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Statue of Liberty New Land New Life Koner Untapped Cities AFineLyne

As the United States moves deeper into discussion on the subject of immigration, a photographic essay from the 1950s has re-emerged this month in the exhibit “New Land…New Life, An Italian Family’s Migration to America,” a series of vintage photographs by American photojournalist Marvin Koner (1921-1983) on display at the Keith De Lellis Gallery. Koner, who is best known for his portraits of entertainers such as Johnny Cash and Miles Davis in publications like LIFE, Esquire, and Pageant Magazine, was also known for his photographs capturing the struggles and triumphs of the immigrant population during that period of time.

Keith De Lellis Gallery New Land New Life Koner AFineLyne Untapped CitiesCarmela at her farewell dinner of lamb, eggs and chopped greens with family in Lucera, Italy

In 1957, Koner traveled to Lucera, Italy to document Carmela De Maria and her three children, as they readied themselves for the long journey to America to be reunited with de Maria’s husband, Leonardo. Just two years earlier, Leonardo had been a farmer in Lucera earning $800 a year. He made his way to America, obtained a job as a laborer and was now earning $3,500 a year. With a home to live in, and money for transport, he anxiously awaited their arrival.

Keith DeLellis Gallery Marvin Koner Untapped Cities AFineLyneCamela, with her Mother in the background. They sobbed, as leaving became a reality.

The exhibit “New Land…New Life” gives us a view, through Koner’s lens, of Carmela and Leonard De Maria’s story. You will see Carmela’s emotional last days in Lucera, her lifelong home, and her sad goodbyes to friends and her mother. We view photos of her trip aboard the SS Constitution, and the arrival in America, reuniting a family that had been separated for two years. Below are a few of the many photos in this exhibit that originally appeared in a Pageant Magazine article entitled “Still The Greatest Adventure.”

New Land New Life Koner Keith De Lellis Gallery AFineLyne Untapped CitiesCarmela aboard the SS Constitution

A farewell dinner was prepared the night before Camela and her children left for America. Her Mother was there, as well as her in-laws, who had once lived in America, aunts, uncles, cousins and close friends. It was a bittersweet occasion, and in the end, they sobbed, knowing this could be the last time they would see each other.

Pageant Magazine Marvin Koner Keith De Lellis Gallery Untapped Cities AFineLyneHuddled together with other Italian emigrants as they prepare for their new life in America

Aboard the SS Constitution were other Italian emigrants, 215 of them were headed to Canada and 45 to the United States. They found the food strange, and the language of the crew incomprehensible. It took a week for the intense sadness to lift, but finally a feeling of hope brought a smile.

New Land New Life Italian Family's Migration to America Untapped Cities AFineLyneThe morning of departure, crowds of well-wishers wave and cry as they watch their loved ones board the SS Constitution

Migration to America Marvin Koner 1957 Untapped Cities AFineLyneCarmela with Michele age 12, Francesco age 8, and Lucia age 4

On the day of their arrival, the children can all be seen in their best clothing, as they see the New York City skyline for the first time. They will soon be reunited with their father, and on their way to a new home in New Jersey, where instead of one room with one bed, there will be four rooms, with a bed for each of them. Today, Michele would be about 70, Francesco 66, and Lucia 62.

New Land New Life Koner Keith DeLellis Gallery Untapped Cities AFineLyne

Keith De Lellis Gallery Marvin Koner Untapped Cities AFineLyneThe SS Constitution arriving in America

Marvin Koner photographs Untapped Cities AFineLyneAn emotional Carmela and Leonardo reunited in America after two years apart

Photographer Marvin Koner De Lellis Gallery Untapped Cities AFineLyneDocuments being scrutinized upon arrival in America

Marvin Koner (1921-1983) was an American photojournalist born in New York. His work has appeared in leading magazines, and is now in the permanent collection of the International Center for Photography, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art. The exhibit, “New Land…New Life” An Italian Family’s Migration to America will be on view through January 16 at the Keith De Lellis Gallery located at 1045 Madison Avenue at 80th Street on the 3rd floor.

While you are in that building, check out the consignment shops on the first and second floor here. Check out 5 of NYC’s Oldest Bakeries and read more about Little Italy here. Get in touch with the author at AFineLyne.

2 Comments

  1. AFineLyne says:

    Thank you for the additional information on the SS Constitution. We checked with the Boston Navy Yard and notice that the vessel is currently being restored. It will be in dry dock from 2015-2017, and an excellent opportunity for the public to view “Old Ironsides” restoration in progress. Here is that link: https://ussconstitutionmuseum.org/restoration/

  2. Clark Castle says:

    The ship was the SS Constitution. SS meaning steamship. USS is a designator for naval vessels. United States Ship Constitution is a sail frigate moored as a museum ship at the Boston Navy Yard and is the United States Navy’s oldest commissioned warship.

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