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Traces of Jan Kilian in Texas

Tuesday 09 May 2017 at 7:31 pm.

The following article by Rachel Hildebrandt first appeared in Upper Sorbian in Rozhlad, 50 (2000) čo 6, pp. 216-218. It was translated into English by Dr. Gerald Stone.

Since 1980 the Museum in Serbin (USA) has been documenting the history of

Wendish immigrants

Rachel Hildebrandt

            The place name Serbin is shown on only a few maps. It is a settlement founded in 1855 by Pastor Jan Kilian and around 500 Sorbian emigrants. Today it is the home of the Texas Wendish Heritage Museum, a center for the preservation of the culture of the immigrants. Since it was opened in 1980 it has been visited by thousands of people.

            The roots of the museum lie in the Wendish Culture Club. In 1970 a small group of elderly women held a meeting and founded it. They were united by their concern at the striking decline of the original Sorbian identity. The Wendish Culture Club, centered on its leader Lillie Mörbe Caldwell, aimed to react to that. The foundation of the club corresponded to a general American trend in the 1970s, known as “Back to Roots.” Two years later in August 1972 the women participated in the folk-art festival at the Institute for Texan Cultures, University of Texas. Here they were selling Wendish easter eggs and noodles. The club attracted attention again in 1975. The Institute for Texan Cultures asked for the loan of Wendish works of art and documents from Serbin for an exhibition of Texan folk-groups. This official recognition of Wendish history in the USA paved the way for the foundation of the museum five years later.

            Many Wendish records and documents were already lost. This intensified the developing discussion about the preservation of a log-cabin in Serbin threatened with ruin. The idea arose of a Wendish museum. The first official notice to that effect is dated 14 November 1978. A year later the Wendish Culture Club formally changed its name to the Texas Wendish Heritage Society. This society asked the leaders of St. Paul’s Church in Serbin to permit it to buy a plot of land which it was not using. The parish turned the proposal down, but agreed to a permanent tenancy for the symbolic rent of one dollar a year. The Serbin church made its old school available. The main building, built in 1915, was given the name St. Paul Building by those responsible for the museum. An extension built in 1929 was given the name Kilian Building. Here, after the opening of the museum on 8 November 1980, the society organized its first exhibition. The bigger St. Paul Building was at that time undergoing restoration. As a charitable, non-profit-making organization the society had hardly any money to buy exhibits. The museum was dependent on the gifts of Wendish descendants.  These were amply provided in the form of such objects as furniture or work implements, books, archives and other written documents, but also memoirs provided orally.

            In 1982 the restoration of the St. Paul Building was completed and the exhibition was moved from the Kilian Building, which henceforth served for meetings, to the main building. Voluntary helpers managed everything, arranging a kitchen, a living room and nursery, and other rooms. There they interpreted in reality the former life of the emigrants, their everyday life. Like all American museums, which steadily expand, the Wendish Museum from its beginning had financial problems. Today it still has to live from private gifts. There is no support from the state or public funds. Firms like Coca-Cola and Exxon, for which some members of the Society work, and church affiliated organizations like Aid Association for Lutherans provided money, and more came from interested families and individuals.

            The largest grant came from the Peters Foundation. Louise Peter, the originator of this foundation, was the last still-living granddaughter of Pastor Jan Kilian and his wife Marija Gröschel. 130,000 dollars from the Peters Foundation made possible the construction of a new building for the museum, which serves as an exhibition room, library, and archive. With its shingles, window-shutters, and diagonal laths the building conforms to the Wendish building style of the nineteenth century. The building was ready and the question arose of a competent plan for exhibitions. In Nancy Teinert Allen we have an interested person of Wendish descent with experience in the museum business. She prepares all the exhibitions at present.

            Meanwhile, the museum owns – in addition to the complex mentioned – a further pair of log cabins on the same site. Like many other new things, the Kurio and Mertink cabins – named after the families that once lived here – come from donations. Private and institutional initiatives facilitated their renovation, because the two buildings, completed around 1860, were worn out by the beginning of the twentieth century. Nowadays little remains of such ‘immigrant architecture.’ So it was a lucky chance for the museum to acquire these objects. The furniture located in them attests to the poverty of most of the immigrants and their children.

