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About the museum

16 February 2022 About the museum
The suggestions to create a museum in Opole [Oppeln] first started to be put forth at the end of the 19th century. On October 25, 1897, the trailblazing idea was presented at the meeting of Opole Philomaths by the mayor, Artur Pagels and lawyer,

main boulding Paul Vogt. It is worth adding that from 1897 the oldest museum in operation in the Opole regency was in Nysa. In the proposed Opole museum, it was intended to exhibit items from excavations which had been carried out in Groszowice and Nowa Wieś Królewska counties, as well as the treasure found while digging the sewage system and water supply. The competition designs of wells on the newly built Friedrichsplatz (now Daszyński Square) were also to be displayed as part of the future museum’s holdings. In the fall of 1898, the building of the girls' college at ul. Ozimska 6 (then Malapanerstrasse) became vacated. In the summer of 1899, an exhibition of plaster models of designs for the Friedrichsplatz well was organized there. On November 4th 1900, it was in this building, in the rooms on the first floor, that the municipal museum [Städtische Museum] began operating. The museum was open only on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays, and only for two hours ‒ from 11 am to 1 pm. On the first two days mentioned, admission was free, while on Fridays, the ticket cost 20 pfennigs.

The museum displayed: antiquities obtained through excavations; exhibits related to the history of the city ‒ plans, views, guild products, handicrafts; items from colonial territories and memorabilia related to the history of the Prussian military. The museum was a municipal institution managed by the board of trustees (collegium). In the first years of operation of the institution, its members were: a professor of the city gymnasium, Joseph Sprotte, city construction counselor Paul Spiller, and legal counsellor Paul Vogt (died 1905). They are mentioned as people who particularly contributed to the establishment of the Opole museum. We also know the composition of the collegium from 1911 (city construction counselor Eduard Jüngerich, city council representative Max Friedländer and gymnasium professor Franz Beschorner) and from 1923 (city construction counselor Karl Maurer, Max Friedländer still in office; as representatives of the city council: archivist Marie Adamschek, teacher Emanuel Talar and drawing teacher Ludwig Torkler). Detailed guidelines for the development of the museum in Opole were developed in 1904 by Dr. Joseph Sprotte and Dr. Alfons Hilka, who presented a plan to enrich or create a collection within the following sections: geology and prehistory, coins and seals, military, folklore, graphics, trade and crafts, souvenirs of famous inhabitants of Opole, and Opole well designs.

After a few years of operation, in 1907, the city museum was relocated to the edifices of the former Evangelical school within the premises of the former Franciscan monastery (the part no longer in existence today). Initially, it was housed in three rooms, but from 1920 one of those, in spite of being the most suitable place for display due to lighting, was appropriated by the police station. The museum had been located in the former monastery buildings, managed by the Evangelical community, for almost twenty years, notwithstanding, this period has so far remained the least documented and researched in the history of this institution. It was not a propitious period anyway. It is known that starting from 1920, when the facility precincts were depleted, the collections remained inaccessible to visitors. In the 1920s, in connection with the decision to pull down some of the former monastery buildings, the search for new premises for the museum began. The new location was found in an outbuilding at 12 Gartenstrasse (now 20 Sienkiewicza Street), in the premises of a former cigar factory, whereto the museum was relocated in 1926 (it was opened to visitors on February 16, 1927). The lease of the premises from Otto Wurst cost the city 3,600 marks a year. For the first time in its history, the Opole museum had at its disposal the entire building (albeit a modest one), where it was possible to display the exhibits collected so far. During that period, the management protocol of the museum had changed somewhat. The documents mention Alfred Steinert, who was also a municipal archivist, as the head of the museum. He held both of these functions until January 1945. The collegium (board of trustees) was abolished, while the city council created a post of an official responsible for the museum (in 1929 it was Dr. Ernst Born). At the same time, there was also a collective council composed of employees, city representatives and invited members. At the same time, Steinert was responsible for the historical and culture collections of the museum. The other two departments were looked after by teachers: Maximilian Strecke (prehistory) and Karl Bialucha (nature).

The activities of the Opole museum in that period are quite well known due to the preserved detailed reports by Steinert from 1926 and photographic documentation. On December 2, 1930, the 30th anniversary of the museum in Opole was solemnly celebrated in the hall of a municipal vocational school. The considerable momentum and a new quality in the operation of the facility, resulting from better housing than before, is confirmed by the attendance statement: while in the period 1900–1926, the museum was visited by 8,000 people, in just three years, from 1927 to 1930, the attendance soared to 25 thousand.

