Immigrant story

National Archives features Ellis Island mural

Photo by Curt Yeomans
Covington muralist Andrew Sabori talks Friday about his re-creation of a lost Ellis Island mural at the National Archives at Atlanta. The mural is on display at the archives through the end of the year.

Photo by Curt Yeomans Covington muralist Andrew Sabori talks Friday about his re-creation of a lost Ellis Island mural at the National Archives at Atlanta. The mural is on display at the archives through the end of the year.

MORROW — A little-known mural depicting the impact immigrants have had on America has been reborn and has found a temporary home in Clayton County.

The Morrow-based National Archives at Atlanta will open a five-and-a-half month exhibit, entitled “Ellis Island: The Lost Mural” on July 21. The exhibit features a 19-panel recreation of a mural that painter Edward Laning made for Ellis Island’s cafeteria in 1938 on commission for the Works Progress Administration. The original mural was destroyed during a storm more than 50 years ago.

Covington muralist Andrew Sabori made a replica of the mural in 2003 with assistance from students at two Las Vegas schools. The mural depicts immigrants of varying ethnicities, including Spaniards, Greeks, Germans, Irish and Chinese.


Photo by Curt Yeomans Covington muralist Andrew Sabori (left) talks with National Archives at Atlanta Regional Administrator Jim McSweeney Friday about Sabori’s re-creation of an old Ellis Island mural. An exhibit featuring the mural is about to open at the archives.

They are shown helping with the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, working in mines, cutting down trees, harvesting wheat and coming off ships at Ellis Island.

“We’re a nation of immigrants,” said Sabori. “The only true [native] Americans are the Indians. Everybody else came here from somewhere else. When most of us look at our family trees, we have to realize it eventually goes back to the ‘old country,’ wherever that may be.”

The archives will kick off the exhibit on July 20 at 10 a.m. with a program entitled “Coming to America: Celebrating the Immigrant Experience,” which will include a naturalization ceremony and speeches by people who have immigrated to America in the past.

There is no cost to see the exhibit. It runs until Dec. 31.

National Archives officials and Sabori, who has made murals for several casinos in Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe and Reno, offered members of the media Friday a sneak preview of the mural exhibit. Sabori explained to reporters the meanings behind several panels and the process he went through to re-create the mural.

He also told reporters about his own connection to Ellis Island. His parents, who are of Spanish and Sicilian descent, came through Ellis Island when they immigrated to America from Sicily, Sabori said.

Ellis Island served as an immigration processing center that immigrants coming into America through New York City had to go through from 1890 until 1954. Public tours of the facilities began in 1976.

Sabori said a picture of the original mural caught his attention during a visit he and his wife made to Ellis Island years ago to learn about his parents.

“She saw a portion of a photo and she said there used to be a mural there, and I’d never heard of it,” said Sabori. “Nobody had heard of it because no one saw it.”

He said he immediately recognized the work as a Works Progress Administration piece. He worked with a Julliard School professor who had written a book on the WPA to track down more information on the mural. Sabori said the original mural was rarely seen by the public because it was in an area that was only for immigrants. He said he decided to re-create it so the general public could get a chance to see it as well.

He said he and Julliard professor also found the last remaining remnants of the original mural hanging in a federal court building in Brooklyn, N.Y. Those remnants allowed Sabori to determine what colors he needed to use, he said.

Sabori said he didn’t originally plan to exhibit his replica of the Ellis Island mural at the National Archives of Atlanta. He initially offered it to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. for a temporary exhibit. He said the Smithsonian could only display it for two weeks and wanted to keep it afterward, so he asked if there was any other place he could display his work.

“They suggested the National Archives, but they said, ‘Don’t go to the archives in Washington D.C., because there is a regional branch of the archives in Georgia,” said Sabori.

Jim McSweeney, the regional administrator for the National Archives at Atlanta, said the archives worked with Sabori for a year to develop the exhibit. McSweeney said the archives had been planning an immigration exhibit for 2012 and Sabori’s offer provided a centerpiece for the exhibit.

The archives has copies of immigration documents, including passenger ship manifests, court records and naturalization records for famous people such as Henry Kissinger and Gloria Esteban, on display with the mural.

“We did the Civil War in 2011 and we did Civil Rights in 2009, so I thought it was a tailor-made time to do an exhibit on immigration,” said McSweeney.