So there were Dr. Trentelman and I, having lunch at Ellis Island, the place where millions of immigrants entered the United States to be probed, tested, examined and, at some point in time, fed, before entering the United States.
And it is safe to assume that those immigrants, like I, looked up from lunch and pondered the murals on the wall.
But I did something they did not. I thought: “Boy, those look familiar.”
And with good reason.
Edward Laning, who painted those murals at Ellis Island, was an up-and-coming muralist when, in 1935, he scored a job with the Works Progress Administration, which was hiring artists around the country to create art for public buildings. It was a pure make-work program, probably socialism today, but it kept a lot of artists fed (not to mention lumberjacks, ditch diggers, road builders and a host of others) and gave our nation a huge legacy of amazing public art.
The theme was “The Role of the Immigrant in the Industrial Development of America,” something people today forget when they are railing against immigrants who “steal jobs.” His work was eventually 110 feet long and extended the length of the dining room.
When Ellis Island closed the murals were allowed to rot until the 1970s when they were rescued and transferred to a US Courthouse. Copies of those murals were put up in the lunchroom at Ellis Island when it was developed as a museum in the 1980s.
Meanwhile, in 1975, Ogden resident Anne Peck and Ogden Artist Dean Faucett persuaded the National Academy of Design of New York City to provide a $100,000 commission for Laning, now nationally-known, to do a new mural inspired by the originals, commemorating the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, for Ogden’s Union Station. The two murals, each 50-feet long, on Belgian linen, were finished in New York and installed in Ogden 1980, a year before Laning died.
So when you go to New York, be sure to check out Ellis Island. It has a direct connection to Ogden, and not just because Ogden was built by immigrants.