The origins of the Panevėžys Museum can be traced back to the beginning of the 20th century. Even at that time, attempts were made to combine the collections from the private collections into a single exhibition. The city Duma considered the establishment of a museum and library in 1908. The municipality understood the importance of these institutions, but their establishment was delayed due to lack of funds. 


With the establishment of the modern state of Lithuania, the research of the homeland rose to a completely different level. A group of enthusiasts started collecting ethnographic material at Panevėžys Men’s Gymnasium as early as 1919. A group for the study of the Homeland, the first regional ethnographic society in Lithuania, was established there in 1923. The following year, the Society for the Study of the Panevėžys Homeland was established, one of the main tasks of which was the establishment of a museum. The initiators of the establishment of the society and museum are the county governor Vladas Rozmanas (who later contributed a lot to the establishment of the museums of Rokiškis and Biržai), the famous naturalist Jurgis Elisonas, linguist and teacher Petras Būtėnas, teacher Petras Bliumas, lawyer and public figure Jonas Moigis. Thanks to these people the first exposition of the museum was solemnly opened on 18 January 1925 in the oldest building of the city, the former archive of Upytė County Court, to commemorate the second anniversary of the annexation of Klaipėda region.


George Elison (1889–1946)



In the beginning, the museum operated mainly due to the civic spirit of the society. The collection was based on exhibits donated by the founders. Later, many antiquities were collected by students of various schools, many of them gathered during the ethnographic and archeological expeditions organized by the society to study the Homeland. The Panevėžys press of interwar period wrote about donated valuable exhibits transported to the museum by carriages. Only exhibits related to this region have been left in our city, others have supplemented the collections of various Lithuanian museums. Rare books were handed over to the Library of Kaunas University, the best archeological finds from Venslaviškės, Raginėnai, and Rimaisai were handed over for the setting up of the exposition of Kaunas Vytautas the Great Museum.


The collections of the Panevėžys Museum were accumulated quite quickly. In 1925 the museum had about 2,000 pieces, and in 1939 - more than 12,000 exhibits.


The first exposition of the museum located on Kranto Street included departments of History, Nature, Numismatics, and Ceramics. In 1927 the department of Archeology was established, the department of Ceramics turned into the department of Folk Art, and into the department of Ethnography as of 1934. It was planned to establish department of Volunteers of Lithuanian armed forces and Pedagogical department.


The museum operate on Kranto street for a short time, until 1932. As the number of exhibits increased and the exposition expanded, arose a need to look for more spacious and better premises. The museum has moved from one building to another several times. 


The first exposition of the museum


In 1936 it was planned to build a museum building in Panevėžys as a monument to Lithuania’s independence. Funds were accumulated for that, a building project was prepared, and a land plot was bought on A. Jakštas Avenue, however the occupation of Lithuania in 1940 destroyed meaningful plans.


During the interwar period, the museum had one permanent staff member, assisted by volunteers, mostly members of the Society to study the Homeland. The museum was headed by Stasys Banelis until 1934 and later by Antanas Kasperavičius. Numismatics was taken care of by Petras Bliumas, ancient documents by P. Šalčius.



Antanas Kasperavičius (1898–1963)



During the first fifteen years of the museum’s existence, the directions of activities of several subsequent decades were outlined. A consistent study of the country’s past and nature has commenced, and collections of collections have been formed, the accumulation of which continues today. During the interwar period, the museum became one of the most important cultural centers of the Panevėžys region.


During the years of World War II the museum suffered great shocks. During that year, expositions of Archeology and Nature were open, and expositions of Ethnography and the History of Public Life were being prepared for opening.


Museum exposition in the 1940s



Dominykas Urbas was appointed the head of the museum in 1942. It was the first museologist with special training to graduate from Paulius Galaunė School, having previously worked at Kaunas Museum of Culture. Thanks to D. Urbas, the pride of all of us - the collection of insects of the world of Valerijonas Straševičius, a nature teacher at the Panevėžys Polish Gymnasium, got into the museum. This collection remains one of the largest and most impressive in Lithuania.


At the end of the war, the museum suffered heavy losses because a military hospital was set up on its premises. The exhibits were hidden in various places, but unfortunately not all of them could be preserved - some of the valuables were destroyed. The archive of the museum contains a list of exhibits retrieved from the ruins and returned to the museum. Almost all the documents of the museum were destroyed, so even the surviving exhibits are without descriptions. A grim document remained - a request from the city’s Education Department to allow a conversation with D. Urbas, arrested by the NKVD, the only person, who knew where the exhibits had been hidden.


Dominykas Urbas (1908-1996)



The post-war years were not easy for the museum. In 1945 the museum moved to the building on Respublikos g. 3, which lasted the longest period of time- even for forty years. The first post-war exposition was opened in 1947. It consisted of sections of Archeology, Numismatics, History, Great Patriotic War, Socialism, Industry, and Zoology. The museum’s scientific activities progressed with difficulty, it often employed random people.


Jadvyga Rimšelienė started working as the director of the museum in 1954 (she held this position until 1988). The situation in the museum began to change. Consistent work on documenting and managing the collections has begun, and regular ethnographic and archaeological expeditions have been renewed. A thematic - chronological exposition was completed in 1968. The number of museum staff increased, especially in the 1980s and 1990s.


