Friday, August 04, 2006

Polish Art Collections in Michigan, Part 2 of 3

Continuing with Part 2, an excerpt of Polish Art Collections in Michigan by Stanislaw Janicki, from Poles in Michigan Vol. 1... (Part 1 appeared July 28, 2006)

There are many valuable Polish books in the Detroit Public Library whose publication dates go back farther than 1800, while the library of the Polish Veterans Association has a genuine rarity which is entitled “Parliamentary Collection from 1613-29”and was printed in Krakow by Andrew Piotrkowszczyk. The history of this book is fascinating. During the Polish-Bolshevik war in 1920, a few Polish volunteers from America found in a destroyed mansion a magnificent book collection. Despite military operations, they saved this valuable collection and brought it to Kamieniec Podolski where were found its owner. One of the books from the collection was carried throughout the war in a knapsack by a soldier named Hipolit Wagner, a resident of Detroit. On his return to the United States, Wagner donated this treasure to the 7th Post of the Polish Army Veterans. This book, as well as the highest Polish decorations — the Virtuti Militari and a flag given to the Polish Veterans by the City of Lwow, are the most precious items of the Polish Army Veterans in America.

The biggest collection of Polish paintings in Detroit was owned by the late Dr. Andrew Jozefczyk. It consisted of many outstanding Polish masters, of whom Juliusz and Wojciech Kossak, Jacek Malczewski, Stanislaw Wyspianski, Leon Wyczolkowski, Alfred Wierusz-Kowalski, Stanislaw Chlebowski, A. Lesser, Z. Ajdukiewicz, Wt. Baklanowicz, W. Szymanowski, Zofia Stryjenska, Tadeusz Styka are but a few. Dr. Jozefczyk’s collection is composed entirely of paintings and drawings and represents the highest development of Polish native paintings. One of his more precious masterpieces is the water color, “Hunting with Hunts” by Julius Kossak, done at the height of his artistic career. Equally impressive is the picture by W. Kowalski (1848-1915), representing a peasant’s carriage on the side of an impenetrable road filled with mud. This collection also includes a painting of J. Chelmowski (1850-1914), depicting a landlord as he observes the plowing of his land and his bored servant. Chelmowski is considered by some to be an unequalled master of painting houses. “Prayer in a Mosque” by the outstanding painter, S. Chlebowski (1835-85), merits special attention. Chlebowski lived for a long time in the Sultan’s Court and as a result his paintings were very rare in Poland. Of interest, too, is a miniature of Ludwik Solski by L. Wyczolkowski (1099) which he dedicated to Ludwik-Wyczolkowski. This piece represents a twofold value - it is a masterpiece of a famous Polish painter and at the same time a portrait of a famous Polish actor whom some consider the greatest and the oldest dramatist in the world.

The art works of Judge N. Gronkowski also contain an standing book collection, the most rare of which is a book published in Krakow in 1553 and entitled, “Confessio Fidei Catholicas Christiana Authoritate Synodi Provincialis que Habita est Petrcoviae, MDLI Kracov, Scharfferberger 1553”. The hand-tooled leather binding of this book is representative of the Polish bookbinding art of the 16th Century. Gronkowski’s book collection also contains many outstanding “Polonicana”, printed in the English language. There are the Memoirs of Maurycy Beniowski, a Polish nobleman who, when exiled by the Russians to Kamchatka, managed to gain control of two Russian vessels and escaped, having liberated his fellow prisoners. Years later he was found with the Pulaski Legion in America. He died as a King of Madagascar. His book was published in Dublin in 1796.

Judge Gronkowski’s collection contains some interesting pamphlets by the Polish political immigrants in America who, despite their financial and linguistic difficulties, carried on the work for Poland’s cause, as well as a pamphlet by Major W. P. Toxman entitled “Lecture delivered before the members of the State Legislature of New York.... on the subject of Social, Political and Literary conditions of Poland.... 1844”.

Books about America published by Michael Groll, royal printer of King Stanislaus A. Poniatowski, are very rare. With these belong the “History of the Discovery of America by Columbus”, dated 1783, and “Political History of the Present American Revolution”, published the same year. In the latter book the author gives the following advice to the Americans: “Be fearful of abundance of riches which bring degradation of morals and disregard for laws.... have arms for your defense”.

The list of sketches done by Daniel Chodowiecki from 1758 to 1800 in his own handwriting represents a valuable remembrance of this talented Polish artist. Equally interesting is an 18th Century museum exhibit, containing a spoon, fork and a knife with the coat of arms of Leliwa (possibly belonging to one Count Tarnowski) made of porcelain from Korce. The porcelain factory in Korce was founded in the 18th Century but soon destroyed, therefore, its products are in great demand.