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Augustus F. Sherman: Ellis Island Portraits, 1905 - 1920

For many, Ellis Island is the ultimate symbol of American immigration and the immigrant experience. On July 4th the Minnesota History Center opens a new exhibit celebrating the human story of the more than twelve million immigrants who entered the United States through the federal immigration station.

Augustus Frederick Sherman worked at Ellis Island in the years 1905-1920. He was an untrained, yet highly gifted photographer who created hundreds of images documenting the new arrivals to America. Fascinated by the diverse origins and cultural backgrounds of his subjects, Sherman created a riveting series of portraits, offering viewers a compelling perspective on this dynamic period in our country’s history.

The exhibit features 75 framed black-and-white photographs reflecting the cultural and ethnic diversity of people arriving at the turn of the last century. Sherman took photographs of families, groups, and individuals who were being detained either for medical reasons or for further interrogation. In many cases, the subjects were fleeing poverty, natural disaster, and political and religious persecution. And sometimes, after being detained, the immigrant was deported. Over the course of his career at Ellis Island, Sherman took more than 200 pictures, often encouraging his subjects to open their suitcases and put on their elaborate national costumes or folk dress. He captured images of Romanian shepherds, German stowaways, circus performers and women from Guadeloupe.

The New York Times called the photos in the exhibit “powerful” “striking” and “one of the most substantial photographic records of that period of mass immigration

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