Documenting a Journey

The story of an immigrant’s journey is often a powerful component of the person’s expression of identity. By telling the story of migration in graphic form, objects can be understood even by those who do not speak the same language as the maker.

Paper cutting (scherenschnitt) by Elda Schiesser, 1989

In this scherenschnitt entitled Coming to America, Elda Schiesser of New Glarus, Wisconsin depicts the journey of Swiss immigrants to this country, the social institutions they built in Wisconsin, and their descendants' visits to their homeland in Switzerland. Oak leaves, symbolizing strength and endurance, encircle the entire cutting.

Hmong story cloth (pa ndau) by Youa Lor, 1995-1996
Courtesy of Bobbie Malone

Youa Lor of Madison, Wisconsin made this story cloth illustrating an immigrant's journey from Laos to Madison, Wisconsin. This depiction incorporates typical story cloth iconography, such as the crossing of the Mekong River, as well as the distinctive depiction of the Wisconsin State Capitol, representing Lor's new home. Story cloths are a relatively recent art form for the Hmong. First created in Thai refugee camps, they served as pictorial representations of Hmong life, from the struggles and travels of the Hmong to day-to-day village life. The art became a material link to a homeland that many would never see again.

Community signature quilt, 1840-1850
Gift of Adelaide Umland (1982.80)

Marietta and Martha White began making this quilt before leaving New York State. Many of the “courthouse square” blocks have ink signatures of family and friends from New York and Connecticut. After the sisters traveled to Wisconsin in the 1840s to rejoin their brothers, the quilt was completed with the signatures of new acquaintances in Wisconsin.