“There are too many of us for a round of bridge, but not enough to start an insurrection,” complained Leonidas Dudarew Ossetynski. The year was 1971 and from his initiative, a group of about 25 recent Polish émigrés were meeting every few weeks in private homes and apartments. They were all looking for companionship and trying to keep alive their connection to the life and heritage they left behind. Books published by “Kultura” in Paris and their monthly journal “Zeszyty” were regularly circulated. Few had enough funds for subscription. Even old issues of “Przekrój” that miraculously made their way from Poland in someone’s luggage were greedily snapped up and passed around. To those gatherings, Dudarew Ossetynski occasionally brought interesting visitors “fresh from Poland,” to have them talk about their travels and travails. Sometime at the end of that year, he and his closest friends decided to formalize the group’s meetings.
The most reliable information about organizations as well as individuals usually comes from their tax records and business accounts. From the first financial transactions that were recorded in the group’s accounts, we know that the Helena Modjeska Art and Culture Club came into being in the year 1972 . It consisted of a Managing Board and dues-paying members. Leonidas Dudarew Ossetynski was chosen to be the first president of the new organization. He remained in this capacity until 1977. The records also show that the initial annual dues were established at $10.00 per member. There were 30 members of the Club at that time.
It is 43 years later and the Helena Modjeska Art and Culture Club has been functioning in Los Angeles without interruption. Its current membership is approximately 135 paying members and annual dues, reflecting inflation, stand at $230 per couple and $135 per single member. The membership consists of Polish professional émigrés: scientists, engineers, doctors, teachers, dentists, journalists, filmmakers, actors, musicians, musicologists, and many others. Locally, the Club is often jokingly referred to as the Society of Mutual Adoration.
The Club’s Board organizes 10+ meetings every year, which add up to about 430 events during the lifespan of the organization. Many meetings resulted from the cooperation of the Board with local universities such as UCLA, USC, Loyola Marymount or Claremont McKenna College. Close contacts with the Polish American Film Society, Ahmanson Museum, Gene Autry Museum, the Polish Consulate General in Los Angeles as well as with various local Polish-American, American and Jewish organizations also yielded many fascinating and well attended Club affairs.
The Club hosted events with luminaries of literature (Czesław Miłosz, Adam Zagajewski, Jan Kott, Olga Tokarczuk, Wojciech Młynarski, Adrianna Szymańska, Edward Redlinski, Norman Davies and many others), film (Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Zanussi, Jerzy Antczak, Jerzy Skolimowski, Agnieszka Holland, Ryszard Bugajski, Jan Machulski, Zbigniew Rybczynski and others), theater (Jan Englert, Jerzy Stuhr, Andrzej Seweryn, Anna Seniuk, Danuta Szaflarska, Danuta Stenka, Grazyna Szapolowska, Jerzy Trela, Barbara Krafftowna), politics and socio-economics (Jan Karski, Adam Michnik, Aleksander Malachowski, Professor Leszek Balcerowicz, Jacek Kalabinski, Władysław Sila-Nowicki, Ks. Biskup Tadeusz Pieronek, Professor Andrzej Korbonski) and music (Halina Czerny-Stefańska, Marta Ptaszynska, Barbara Hesse-Bukowska, Stanisław Skrowaczewski, Krzesimir Dębski, Grzegorz Turnau, Magda Umer, Jacek Wojcicki, Urszula Dudziak, Jan Kanty Pawluskiewicz).
The first 25 years of the Club’s activities were celebrated with an illustrated, humorous publication, which still serves as proof that solid work in preserving and sharing our heritage can be done without unnecessary pomposity and fanfare. During the 25 years, the motto of consecutive managing Boards and Club presidents was: “We take nothing seriously except our work for the Club.” This series of presidential portraits from those times may attest to their sense of humor.
After 25 years of perseverance, the Club and the Board received their first official recognition: A medal from the Ministry of Culture “Distinguished in the Service of Polish Culture,” awarded in 1997. In 2009 the Club was again honored with a Special Award of the Polish Actors Guild (ZASP): “For Helena Modjeska Art and Culture Club for Promoting Polish Culture Overseas.”
In 2002, during the celebrations of the Club’s 30th anniversary, a TV Polonia crew visited the Club and prepared a 30-minute documentary that consisted of fragments of recorded Club events, photos of the Club’s guests, and interviews with members of the Board about the organization’s aims, program and character. This program was aired twice on TV Polonia worldwide.
It was during the Club’s third decade that the Board decided to catch up with technology and “go digital.” The Club’s first webmaster was a woman – a graduate of Kraków’s Academy of Fine Arts and a recipient of many international awards in Graphic Arts: Ewa Chodkiewicz-Swider. Then the digital torch was passed to Sławomir Brzezinski, a computer engineer and web specialist. The Club’s website still remains in his professional, yet, tender hands.
On the website’s home page the Club’s statement of purpose appears in both languages, English and Polish. It states that during past decades of its existence, the Club has made a significant contribution to the enrichment of the ethnic mosaic of Southern California. In 2011, both the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the City Council honored the Club with a letter of recognition as an organization that over the years has become a fixture in LA’s ethnic landscape.
For the present Managing Board under the leadership of Andrew Dowen and for the Club’s membership, it’s all business as usual. Last month, the club held a meeting with Janusz Kapusta, philosopher, architect, graphic artist, inventor and former illustrator for the New York Times and the New Yorker, who showed Club members his fascinating drawings and explained the nature and industrial applications of a K-dron, the eleven sided geometric figure he had discovered a few years ago. Several future Club events for the upcoming months are already in the works.
For the Managing Board, there has always been and always will be a lot of work. One aspect of their organizational task got a little easier lately. Globalization, open borders, Poland’s membership in European structures and an ease of communication have made the job of getting interesting Poles from all over the world to meet and speak to interested Poles in Southern California just a bit more simple and straightforward.