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  • Writer's pictureSuzanne Munroe

Immigrants at Ellis Island

Updated: Apr 15, 2022

I have painted the below portraits using reference photos taken by Augustus Sherman (ca. 1905-1914)

Augustus was a clerk at Ellis Island from 1892-1925, and was in a unique position to document countless immigrants as they attempted to gain entrance into the United States. "Sherman was able to take more than 200 photos — of subjects typically detained for interrogation — that reveal as much about the subjects’ fears as they do the diverse reality of our national heritage" : The highest number of immigrants to arrive on Ellis Island in a single day was 11,747, on April 17, 1907! The descriptions under the portraits are from

A young Italian woman.

A Laplander woman from Finland"Gákti is the traditional costume of the Sámi people of the Arctic regions spanning from northern Norway to the Kola Peninsula in Russia. Traditionally made from reindeer leather and wool, velvet and silks are also used, with the (typically) blue pullover supplemented by contrasting colored banding of plaits, brooches, and jewelry. The decorations are region-specific". Augustus Francis Sherman/New York Public Library

Wilhelm Schleich, a miner from Hohenpeissenberg, Bavaria (circa 1905).

"Traditional dress in Germany is known as Tracht(en) and, as with other nations, there are many regional variations. In the Alpine region, leather breeches known as lederhosen were worn regularly by men and became part of the typical Bavarian style known as Miesbacher Tracht. This standardized form is exemplified here and is now typically associated with the annual Oktoberfest. The gray jacket is made from fulled wool and decorated with horn buttons." Augustus Francis Sherman/New York Public Library"

Romanian shepherd (circa 1906).

"Romanian shepherd." Circa 1906.Dominating the photograph is a traditional shepherd's coat known as a sarica, made of three to four sheepskins sewn together. Depending on the region and style, a sarica could be worn either with the fleece facing inwards, as seen here, or outwards, resulting in an entirely different aesthetic. The size and softness of the garment also made it suitable for use as a pillow when sleeping outdoors.Augustus Francis Sherman/New York Public Library" As opposed to wealthier arrivals, poor passengers were detained on the island for physical inspections and further legal questioning

An Italian woman. "Elements of this dress may have been homemade, though accessories such as the kerchief and earrings would have had to have been purchased, as these items would have meant a considerable expense for many peasants. The color and cut of individual garments were often region specific, though manufactured elements such as shawls were a common feature throughout Italy. For special occasions such as weddings, women often wore highly decorative aprons made of expensive floral brocade fabrics. Augustus Francis Sherman/New York Public Library

A traditionally dressed Ruthenian woman, who would now be known as Ukrainian

"While there are clues in her garments, the exact home village of this "Ruthenian woman," as she was originally titled, is uncertain. Her costume is characteristic of the Bukovina region that is today divided between Ukraine and Romania. The embroidered motifs on her linen blouse suggest that she is likely from the Ukrainian side, but useful details are concealed by the lack of color in the original image.Augustus Francis Sherman/New York Public Library"

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