Tag Archives: Save Ellis Island

Unframed Ellis Island, an Art Installation by JR

While visiting Ellis Island a few weeks ago, we got to see a new art exhibit titled “Unframed – Ellis Island”  by French artist JR. The exhibit includes a number of life size and larger than life historic photographs of immigrants who came through Ellis Island, pasted onto the walls of 16 rooms.  The artist’s intent is to evoke a sense of time and place and give context to the human lives that were touched by their time at Ellis Island.

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Real faces of immigrants on the broken windows

A boy with his bags moving down the hall

A boy with his bags moving down the hall

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The images are only semi-permanent. They are pasted to the walls in a way that is meant to disintegrate over the time. To me this neatly mirrors the transitory nature of the island and the many people who came through over the years.

Tongue in cheek image of the copper kitchen hood with the juxtaposition of an image of a steam ship that would have carried immigrants to Ellis Island

Tongue in cheek image of the copper kitchen hood with the juxtaposition of an image of a steam ship that would have carried immigrants to Ellis Island

Part of the pasted photo is already coming off, as it is intended

Part of the pasted photo is already coming off, as it is intended

To me, the installation was really powerful. It brought a kind of life and realism to the seemingly fantastical sites of the hard hat tour. It puts faces to the experiences of the immigrants that came through the island and spent time detained in quarantine. It also made me think more about the people who spent their lives on the island as staff. Doctors, nurses, maids, kitchen staff and administrators lived on the island to facilitate its needs. These people did what they could to ease the stress of the process and take care of those who were sick or injured.

A medical team

A surgical team

Images of nurses on a surgery room wall

Images of doctors and nurses on a surgery room wall

An image of a doctor

An image of a doctor

JR is known around the world for his his “Pervasive Art” exhibitions which are designed to raise questions through juxtaposition and their placement. Though he is traditionally a street artist, he has also partnered with the likes of the New York City Ballet in 2014 (http://www.nycballet.com/Videos/Evergreen-Special/JR-Art-Series.aspx).

He received the TED Prize in 2011 for his Inside Out project. See http://www.insideoutproject.net/en for more details.

Ellis Island, The Hard Hat Edition

A couple of weeks ago my mom and I celebrated my birthday by going to the hard hat tour of Ellis Island. This tour, offed by the Save Ellis Island organization,  has only recently been introduced and takes visitors through dilapidated yet stabilized areas of the island’s facilities that had previously been closed to the public. Hard hats are seriously required.We booked the tour three months in advance, but were lucky to have a beautiful but cold day for our visit.

To get you Ellis Island you take a ferry either from NY’s Battery Park or New Jersey’s Liberty State Park. The views on the way are worth the trip alone.

Lady Liberty in all her glory

Lady Liberty in all her glory

In 1954 the federal government declared Ellis Island “surplus government property” and the site was abandoned. They considered selling or redeveloping the island, but nothing moved forward. Without and funding the buildings sat for thirty years until the 1980’s when the Main Building and a few other structures were designated for restoration and money was provided for their stabilization.

The buildings that we toured had certainly withstood the test of time, but not without major wear and tear. Ceilings had caved in, walls collapsed, windows were blown out and Hurricane Sandy took its toll. Nature had begun to reclaim the structures with trees and plants growing indoors.

To me, the most incredible part of the tour was getting a glimpse into the lives of the immigrants that came through Ellis Island in its years of operation (1892 – 1934). About 12 million people came through Ellis Island during those years. While most were able to enter the United States without holdup, about 1% of the people were quarantined on the island for treatment  or deported. I can only imagine their fear of being sent home or separated from their families.

To lose these buildings to neglect would be a tragedy. I am happy to report that in recent years more attention has been paid to preservation and funding for the Island has been increased. Ellis Island has shaped the experiences of so many of our ancestors. Its a story and history worth preserving.

What follows are my photos from the tour. As they largely speak for themselves, I wanted to share them without too much editorializing.

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Linen and Cloth Room

Damaged hallway in the midst of reconstruction

Damaged hallway in the midst of reconstruction

Morgue and Autopsy stadium for teaching

Morgue and Autopsy stadium for teaching

Crumbling dining Hall

Crumbling Hospital wing

What a view

What a view

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Seriously damaged hallway

Staff housing

Staff housing

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more staff apartments

Laundry machinery

Laundry machinery

Rusted Circuit Breaker

Rusted Circuit Breaker

If you interested in visiting the island or taking a tour, go to http://www.saveellisisland.org/visit/. Be sure to make your bookings far in advance as tours book up early.

If you found this interesting, come back next week to see a second post about an important art installation called Unframed Ellis Island by JR.