1932: The Homelands Exhibition Series: A Welcome to Immigrants

From the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries, immigrants from countries such as Poland, Scotland, Italy, and many more, were drawn to Yonkers for the jobs available in its many factories. To familiarize Yonkers with the cultures of these immigrants, and to strengthen their positions in the community, the Museum embarked on a series of exhibitions, beginning in 1932, that featured the arts and crafts of these new Americans’ home countries.

The Homelands exhibitions, which were presented throughout the 1930s and 40s, showcased the decorative arts and crafts of Ukrainian, Czechoslovakian, Assyrian, Armenian, Italian, Finnish, Polish, Scandinavian, and Chinese residents of Westchester County. According to the Yonkers newspaper, in addition to an array of household items and clothing, the Ukrainian exhibit of 1932 included a “brilliantly colored” box made by political prisoners, and the Hungarian exhibit of 1937, a large, hand-wrought silver plate used by Jews for Passover.

Each exhibit was enhanced with related programs, ranging from demonstrations of the tarantella dance by local schoolchildren, to teas with community members, to talks by noted experts. When the Director William Berkeley announced his retirement in 1937, Polish organizations honored him for having mounted two shows of Polish arts and crafts during his tenure.

With the outbreak of World War II, before the US entered combat, the Museum declared its February 1940 Homeland exhibition to be in support of the Finnish people invaded by Russia. Members of the Yonkers Arts Association, including artists like Sidney Wiggins and Celine Baekeland, whose work is in the Museum’s collection, donated paintings for a silent auction to raise relief funds for “gallant little Finland.” In March and April, they staged a similar event for war-torn Britain. These programs paint a vivid picture of sentiment in Yonkers and the Museum community on the eve of America’s entry into the war.


Image: “Cementing Good Will and Better Understanding . . . young women of Italian origin exchange ideas with representatives of the Czechoslovakian community . . . ,” Yonkers Statesman, Feb.16, 1943, newspaper clipping in Hudson River Museum Scrapbook.