The structure of the museum was changed in 1976: departments of Foundations, Pre-Soviet Society, Soviet Society, and Exhibitions were established. The Nature Department was established in 1987.


The museum moved to new premises on Vasario 16-osios g. 23 in 1985, to the reconstructed part of Moigiai House. A strange and symbolic twist of fate: it was in the office of notary J. Moigys where a meeting of the Society for the Study of the Homeland took place, during which it was decided to establish the museum! A new exposition was opened in 1987. It consisted of two sections - Pre-Soviet and Soviet. The Soviet exposition was removed in 1989, and a preparation of a permanent Nature exposition in its place began.


Significant changes took place in the museum after Lithuania regained its independence. At that time it was headed by Gintaras Šileikis. The departments of pre-Soviet and Soviet history were reorganized into the department of History in 1990, and changes were made to the collection management system. The museum regained the rest of the Moigiai House, and a reconstruction project was prepared.


The Department of Ethnic Culture was established in 1991.


Smilgiai ethnographic homestead was transferred to the museum in 1993.


Intensive activity was taking place in early 21st c., it sought to modernize and adapt itself to the needs of today’s community. Restoration and Conservation Department was established in the museum in 2000. During the same year, the museum became the first of the city’s cultural institutions to introduce its website. The exposition of History has been partially renewed in 2002, interiors of the early 20th century were set up. The oldest building in Panevėžys at Kranto g. 21 was restored in 2003, and in 2007 the exposition “Upytė Nobles” was opened in it.


Jubilee exhibition "Panevėžys 500" preparation. Photo by G. Lukoševičius, 2003.



The museum’s branch - the Museum of Resistance to Soviet Occupation and the Movement began its activities in 2004. An attractive, contemporary exposition opened on 23 August. An exposition of the prehistory of the region loved by visitors has been renewed in 2005.


After the reconstruction, the building of Moigiai House Complex was opened at Vasario 16-osios g. 25A in 2006. It is equipped with a modern exhibition hall, educational classroom, and storage facilities. Now there is an opportunity to organize attractive historical exhibitions using modern means. Every year, the museum organizes several stationary exhibitions on various topics, and our travelling exhibitions travel all over Lithuania.


Museum Night. Photo by G. Kartanas, 2019.



Since 2008 the museum annually organizes conferences-discussions dedicated to the Black Ribbon and Baltic Way Day.


The ethnographic homestead of Smilgiai and the memorial homestead of the sculptor Juozas Zikaras in Paliukai village, Paistrys eldership, have been transferred to the Administration of Panevėžys district municipality in 2009.


The exposition “Cross making in Aukštaitija” dedicated to the Lithuanian cultural element included in the UNESCO World Heritage List opened its doors in 2011.


The Education and Information Department of the museum began its activities on 01 September 2011.


A modern exposition “Media of Nature: Observation, Research, Preservation” was opened in 2014. The museum hosted the first two international exhibitions during the same year: exhibition from the Museum of History of the City of Huss (Netherlands) “Embroidery from De Bevelanden” in October; exhibition of ceramics by artist Mel Mars (Great Britain) was presented in November.


A long-term exhibition “After the Manor Gates are opened” was opened in the Moigiai Exhibition Hall in 2016. Raguvėlė manor collection of paintings of 17th – 19th centuries from the collections of the M. K. Čiurlionis National Art Museum was presented during this exhibition. Organizers: J. Gaidelienė, Z. Pikelytė, and D. Petrulis, artist G. Stasevičienė, restorer B. Kaziukonienė.


The outdoor exhibition “Streets of Panevėžys: people, events, views” was opened in 2018. Outdoor stands are installed in various areas of the city. Organizer: D. Juzėnas.


Museologists publish dozens of articles in various publications every year. A lot of work was done during the publishing of the history of the city “Panevėžys: from the 16th c. until 1990” in 2003. The museum publishes several publications each year, especially significant work was done during the publishing of old photographs and compiling catalogs of collections. A continuous online publication “Panevėžys Digital History Library” is being developed on the museum’s website since 2007. It publishes research on the history of the region, old publications and documents.


The museum organizes conferences dedicated to the country’s past “From the Past of Panevėžys” since 1998. The largest authorities of history science read presentations during them. Conference materials are published in separate publications. This is one of the longest-running projects of this kind in Lithuania.


The staff of the museum organizes hundreds of different events per year, most of which are educational sessions for students. The Lithuanian Museums Association awarded the “Good Idea” prizes to the educational programs presented in 2009 and in 2014. We also organize public events in open areas of the city. The biggest of these are: the annual European Museum Night, the city’s birthday party “Aukštaičių suktinis” organized in 2011, and “Midsummer Festival” organized in 2014.


Although at first glance it seems that the object of the museum’s activities is the study of the past, while in fact its mission is to actively influence the present society, as well as nurture its identity and culture through the use of the heritage. The museum is one of the most active and visited cultural institutions in Panevėžys, and the contribution of museologists to the life of the city community is very important and significant as well.



The museum staff at the Panevėžys city festival. Photo by L. Vilienė, 2019