            Tours of the museum begin with a short presentation of Wendish history. There follows the emigration to Texas itself. Because only few Americans know anything at all about the Wends, the information in the museum concentrates more on general facts than on details. But those responsible make efforts to distinguish between the Wendish settlers and the neighbouring German emigrants. In the Peters Building the library is situated, accessible to all visitors. More than 800 books in German, English, and Sorbian are kept there, available for reading and research. Those interested can also look at documents in the archive. The collection of sources has grown considerably. Thanks to the private initiative of all responsible this unique treasury of knowledge is in good hands. The last twenty years have testified above all to efforts to protect Texas-Wendish culture. At the present time the society intends to engage a part-time director for the museum. The guidance of the institution in the hands of a qualified specialist would be a good start to the new century. (translated by L. Ko.)  

Jana Kilianowe slědy w Texasu

Muzej w Serbinje (USA) wot 1980 stawizny serbskich wupućowarjow dokumentuje

Rachel Hildebrandt

Městne mjeno Serbin je jenož na mało geografiskich kartach zapisane. 1855 je farar Jan Kilian z něhdźe 500 serbskimi wupućowarjemi wone sydlišćo załožił. Dźensa namaka so tam z ,,Texas Wendish Heritage Museum" k hajenju kultury imigrantow swojorazny stawizniski centrum. Wot jeho zahajenja w lěće 1980 su jón tysacy ludźi wopytali.

Korjenje muzeja ležachu we ,,Wendish Culture Club" (Serbski kulturny klub). W awgusće 1970 zeńdźe so skupinka staršich žonow a jón załoźi. Wšěch jednoćeše starosć dla razantneho rozpada serbskeje praidentity. Serbski kulturny klub wokoło wjednicy Lillie Mörbe Caldwell chcyše na to reagować. Załoženje kluba wotpowědowaše tehdy tež powšitkownemu ameriskemu trendej w 70tych lětach - t. mj. ,,Back to Roots" (Wróćo ke korjenjam). Hižo dwě lěće pozdźižo, w awgusće 1972 wobdźělichu so žony na ludowuměłskim festiwalu Uniwersity Texas / Instituta za texaniske kultury w San Antonio. Tu předawachu serbske jutrowne jejka a nudle. Dalšu skedźbnosć zbudźi klub 1975. Institut za texaniske kultury prošešo wo wupožčenje serbskich wuměłskich twórbow a dokumentow ze Serbina za wustajeńcu wo texaniskich ludowych skupinach. Tute oficialne připóznaće serbskich stawiznow w USA runaše puc za załoženje muzeja pjeć lět pozdźišo.

Wjele serbskich žórłow a časowych dokumentow bě so hižo zhubiło. Ćim intensiwnišo wuwiwaše so tohodla diskusija wo wuchowanju wot rozpada wohroženeje kładźiteje hěty w Serbinje. Nasta ideja wo serbskim muzeju. Prěnja protokolowa notica wo tym je ze 14. nowembra 1976. Lěto pozdźišo změni Serbski kulturny klub oficialnje swoje mjeno na ,,Texas Wendish Heritage Society" (Texasko-Serbske towarstwo namrěwcow"). Tute towarstwo prošeše nawodnistwo cyrkwje St. Paul w Serbinje, wot njeje njewužiwanu ležownosć za muzej kupić směć. Gmejna namjet wotpokaza, přihłosowaše pak trajnemu wotnajenju za symbolisku plaćiznu jednoho dollara lětnje. Serbinska cyrkej staji swoju staru šulu k dispoziciji. Hłowne twarjenje, hižo 1915 natwarjene, pomjenowachu zamołwići za muzej ,,St. Paul Building" (Paulusowe twarjenje). Přitwar z lěta 1929 dósta mjeno ,,Kilian Building" (Kilianowy dom). Tu zorganizowa towarstwo po zahajenju muzeja dnja 8. nowembra 1980 swoju prěnju wustajeńcu. Wjetše Paulusowe twarjenje w tym času hišće restawrowachu. Jako powšitkownje wužitna, na dobytk njewusměrjena organizacija njeměješe towarstwo lědma pjenjez za nakup eksponatow. Muzej bě na dary serbskich potomnikow pokazany. Tute so w formje předmjetow kaž meblow abo dźěłoweho grata, knihow, archiwalijow a dalšich pisomnych dokumentow, ale tež ertnje traděrowanych dopomnjenkow bohaće znosychu.

