The Polish Influence Reflected in Wicker Park

By Arthur Alcantara

Much like every neighborhood in Chicago, Wicker Park is the home to a unique past and people. One landmark of the neighborhood’s past, the Polish Triangle, signifies the 2 million Poles that came through it on their way into the city. Along the triangle exists remnants of the once immense Polish population in stores such as Podhalanka and in the luxurious Chopin Theater.

The Chopin Theater is one of the few examples left of Polish history that exists in Wicker Park today. Although the Polish population is inarguably dwindling in Wicker Park, its existence is clearly reflected within the Polish artwork.

Amidst the rich history lies the The Polish Museum of America, which holds hundreds of pieces of Polish artwork.

“Most of our artwork was made for the 1939 World’s fair,” as explained by Adam Aksnowicz, 22, the collections care assistant at the Polish Museum of America. “After Hitler’s invasion of Poland, most of the artwork displayed at the fair was sold in order to preserve it.”

This artwork helps depict the innocence of the Polish people before they fall to Nazi rule and then later Communist influence.

Among the many pieces at The Polish Museum of America was the Between the Lines exhibition, a collection of photographs of everyday Polish life during the Communist rule over the country. These images capture both the pain and immense willpower of the Polish people. These images help show why many citizens fled to American cities such as Chicago by providing grotesque images of what was considered everyday life for the citizens of Poland.

Wicker Park is also home to one of the most praised Polish artists, Zygmunt Dyrkacz, owner of the Chopin Theater. Dyrkacz, 63, said his childhood in Poland affected his work today.

“By having nothing at all, I truly discovered who I was,” he said.

Although the Polish community is no longer existent in a tightly knit community as it once was, the Polish presence is still strongly a part of the Chicago community.

“Polish people exist in nearly every neighborhood of Chicago,” explained Andrew Obarski, 26, an intern at the Polish Museum of America. “Their influence can be felt nearly all over the city.”

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