Contact: Craig D'Ooge (202) 707-9189
September 13, 1993
Exhibit on Italian-Americans in the West to Open at Library of Congress October 14
A traveling exhibition on the culture and heritage of Italian- Americans in the western United States will open in the Madison Gallery of the Library of Congress James Madison Building on Thursday, October 14. Exhibition hours are Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. The exhibition closes March 27, 1994.
"Old Ties, New Attachments: Italian-American Folklife in the West" was created by the Library's American Folklife Center to examine the cultural, social, and economic contributions made by Italian-Americans in the West. It presents a selection of photographs, artifacts, videotapes, and sound recordings gathered during a field documentation project sponsored by the American Folklife Center.
Twenty-one researchers, folklorists, and fieldworkers documented Italian-American communities in Gilroy, San Francisco, and San Pedro, California; Walla Walla, Washington; Carbon County, Utah; Pueblo, Colorado; and central and eastern Nevada. Fieldworkers interviewed scores of Italian-American residents, recorded their songs and stories, documented their traditional architecture, rummaged through their attics, tasted their wine, visited their worksites, attended their family and community events, and photographed their cherished mementos.
The result is an immense archives that includes 300 hours of video and sound recordings, 25,000 photographs, and thousands of pages of research materials, now part of the Archive of Folk Culture in the Library of Congress.
"Most Americans associate Italian-Americans with the urban East, but in the mid-19th century, large numbers of Italian immigrants settled in California and other Western states," says Alan Jabbour, director of the American Folklife Center. "They brought with them many cultural values and skills--agricultural practices, wine production, and stone masonry, to name only a few. Italian- Americans helped to shape the cultural landscape of the modern West more than many people realize."
For the exhibition, guest curator I. Sheldon Posen selected several hundred artifacts and photographs. He organized them around three themes: Home, Work, and Ties and Attachments. A special feature is the interactive "touch screen" story stations that allow visitors to turn pages of photos electronically and hear reminiscences by touching individual images. Stories include tales of "the great journey" to America undertaken by Italian ancestors and the discrimination many suffered in the workplace.
The Home section includes representative settings for the display of artifacts in the context of an Italian-American living room, attic, garden shed, and kitchen. The objects are on loan from participants in the field project.
Many of the objects embody larger cultural values that transcend personal associations. Set among the family photos, map of Sicily, and statue of the Virgin Mary in the living room section of the exhibit, for example, is the bronzed hat of Anselmo Conrotto, founder of the A. Conrotto winery in Gilroy, Calif. After years of scolding him for wearing the old hat, the family finally had it bronzed. It remains a powerful symbol of the family's patriarch. This section also features a recreation of a lavish devotional banquet known as a "St. Joseph's Day Table."
The Work section presents the occupational history, artifacts and experiences of Italian-American families involved in ranching, restaurants, agriculture, commercial fishing, steel production, wine-making, mining, and retail marketing. A life-sized photomural recreates "Gus' Place," an Italian-American tavern located in Pueblo, Colorado.
The Ties and Attachments section examines the transformation of Italians living in the West into Italian-Americans, as old traditions mingled with new American ways.
Some traditions were simply transplanted, such as contemporary California festivals honoring saints associated with specific places in Italy, such as Madonna del Lume or Santa Rosalia. Others, like the Columbus Day celebration, emphasize a common national identity that did not exist amid regional allegiances back in Italy.
Buttons, T-shirts, certificates, and other items suggest an assertive and satirical modern response by Italian Americans to the very real problems of discrimination and prejudice they face.
A 224-page, illustrated hardcover book titled Old Ties, New Attachments: Italian-American Folklife in the West is available at the Library of Congress Sales Shop, or by mail for $29.95 plus $2.50 postage from The Library of Congress, American Folklife Center, Washington, D.C. 20540. The book contains more than 200 photographs and 12 essays by folklorists and historians on various aspects Italian-Americans in the West uncovered during the field project.
Support for the exhibit comes from major donations by Los Angeles businessman Henry Salvatori, the John Ben Snow Memorial Trust, R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company, Dell Computer, and many individuals in the Italian-American community.
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