1982 bě wobnowjenje Paulusoweho twarjenja dokónčene a wustajeńca so z Kilianoweho domu, kiž wotnětka za zhromadźizny słužeše, do hłowneho twarjenja přeměsći. Dobrowólni pomocnicy wšo wobstarachu: zarjadowachu kuchnju, bydlensku a dźěćacu stwu a dalše rumnosće. Tam interpretowachu po woprawdźitosći něhdyše žiwjenje wupućowarjow, jich wšědny dźeń. Kaž kóždy ameriski muzej, kiž so pospochi rozšěrja, tłóčachu tež serbski muzej wot spočatka finančne starosće. Hišće dźensa dyrbi jeničce z priwatnych darow žiwy być. Pobrachuje statna kaž tež zjawna podpěra. Firmy kaž Coca-Cola a Exxon, za kotrež wšelacy čłonojo towarstwa dźěłaja, a cyrkwinske organizacije kaž ,,Aid Association for Lutherans" přewostajichu muzejej pjenjezy, dalše wot zajimowanych swójbow a jednotliwcow dochadźachu.

Najwjetša přiražka pochadźa z Petersoweje załožby. Louise Peter, załožićelka tuteje załožby, běše poslednja hišće žiwa wnučka fararja Jana Kiliana a jeho mandźelskeje Marije Gröscheloweje. 130,000 dollarow Petersoweje załožby zmóžni natwar noweho twarjenja za muzej, kiž jako wustajenišćo, biblioteka a archiw słuži. Ze šindźelemi, wokeńcami a prěkušemi wotpowěduje dom serbskemu twarskemu stilej 19. lětstotka. Twarjenje běše hotowe a nasta prašenje za kmanym naćiskom za wustajeńcy. W Nancy Teinert Allen namaka so zajimowana wosoba serbskeho pochada z nazhonjenjemi we wobłuku muzejownistwa. Wona wšě aktualne wustajeńcy přihotuje.

Mjeztym wobsedźi muzej - dodatnje k spomnjenemu kompleksej - dalšej kładźitej domaj na samsnej ležownosći. Kaž mnohe druhe nowosće pochadźatej tež Kurjowa a Mertinkowa hěta - pomjenowanej po něhdy tu bydlacymaj swójbomaj - z darow. Priwatne a institucionelne iniciatiwy zmóžnichu jeju wobnowjenje, dokelž běštej wokoło 1860 natwarjenej domaj spočatk 20. lětstotka dodźeržanej. Dźensa namaka so jenož hišće mało tajkeje ,,wupućowarskeje architektury". Tuž je zbožowny připad za muzej, zo tutej objektaj dósta. Tam zaměstnjene meble swědča wo chudobje wjetšiny imigrantow a jich dźěći.

Wjedźenje po muzeju zahaji so z krótkim předstajenjom stawiznow Serbow. Sćěhuje jich wupućowanje do Texasa same. Dokelž jenož mało Amerićanow scyła něšto wo Serbach wě, so informacija w muzeju bóle na powšitkowne fakty hač na nadrobnosće koncentruje. Zamołwići pak so prócuja diferencować mjez serbskimi sydlerjemi a susodnymi němskimi wupućowarjemi. W Petersowym twarjenju je wšěm wopytowarjam přistupna knihownja zaměstnjena. Tam steji wjace hač 800 knihow w němskej, jendźelskej a serbskej rěči za čitanje a slědźenje k dispoziciji. Tež do dokumentow archiwa smědźa zajimcy pohladać. Zběrka žórłow je mjeztym nahladnje rozrostła. Dźakowano priwatnej iniciatiwje wšěch zamołwitych leži tónle jónkróćny skład wědy w dobrych rukach. Zašłe dwaceći lět swědčachu předewšěm wo prócowanju, texanisko-serbsku kulturu škitać. Tuchwilu towarstwo wotpohladuje za muzej direktora na dźělny časowy zawjazk přistajić. Nawod zarjadnišća w rukomaj wukubłaneho fachowca by był dobry start do noweho lětstotka. (přeł. L. Ko.)

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