In 1932, there occurred a final relocation of the Opole museum. Prior to that, the plans of the city's authorities had long provided for the refurbishment of a historic building of the former Jesuit college at 7 Mały Rynek, considered the oldest edifice in the city, for cultural purposes. It was not until 1932 that its renovation was completed, and it was allocated to host a library (the ground floor) and a municipal museum (the first floor). The collections in the new interiors were opened to the public on September 1, 1932. Ten exhibition halls displayed the expositions of three departments, in the center there was a large lecture hall with a screen, epidiascopes and a piano. The museum was open daily from 8 am to 1 pm and 3 pm to 6 pm, and on Sundays from 11 am to 1 pm. In 1934, the museum acquired from the 63rd Infantry Regiment stationed in Opole the tradition chamber, which was also made accessible to visitors. The attendance in the new building was very high. In 1933, it amounted to 15,915 attendees, and in 1939 – to as many as 25,585 visitors. It should be emphasized, however, that the museum was open almost every day throughout the year: in 1939, it was open for 354 days. The Städtische Museum operated until January 1945.

The Polish City Museum in Opole began operating in June 1945, in the building at Mały Rynek 7, the last seat of the Städtische Museum Oppeln. In contrast to the times before the war, the museum now had the entire building at its disposal, including the ground floor, which had previously housed the municipal library. In the letter of the Culture and Art Department of the Opole City Board of June 6, 1945, we read: “You are kindly requested to make an inventory of your holdings as soon as possible and to send us a copy of the inventory [...]. We remind you that under no circumstances should you destroy any books without prior consultation with us”. From the letter dated June 14, 1945, we learn that “the cleaning works at the City Museum have been mostly completed […]. There is a need to hire a professional curator". Initially, it was assumed that the post would combine the duties of the museum head and the head of the city library at the same time. That recommendation with regard to the museum was implemented only after a year, when the then president of Opole, Wilhelm Szafarczyk, employed a curator Józef Obuchowski as a permanent employee of the museum. Obuchowski held a diploma from the Jagiellonian University in geography and geology; in addition, he worked in museology in the years 1930–1939, which means that he had full preparation for the post, both theoretical and practical. Until then, that is until June 1946, the journalist Józef Preussner was responsible for running the museum.

The museum was an institution financed by the city, which covered all its economic expenses, while the Ministry of Culture and Art financed the purchase of miscellanea and participated in the renovation costs. Józef Obuchowski, in his first report of July 8, 1946, described the condition of the museum as follows: "The museum is completely disorganized, there are no catalogs, museum halls are disarray, many exhibits are lost (including all numismatics), many cabinets are damaged, almost all locks broken. It is the same in the library, as well as in workshops and offices". Apart from the constatation of the general disorder and the lack of records of extant holdings, the report also includes a brief description of the condition of the collections preserved in the museum: “Museum ‒ sections: 1. Prehistoric ‒ 2 halls, a few Paleolithic exhibits, a lot of Neolithic [stuff] and bronze; 2. Historical ‒ 2 rooms, including valuable excavations from the Opole settlement; 3. Nature ‒ 2 rooms, quite rich, cluttered. Birds require immediate maintenance work, no cabinets; 4. Numismatic ‒ completely stolen away. There are no catalogues. Library. A large collection of books. Only German books from various fields of knowledge. Old catalogs are incomplete, files are damaged, books of particular departments are mixed up […]. There are also very valuable works […]. Conservation workshops and auxiliary appliances are there, but rather devastated. […] As a result of the war, entire orderliness and tidiness in the museum and library were destroyed, and most of all, the inventory system […]”. Amongst his most immediate goals, Józef Obuchowski included the primarily compiling of an inventory of the preserved goods, as well as the specification of the museum's profile. The ceremonial opening of the City Museum in Opole took place on September 1, 1946 ‒ with "President Szafarczyk cutting the ribbon and his Eminence, Fr. Dr. Kominek performing the museum’s consecration act”.

The end of 1949 forms an important caesura in the legal status of municipal museums. By a resolution of the Committee of Ministers for Culture of October 6, 1949, a decision was made to nationalize public museums belonging to unions of local self-government, associations and legal persons. That was to take place by December 30, 1949. On the basis of the above resolution, the Minister of Culture and Art issued the Order No. 78 of December 9, 1949, regularizing the way of taking over the management and the use of the above enumerated museums by the state. The date of taking over the City Museum in Opole by the state was set for December 16, 1949. The acquisition event was attended by representatives of the Ministry of Culture and Art, the City Board of Opole and the director of the City Museum ‒ Józef Obuchowski. The written handover act has been preserved till today. The act contains a detailed description of the real estate located at 7 Saint Adalbert St. (ul. św. Wojciecha 7) including: 12 exhibition halls, 4 administrative rooms, 1 lecture hall, 1 workshop, 2 halls and a three-room flat, as well as one-story high utility buildings. The museum had 4,650 exhibits and complexes gathered in the following thematic departments: ethnographic, prehistoric, natural, urban monuments and numismatic.

