum

A 10-foot tall steel plate, a Pullman worker’s lunchbox, and fossils have more in common than one may thinkthey all help tell the rich stories of the Calumet region. A first-of-its-kind traveling exhibition, Calumet Voices, National Stories was co-curated with 15 local museums and is now open at the Field Museum.

“This is a nationally significant landscape with complex interactions of people and nature,” said Mark Bouman, Chicago Region Program Director at the Field’s Keller Science Action Center and one of the exhibition’s curatorial advisers. “We hope we’ve caught its complexity but also its importance by foregrounding many diverse and local voices.”

The four-venue show has been in the works since 2018. The Field Museum is the last stop before the show closes, and the opening was delayed by the start of the pandemic in 2020.

“This exhibition partnership stems in part from our years of doing ethnographic research in the Calumet region, and hearing residents talk in a variety of ways about their deep connections to this place and to each other,” said Madeleine Tudor, curatorial adviser and Senior Environmental Social Scientist with the Keller Science Action Center. “We learned that the lived experiences of what it means to be a community, the palpable pride and dignity of labor, and the human connection to the natural environment were strongly embedded in this landscape.”

Exhibition Highlights

The show will include flora, fauna, and fossils from the Museum's Calumet collections, a ten-foot-tall steel plate of historic proportions that was personalized by women steelworkers who were integral to the WWII war effort, and neighborhood figurines carved by a renowned local artist depict industrial might, fragile ecosystems, and stories of people from Calumet's last 100 years.

Retired Pullman worker shares company treasures

"This exhibition shines a light on a community that helped make America what it is today: a land of opportunity, innovation, and prosperity,” said Alfonso Quiroz, 86, a former employee of the Pullman-Standard Corporation.

Quiroz, who has amassed hundreds of Pullman artifacts since retiring in 1981, loaned three artifacts to The Field Museum: keys that once opened Pullman train doors, a worker’s apron, and the lunchbox by his side during his 22 years building Pullman trains.

Local artists interpret the region's textured heritage through a variety of mediums

Two tapestries are among the artistic highlights of the exhibition. Walking Slow Down the Avenue (1975) by Sister Zoe (Prudence Davis) depicts iconic local businesses, such as Standard Oil, Lever Brothers, and Poppen’s, alongside the people and the neighborhoods where they lived and worked. Steel II (1973) by Helena Hernmarck (b. 1941) was commissioned by Bethlehem Steel and based on a photograph of the Basic Oxygen Furnace at the Burns Harbor Plant.

Unique environment recognized, celebrated

See specimens of manoomin, the wild rice that grows around the Great Lakes. Potawatomi Ancestors depended on manoomin as a staple food, but it was almost lost when the marshes were dredged for urban expansion. Today, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi are working with the National Park Service to re-cultivate manoomin in the Calumet Region.

Other environmental highlights include the first specimen from the Calumet region collected by the Field Museum, a juvenile yellow-headed blackbird, and an image of an ultra-rare plant called the Thismia americana, a tiny plant that was first discovered in the South Deering neighborhood of Chicago. Thismia americana is held in the Field Museum’s collections and is too rare to be put on exhibition. It hasn’t been seen since 1916.