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    Croatian American community in New York and the American spirit – part 2

    After first article, we are writing about Science and the Arts.

    While most immigrants came from agricultural and artisan fields and took on labor jobs in New York, most have risen to excel in many fields, including science, business, and art. One of the most famous Croatian artists who lived in New York was sculptor Ivan Mestrović (1883-1962). Born in Vrpolje Slavonia, he brought modernist styles along with traditionalism to the States and is presented in various parts of the United States and Croatia which can be viewed through his beloved sculptures “History of Croatia,” “Relief of Kardinal Alojzije Stepinac,” and the “Spearman.” Mestrović was also named the very first artist of Croatian origins to have an exhibition at New York City’s prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art and served as an Art professor at Syracuse University in Upstate New York.    

    Another prominent Croatian artist, who was a student of Mestrović, was Anton Augustinčić (1900-1979) and is considered one of the most important Croatian sculptors of the 20th century. His connection with New York is his well-known sculpture, “The Horsewoman,” which he presented as a gift to the United Nations in 1954 as an important symbol of world peace and solidarity for Ethiopia. The statue is situated in front of the main UN headquarters in New York City and stands at least 33 feet high. Along with many Croatian-born sculptors, the artwork’s base pedestal is made of a particular marble from the island of Brač and is cast in bronze in Zagreb. 

    Manhattan was also a prominent spot for the most famous Croatian American inventor and electrical engineer, Nikola Tesla. Born in a village in Smiljan in the Lika region to ethnic Serbs, Tesla worked for Edison companies in France and Hungary until 1884, when he was transferred to New York at an office on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Determined with courage and ingenuity, he would demonstrate his work in offices rented in Little Italy and Liberty Street, where most of his famous work took place including, the arc lighting systems and the famous high-frequency transformer, a.k.a. the Tesla coil. The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and Madison Avenue were also several locations, where he tested experiments using wireless power transmissions financed through investments from JP Morgan allowing him to fund the construction of a power station in Wardenclyffe in Long Island. Of all the locations in the New York area where his most important work took place, Bryant Park is well-known to all New Yorkers as a famous location where he fed pigeons later in his life, thus designating the corner of the park as “Nikola Tesla Center.” He died in his sleep on January 7th, 1943, at the Hotel New Yorker, and 91 years later he is still celebrated as the greatest inventor in Croatia and the United States.

    The music scene in the Metropolitan was an incredible time for composers and singers. Although a male dominated scene, there were important women who were prominent in the arts with powerful and beautiful singing voices mentioned by various critics. One of the first to break out in the scene was soprano star Milka Trnina, who is known to be the pioneer of the Croatian opera. Setting her debut in 1882 in Zagreb, Milka was first recognized in 1879 by the Croatian poet August Šenoa, who was so captivated by her voice that he recommended her to study in Vienna’s best music conservatories. She became an international star as soprano singer mainly for Wagner operas, but also Italian ones, including Giacomo Puccini’s famous opera, Tosca, which she premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in 1901. In 1906, she provided singing lessons in Musical Art in New York for only a year where she suffered facial nerve damage that ended her career forcing her to move back to Zagreb. Her last performance in 1906 of Wagner’s “Das Rheingold” helped raise money to preserve a waterfall named after her in Plitvice Lakes. Unfortunately, Milka never recorded any of her songs, but fragments of voice were preserved on Mapleson cylinders from a performance in the Met. She was also known to be the inspiration for the famous Swiss chocolate brand that’s popular in Croatia, Milka! One of Milka Trnina’s students, Zinka Kunc Milanov, was also among the greatest voices and a great inspiration for women. Originally from Zagreb, she debuted in the United States in 1937 as Leonora in Verdi’s “Trubadur” where a critic commented that “her voice is not comparable to any other in the country.” Through the 1960s, she would sing at least 52 times at the Met with being leading soprano in most of them, including “Don Giovanni,” and “La Gioconda,” earning her a special medal as one of the 87 prominent persons of foreign origins who contributed to New York. She lived the last remainder life in Manhattan until her death in 1989 at the age of 83. She continues to inspire many Croatian female singers, including Ruza Pospis Baldani (1942), who continues the legacy of enchanting audiences at the Metropolitan Opera. 

    In final article, read about Sports, Media and communication and Croatian American legacy.


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