From 1950, operating as a state institution, the museum adopted the name of the Museum of Opole Silesia (Muzeum Śląska Opolskiego). Its holdings range expanded, and the facility, which had so far focused primarily on the history of the city, was to cover the entire province (voivodship – województwo, an administrative unit in Poland) In connection with nationalization, the entrance fee to the museum was waived, making 1950 a year of record attendance. The exhibitions were visited by 84,104 people. Since Józef Obuchowski had left the museum in June 1953, there was a vacancy in the position of its head. These duties were temporarily performed by Jan Świderski and Alicja Badeńska. In 1954, Ignacy Kuźniewski took over the management of the museum. Subsequently, for the first time in the post-war period, specialist staff responsible for individual departments ‒ an archaeologist, ethnographer, and art historian ‒ were employed. Nonetheless, for a few more years, the museum was struggling with a shortage of professional research employees; for example, in the work plan for 1960, we can read that the collections of the Nature Department and the History Department are looked after by the director, in the absence of curators. In April 1957, the Museum of Opole Silesia, in accordance with ordinance No. 75 of the Minister of Culture and Art of April 10, 1957, became a district museum (muzeum okręgowe), freeing itself from the auspices of the Silesian Museum in Wrocław and concomitantly assuming the supervision of the three remaining, at that time, museums of the Opole Voivodeship: in Brzeg, Nysa and Racibórz. The previous museum head assumed from then on, the title of the museum director. At that time, there was only one inventory book in which ethnographic and natural exhibits were kept, as well as municipal artifacts and specimens of artistic handicrafts which were registered. Some of the archaeological exhibits were entered into a basic inventory, and for some there were only compilations of transfer protocols. The "post-German" library had 680 volumes. In 1957, a new organizational structure of the museum was developed, largely preserved to this day. At that time, the facility had the following substantive departments: archeology, ethnography, history, art, nature, science and education. At that time, the Museum of Opole Silesia had many branches, which gradually became independent units, turning into separate museums belonging to the Opole museum district. These were: a branch in Kluczbork established in 1959, and an independent one since 1962, in Prudnik (1957, independent since 1969), and in Oleśno (1960, independent since 1975). The Museum of the Opole Village, the only open-air museum in the Opole Voivodeship, established in 1961, and independent since 1966, is also a spin off from the Museum of Opole Silesia. In 1964, two new branches of the Museum of Opole Silesia were opened ‒ the Museum of the Uprising in Leśnica (Strzelce Opolskie county) and the Museum of Martyrdom of Prisoners of War in Łambinowice (Niemodlin county). The latter, apart from the exhibition halls, also had a modern, for those times, cinema and educational room, radio-tuned and equipped with projection apparatus. Both museums were built and decorated, as well as others, through the Social Fund for Reconstruction of the Capital and the Country (Społeczny Fundusz Odbudowy Stolicy i Kraju). The Museum of the Uprising was relocated to its current seat in Góra św. Anny (St. Anne’s Mountain), in 1980. In 1965, the Łambinowice Museum, already as the Central Museum of Prisoners of War in Łambinowice-Opole, was elevated to the rank of a national institution operating under the direct authority of the Ministry of Culture and Art. In 1963, the first volume of the Opolski Rocznik Muzealny (‘Opole Museum Yearbook’) was published ‒ a publication which ‒ according to the guidelines adopted by its editorial board ‒ “has a double role to fulfill [...]: to gather around the "Yearbook" all those researchers whose scientific and research interests are directly or indirectly related to the activities of Opole museums. Secondly, it is very important to disseminate and popularize the results of research carried out by museums in the Opole region and scientific institutions as well as institutions cooperating with them, as they constitute a substantial contribution to the achievements of Polish science. This problem will turn out to be even more important when we add that the Opole region is still exposed to the infiltration of revisionist West German propaganda.” Mainly due to financial reasons, until 2014, only twenty volumes of the yearbook were published. Under the leadership of Tadeusz Chruścicki, previously the head of the museum in Nysa, who succeeded Ignacy Kuźniewski in 1964 as the museum director, the Museum of Opole Silesia began preparations for a general overhaul. The refurbishment consisted of replacing the entire electrical wiring and central heating systems, the installation of a fire protection system and an automatic telephone network. At the same time, in the middle section of the second floor of the entire building, the wooden ceilings were replaced with fireproof ones, that could carry the weight of a warehouse, designed to be built into a spacious, previously unused attic. On the entire ground floor, the floors and the damaged foundation were replaced. The ceilings on the first floor were pulled down. The necessity to replace them was a consequence of errors made during the roof replacement, as a result of which the northern wall of the building tilted. The refurbishment reports stressed that such serious construction work had been carried out without interrupting normal museum activities, despite the fact that “both museum staff and the holdings lived a nomadic life, and many valuable exhibits were damaged". On December 15, 1971, despite the ongoing renovation works, a new exhibition was opened in the converted basement, in three rooms on the ground floor and one room on the first floor. All the scientific departments of the museum took part in its organization ‒ archaeological, historical, ethnographic, as well as the arts and crafts department. Meanwhile, Tadeusz Chruścicki left the museum for the post of deputy director of the National Museum in Krakow, and in 1971, Franciszek Adamiec was appointed his successor.

