The Croatian Cultural Garden in Cleveland is a unique open-air memorial park in the North American continent, which will vividly bear witness to the broader American public and to our people born in that land of the indelible Croatian emigrant contribution to the formation of the modern New World.
The Croatians of Greater Cleveland can now enjoy the beauty of the newly created Croatian Cultural Garden, created based on the ideas and significant financial support of our numerous emigrant community by landscape architect Jim McKnight at the famed Rockefeller Park in the frame of the Cleveland Cultural Garden Federation.
The Culture Gardens of Cleveland, a tradition stretching back almost one hundred years, feature twenty-seven ethnically inspired gardens, presenting the wealth of diversity of the emigrant nations living in the capital of the US federal state of Ohio. Branka Malinar, the president of the Croatian Heritage Museum and Library, informed us of this project of the decade for the Croatians of Cleveland and noted that the Croatian community was very engaged in seeing through this effort, resulting in the wonderful park we have today.
The Croatian Heritage Museum and Library was founded six years ago, with a special committee formed that initiated the construction, gathering of materials and shaping of the Croatian Cultural Garden at the famed Rockefeller Park on Cleveland (Ohio). The selected plot of land, located in the historical part of Rockefeller Park, covers about a hectare. The Croatian Cultural Garden is located between the Hungarian and Jewish cultural parks on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and the East Boulevard, in other words it stretches from MLK Blvd. to East Blvd. Five years ago, on the 10th of January of 2010, a meeting was held gathering some 125 members of the local Croatian community. The gathered presented many ideas on the visual appearance of the future garden and fundraising was quickly launched among our people to see the ideas about the formation of the garden move along without impediment. The Edward & Catherine Lozick Foundation, whose founders hail from the Croatian island of Brač, provided the largest foundation contribution, says Branka Malinar.
Construction of the Croatian Cultural Garden kicked off in April of 2011 and took place in two phases successfully completed last summer, so that the gates of the garden, notes president Malinar, will be open this summer. A replica of the monumental baptismal font of Duke Višeslav and Josip Turkalj’s (Rakovica near Slunj, 1924 – Cleveland, 2007) sculpture of the Immigrant Mother are among the more interesting exhibits among the open-air art. Turkalj (Turkaly) worked as a sculptor in the USA for half a century and taught sculpting at Cleveland’s Gilmore Academy for two decades. Branka Malinar noted that three symbols the Croatian people have identified with since the Old Croatian period from the seventh century to the present day are carved into the pedestal of this bronze sculpture: the braid, the Glagolitic script and the chequerboard coat of arms. Along with these Croatian symbols the sculpture’s pedestal also includes a dedication that bears witness to the unshakeable patriotism and humanitarianism of our emigrants: “Dedicated to all the immigrant mothers who brought their families to America seeking freedom and a new life. Erected by the Croatian community of Greater Cleveland.”
The American Croatian Women’s Club donated the money for the replica of Duke Višeslav’s baptismal font and the families of Ivan, Slavko and Nikola Katic undertook the very demanding task of delivering it to Cleveland. Duke Višeslav’s baptismal font is symbolic of the beginnings of Christianity among Croatians, a faith our emigrants bore with them when they moved to America. The full-sized replica now graces the garden in Cleveland. Catholic priest Mirko Hladni consecrated the baptismal font, with Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson delivering a speech before the many gathered citizens and culture and arts associations of Croatian ethnic extraction that performed for the opening on the 10th of August 2014.
The Croatian Cultural Garden in Cleveland is a unique open-air memorial park in the North American continent, which will vividly bear witness to the broader American public and to our people born in that land of the indelible Croatian emigrant contribution to the formation of the modern New World. In the myths of many nations, including the Croatian people, the image of heaven on earth is the symbol of a garden in which people create in harmony with nature. For migrants, on the other hand, the garden is a logical metaphor for the human aspiration for a return to a lost paradise. This symbolic return has been achieved in the Croatian community of Cleveland at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century when, at last (the idea was eight decades in the making), the scents of Our Beautiful Homeland awaken every spring in this newly erected garden. The first Croatians arrived in Cleveland, namely, in the wave of migrants over 120 years ago in the period from around 1887 to 1890. Most, however, arrived during the second wave of migrants between 1945 and 1970. There is now a community of over seventy thousand American Croatians living in Ohio. Migration historians note that some fifty Croatian organisations have been active in this city, two parishes, two ethnic houses, one Croatian language school, four radio programmes, a number of culture and arts associations, folklore and tamburitza ensembles and a significant number of fraternal and humanitarian organisations.
Text by: Vesna Kukavica