When they close the Seminar in Orchard Lake, it is worth considering the fate of the treasures of Polish culture donated by the Polish diaspora.

Paintings and works donated by Poles to Polish Mission of the Orchard Lake Schools

Alicja Karlic

I am fully aware that organizing archives takes a lot of time and requires many hands. I know that a lot has been cleaned up. Nevertheless, the archives are still inaccessible to researchers or interested people. It is my understanding that the late Dr. Edward S. Wikiera and his wife Josephine donated a substantial amount of gold and money to secure and promote Polish culture and traditions and to protect the great legacy of generations of the Poles who financially supported what today is the Orchard Lake Schools, a complex that includes the Polish Seminary ( On June 30, 2021, the Regents of the Orchard Lake Schools announced that SS.Cyril & Methodius Seminary would close operations after the 2021-2022 academic year), St. Mary’s Preparatory and the Polish Mission that was established 13 years ago.

I remember the formation of the Polish Mission as a separate secular organizational unit operating under Orchard Lake Schools. This enormous and challenging undertaking was only made possible thanks to the funding derived from the inheritance left by Dr. Wikiera and his wife. Doctor Wikiera, who died in February 2010, was a lifelong promoter of the Polish culture in Detroit. After many years of cooperation, established thanks to then-chancellor, Fr. Stanley Milewski, Dr. Wikiera decided to provide financial support and create a foundation whose goal was to provide funds for promoting Polish history and culture in the United States. The economic basis for the functioning of the Polish Mission is income in the form of interest on the foundation’s capital. The funding is most likely insufficient because the accumulated archival and historical artifacts require continuous maintenance and conservation, and buildings (such as the Galeria) require general renovations. These structures have not been properly maintained or modernized for years, so they need thorough renovations and adaptations to their functions that would guarantee the safety of the collected exhibits.

I also remember, and it was over a year ago, that during an interview regarding the position of director of the Polish Mission, the chairman of the selection committee, Mr. Joseph Majcher, explicitly stated that it is obligatory for the new PM director to raise funds within six months for one million dollars to start the construction works on the new gallery building. As far as I know, nothing has been done in this matter. Paintings and works donated by Poles are being stored at the residence of one of the Orchard Lake Schools Regents.
In 2012, I spoke about the collections of the Polish Mission Gallery with Dr. Inga Kopciewicz, the curator of the District Museum in Bydgoszcz. Dr. Kopciewicz’s archival project, which spanned three visits to the Polish Mission, was financed by the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. I want to share this conversation that took place a few years ago for the benefit of our readers and custodians of the priceless collections hidden away at the OL.

Dr. Inga Kopciewicz:
I came to Orchard Lake for the first time two years ago. I was here for a whole month, and I was able to find out about the condition of the Galeria in general, the condition of the collections, and what is needed. Arriving here, I had no idea how many artworks would have to be cataloged. In 2010, I conducted an inventory of over 70 objects. Last year—it was my second stay here— I cataloged over 220 works. This year I hope that the list will be closed. There are still about 60 to 70 objects left. In the first year of my stay, I focused primarily on the artworks of Polish painters. At that time the most valuable collection was inventoried, a collection of such artworks as, for example, the artworks of Stykas, drawings of Matejko, the Kossaks, Leon Wyczółkowski, and many others. Last year I focused on the graphics from the turn of the 20th century. These are graphics of: Stefan Mrożewski, Jan Wałach, Krystyna Wróblewska; individual artworks of Stanisław Raczyński, Stefania Dretler-Flin. There were also many artworks of Polish contemporary artists, which probably remained here after the exhibitions organized in the Galeria. I have in mind the artworks of Czesław Podgórski, Barbara Rosiak and Alojzy Balcerzak. The graphics are arranged in large groups of authorial works. It is interesting to note that I found the works of Stefan Mrożewski in the Gallery. I will be specific here: the series that is called “Saints, blessed and saintly Poles.” It was a collection of several dozen portraits of various saints and beatified Poles. This series also includes portraits of Polish kings. I read that Stefan Mrożewski himself donated these artworks (these are woodcuts) to Zakłady Naukowe in Orchard Lake [Orchard Lake Schools]. They were intended for Pope John XXIII. The first copy of the portfolio—with a portrait of John XXIII—was presented to the Pope by a pilgrimage of professors from Orchard Lake. When Pope John XXIII died, the artist painted a portrait of Paul VI, his successor, and probably this whole collection was to be given to Pope Paul VI. There is a question of why this collection is still at Orchard Lake. Maybe someone changed his mind, and the collection was never handed over to the Vatican. These graphics are still here, as block for the elements of these woodcuts.

This year I focused on completing the inventory. Other posters, including those of Lech Majewski and other individual artworks, are still waiting to be cataloged. Maybe next year it will be possible to release an album with the selected items from the inventory, which will popularize the collections while allowing specialists to become familiar with them. Perhaps these artworks will be requested for display in various exhibitions.

Alicja Karlic: I remember that during your first visit, you were deeply surprised by the discovery of Jan Matejko’s drawing, entitled “Bolesław the Brave with Świętopełk at the Golden Gate in Kyiv.”

Dr. I. K.: It is a pencil sketch for the painting by Matejko, which was considered missing for many years. A few years ago, it turned out that Matejko’s painting exists and is in private hands. Even the National Museum in Krakow organized a presentation of this painting. I found a sketch for this artwork in Orchard Lake. I must add that this sketch was given to Helena Modrzejewska, who was not only an actress but also an art connoisseur.

There is something else that is very interesting. Leon Wyczółkowski’s artwork, a portrait of a young girl, was displayed at an auction in Poland. Here in the Galeria, I also found a sketch for this painting. The connections between the Galeria in Orchard Lake and Poland are huge. There is also artwork by Saturnin Świerzyński (1820-1883) depicting the presbytery of the Wawel Cathedral. Imagine being in the 19th Century Art Gallery in the Sukiennice in Krakow.


A.K.: Is it possible to conserve these artworks here in Orchard Lake, or do they have to be sent to Poland?

Dr. I. K.: I think it can be done on site, even at the nearest universities that have conservation laboratories and shops. You can also ask for help from Polish specialists who specialize in the conservation of artworks of individual artists. For example, we have specialists who have been involved in the conservation of artworks by Jacek Malczewski or Kazimierz Sichulski for many years. Obviously, the initiative of this kind of magnitude and complexity would require the full engagement of the OLS’s leadership. But many minor conservation projects could be done by students under the guidance of their professors.


A.K.: I think that after three visits at the Galeria of the Polish Mission, you will prepare a report with recommendations on how to proceed with the artworks…

Dr. I. K.: I prepare reports on a regular basis. Each object and work of art is described on the card. I record the current status of each job. If the artwork has defects, they are described in detail, together with my recommendations on what should be done. Reports are submitted to the Orchard Lake Schools and the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage in Warsaw.

September 2012

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