The beginnings of the Silesian Museum go back to 1924, which is the date of establishing Towarzystwo Muzeum Ziemii Śląskiej (Society of Museum of Silesian Land). The society started to collect objects of cultural and spiritual value created in Silesia. Formally, after the resolution was passed by the Silesian Parliament on the 23rd January 1929, the Silesian Museum was set up and in May the first exhibition opened to the public. The museum pieces were displayed on the fifth floor of the Provincial Office and the Silesian Sejm building. Its first director was Tadeusz Dobrowolski, who instigated the whole program of this institution and coordinated it. He started with assembling items like: folk costumes, handicraft, paintings and a collection of sacred art.
In 1936 the construction of a new building for the museum started. It was going to be one of the most spectacular and modern edifices of that type in Europe. The overall concept of it was developed by its main architect Karol Schayer. Construction works finished in 1939 but the building was never officially opened. As soon as World War II broke out the Nazis dismantled (tore down) the building – a symbol of Polish identity. The collection suffered as well and a sizeable chunk was destroyed and plundered. The works that survived were moved to the Landesmuseum in Bytom, now called the Upper-Silesian Museum.
Fragment of a natural history exhibition in the Silesian Museum, located in the Provincial Council, 1929
Unfinished building of the Silesian Museum, 1938
The Silesian Museum had to wait many years until it was finally
restored in 1984. It was temporarily located in the city centre in al.
Korfantego 3, a former hotel from the turn of the 19th and 20th century. Dr.
Lech Szaraniec was appointed its director. At first, only one room, on the third
floor, was made available. The process of converting the 4-storey building
lasted until 1992, when all the exposition rooms were ready.
After the restitution in 1984 the museum recovered the collections that had been stored in the Upper-Silesian Museum in Bytom, including the most valuable collection of old Polish painting, which is now on permanent display ‘Gallery of Polish Painting 1800-1945’.
To the present day the museum has assembled 120 000 items from different fields of art as well as archaeological, ethnographic and historical artefacts and works representing non-professional art. In 1991 a new branch was set up – Centre for Polish Scenography, (Katowice, pl. Sejmu Śląskiego 2), which has no equivalent in Poland. It contains designs of decorations and theatre costumes, mock-ups, props, puppets and paraphernalia from the best productions of the last 50 years. Since 2014 the museum has been run by the director Alicja Knast.
Remains of the Museum building plundered and destroyed by the Nazis, 1945
Grand Hotel in the postcard from the first
half of the 20th century, the present location of the
The Ferdynand Coal-mine,
In 1986, two years after the restoration of the museum, an all-Poland competition was announced for a new building (SARP). The first prize went to an architect from Warsaw Jan Fiszer. The construction site for the new museum, located near the streets Wita Stwosza, Ceglana, Kościuszki and aleja Górnośląska, was allocated in 2002.
Unrealised design of the Silesian Museum building by Jan Fiszer, 1986
However, a year after a completely new idea appeared – to adapt the property of the old ‘Katowice’ coalmine with its post-industrial facilities. Opening of the new building, part of which will be underground, is planned for 2015.