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    May 04, 2022

    Preserved by Le Moyne for Decades, Historic Artwork to Return to Poland

    A saga that began seven years before Le Moyne’s founding in 1946 will draw to a close this summer when 11 pieces of historic artwork will return to Poland to be put on permanent display in the country’s new Polish History Museum, currently under construction in Warsaw. The pieces have hung in the College’s library since 1958. Learn more about the artwork and its history here.

    On May 4, a Polish delegation led by Minister of Culture and National Heritage and Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Gliński visited the Le Moyne campus to sign an agreement and hold a short event with the College that will result in the pieces being returned to Poland later this year. The announcement got significant media attention, including a story on CNYCentral in Syracuse and the popular Polish site The First News.

    “I want to express our deep appreciation to the Polish government and Minister Gliński for working together to forge this historic agreement,” said Le Moyne President Linda LeMura. “It has been a privilege to have had these magnificent works of art displayed on our campus for more than six decades.”

    “This is a special event for Polish cultural heritage,” said Gliński. “For many years, various groups and institutions tried to raise awareness of the paintings and tapestries from Le Moyne College so they would not be forgotten. It is our joint success that we are meeting today in Syracuse, at Le Moyne College, to sign an agreement on transferring the works of Polish artists back to Poland. At this point I would like to say thank you, once again, to the administration of Le Moyne College for their cooperation and understanding how important these works are to us, as well as for many years of caring for this unique collection.”

    The story begins in 1939, when seven paintings depicting eight centuries of Polish history and four tapestries celebrating Jan Sobieski, King John III of Poland, were shipped from, Poland to the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair (NYWF), where they were put on display as part of the fair’s Polish Pavilion. The exhibit was overseen by Baron Stefan K. de Ropp, a Latvian-born scholar, businessman and journalist, who was commissioner general of the Polish Pavilion.

    The Nazi invasion of Warsaw on Sept. 1, 1939 endangered the participation of Poland at the NYWF. As a result, de Ropp was cut off from the Polish exhibit’s accounts and faced the possibility of shutting the exhibit down before the end of the fair’s two-year run in 1940. Instead, he worked to raise money for the exhibit for the second year of the fair, to finance the distribution of the exhibits afterwards and to pay its remaining debts.

    Following World War II, de Ropp founded the Polish Information Center to disseminate word of the Polish situation to Polish authorities in exile, to Polish emigres in the United States, and to U.S. officials. Eventually he moved with his family to Syracuse and became an adjunct professor of history and Russian at Le Moyne College. Concerned for their safekeeping and keeping the collection together, in 1958 he donated the artwork to Le Moyne.

    “Stefan de Ropp's hope was that these works would be returned someday to a free Poland,” said Inga Barnello, director of the Noreen Reale Falcone Library. “Le Moyne College was the safest place he could find for them. I am so pleased to have been able to help care for and educate others about this collection. The Polish people are the beneficiaries of all this goodwill.”

    The agreement signed on May 4 states:
    “Le Moyne has preserved and displayed the Collection since it received it from Mr. de Ropp, but has determined that the Collection may be more effectively exhibited to a broader audience by the museum… (the) paintings and tapestries comprising the collection have deep cultural and historical significance for the Polish people and the Republic of Poland, and the Ministry has requested that they be conveyed to the Ministry so that they may hereafter be exhibited at the new Polish History Museum in Warsaw headquarters currently being built…”

    As part of the agreement, the paintings (roughly six-feet wide by four-feet high) and tapestries (seven-feet wide by nine-feet high) will be packed and shipped to Poland within 90 days of the agreement being signed.

    Over the years, the College had the paintings preserved through West Lake Conservators in Skaneateles and the tapestries at the Textile Conservation Workshop in South Salem, N.Y. They have been prominently displayed in the Noreen Reale Falcone Library since that building opened in 1981 and before that they were in the College’s original library on the first floor of Grewen Hall.

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