Polish Cultural Institute and Museum (Winona, Minnesota)
The Polish Cultural Institute and Museum is located at 102 Liberty Street in Winona, Minnesota. Known locally as the Polish Museum, it is housed in a lumber yard office built by the Laird-Norton Lumber Company in 1890.
The Polish Cultural Institute
The Laird-Norton Building was purchased in 1977 by Father Paul Breza, a Winona-born priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Winona. It was intended to store historical materials pertaining to Polish immigrants in Winona, but disagreements within Winona's Polish community led to the formation of two separate organizations: the Polish Heritage Society and the Polish Cultural Institute. Under Fr. Breza's leadership, the Polish Cultural Institute was formally incorporated in 1979 to continue renovating the Polish Museum and to otherwise foster an appreciation of Polish contributions to the Winona community.
In 2010, the Polish Heritage Society inducted Fr. Breza into its Polish Heritage Hall of Fame, formalizing a reconciliation between the two organizations. Plans are underway for the Polish Heritage Society to be merged into the Polish Cultural Institute.
The Polish Museum
The first floor of the Museum building contains exhibits and other materials relating to Polish immigrant life in Winona and the surrounding areas. A gift shop offers for sale books, clothing, music and other items, many of which are imported from Poland. In recent years, two nearby buildings have been acquired: the Schultz House is being renovated to serve as a heritage house, and the Annex serves as a site for cultural events, such as dances and musical performances. The Annex also features a 165-foot mural illustrating the lives and contributions of Polish immigrant families in Winona.
The Diocesan Collection
The second floor of the Museum building is devoted to a collection of artifacts recovered from churches in the Diocese of Winona, such as the Basilica of Saint Stanislaus Kostka. While this collection has been acquired and curated by Fr. Breza, the items themselves remain the property of the Diocese. The collection is extremely extensive and includes statuary, sanctuary furniture, vestments, and other semi-forgotten accoutrements of nineteenth-century Polish Catholicism in the United States. Occasionally, items from the collections are lent out to area Catholic churches seeking to enhance the historicity of their worship spaces.
The Polish Cultural Institute has always been active in fostering an understanding of Polish culture, whether the immigrant culture of Winona or that of modern Poland. In recent years, as appreciation of Kashubian-American culture has increased, the Polish Cultural Institute has featured Kaszubian customs (such as the Blessing of Flowers and "Smaczne Jablka" or Apple Fest) and reached out to Kaszubian Poles, especially in the town of Bytow, which is one of Winona's sister cities. One regular activity is the exchange of high school students between Bytow and Winona. Another is musical presentations at the Annex, which range from local polka bands to the performance of recently discovered music written by Polish immigrants.