Hopes for a significant improvement in working conditions appeared in 1980, when the museum received a former tenement house at 13 Saint Adalbert Street (ul. św. Wojciecha 13) After the eight-year-long refurbishment period, it housed, among others, the workshops of the scientific departments, and on the second floor, several temporary exhibition halls were located. One of the important elements of the self-government reform of 1990 was the transfer of competences to community self-governments in the field of running cultural institutions. Thus, the individual communities took over the management of most of the museums operating in their area. In the Opolskie province (voivodeship), the existing branches of the Museum of Opole Silesia, i.e. the Museum of Józef Elsner in Grodków, the Museum in Głogówek and the Museum Point in Namysłów all fell under the auspices of the local community (Pol. gmina) authorities. The Museum of Opole Silesia remained a state museum until the next stage of the self-government reform, which took place in 1999, when the self-governmental province and counties became the organizers of most of the remaining state institutions. The Museum of Opole Silesia with the only remaining branch in its organizational structure ‒ the Museum of the Uprising in Góra św. Anny (St. Anne’s Mountain) ‒ became an institution subordinate to the provincial government. The 1980s and 1990s witnessed frequent changes in the museum headship, including a succession of directors such as Józef Niewiński (1977–1981), Maria Bożena Myga (1981–1986), Krystyna Lenart-Juszczewska (1988–1990), Krzysztof Spychała (1991–1992), Bogdan Cimała (1992–1993), and Eleonora Babiak-Jabłońska (1993). In 1993, Elwira Holc became the subsequent director and remained in this position until 2003. In 1994, the museum acquired and refurbished the building at ul. Ozimska 10 (previously the seat of the Bureau of Art Exhibitions). In 2000, a permanent exhibition of paintings by Jan Cybis was opened there. In 2005, the museum acquired a tenement house at ul. św. Wojciecha 9, in which exhibitions of 19th-20th-century bourgeois interiors were arranged. In 2005–2008, thanks to European funds and with financial support from the provincial government and the minister of culture and national heritage, the "Mons Universitatis" project was carried out, consisting in the renovation and extension of the museum’s precincts. Within that project, the interior of the aforementioned historic bourgeois tenement house was modernized and adapted, as well as the administrative edifice at ul. św. Wojciecha 13. The tenement house at Mały Rynek 7 was rebuilt and renovated, and a new exhibition pavilion was built according to the design of Małgorzata and Antoni Domicz. As a result, the exhibition space of the museum has significantly increased (by 270%) and the working conditions of all museum departments have improved significantly. However, the conditions for storing the museum’s holdings have improved to a much lesser extent. The opening of the museum after the overhaul and extension took place in October 2008.

At that time, three permanent exhibitions were opened to the public: "The Gallery of Polish Painting of the 19th and 20th Centuries", (Galeria malarstwa polskiego XIX–XX w.) "Upper Silesian Ceramics" (Ceramika górnośląska) and "In the pharmaceutical Circles" (W kręgu farmacji). In 2009, a permanent archaeological exhibition "Prehistory and the Early Middle Ages of the Opole Region (Pradzieje i wczesne średniowiecze Opolszczyzny) was opened, in the following year ‒ a permanent historical exhibition "Opole – A Stronghold, Z City, The Capital of the Region" (Opole – gród, miasto stolica regionu)” and in 2014, the last of the permanent exhibitions was made accessible to the public : "Ethnography of the Opole Region: Tradition and Change” (Etnografia Opolszczyzny. Tradycja i zmiana). Currently, the Museum of Opole Silesia in Opole has four exhibition pavilions. These are: a baroque building which formerly belonged to Jesuit friars (Mały Rynek 7), a building of a19th-century inn which currently hosts a gallery at ul. Ozimska 10, a tenement house at ul. św. Wojciecha 9 and a new exhibition pavilion (Mały Rynek 7a). The museum management head office and scientific departments are located in a historic classicist tenement house at ul. św. Wojciecha 13. In addition to the above-mentioned buildings, the museum also has warehouse buildings located on the outskirts of the city.

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