Acworth is final home for refugee’s art
by Bill Kinney
September 09, 2012 12:38 AM | 1030 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bill Kinney
Bill Kinney
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Visitors at the 4463 Gallery in downtown Acworth probably have no idea that the art gallery has a direct link to the World War II era and Nazi concentration camps. But it does.

It was founded five years ago by Clemons Bak, an engineer at Fabrico in Kennesaw, partly as a tribute to his late parents, Bronislaw and Hedi Bak.

Bronislaw Bak was a Polish refugee and a multi-talented artist. He produced paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, illustrations and mosaics. And most interesting of all, he filled many stained-glass window commissions for Catholic and Episcopal churches and for synagogues.

“Our home was a home for art,” he told members of the Marietta Kiwanis Club at a recent meeting. “I tell people I was ‘home-schooled as an artist.’ I know how to do it all. I just don’t do it.”

His father also taught art at three colleges in this country, including Georgia Southern.

His life began along the Polish border with Germany. When Germany invaded in 1939 and began World War II, Bak’s father joined the Polish Army at age 17. He was captured just two weeks later and sent to work with the other POWs as a laborer in the potato fields. He later escaped but was recaptured in 1943, at which point he was sent to a “reeducation” camp.

It was in the Natzweiler-Struthoff group of camps along the French-German border in the Vosges Mountains. Those camps were established as places at which members of the Resistance from all over Europe and other “troublemakers” would be killed or in many cases, worked to death in the quarries.

They were known as “nacht und nebel” camps, meaning “night and fog. As in, “those who were sent there would disappear into the night and fog” and never be heard from again, Bak told the club. It is not known just how many thousands of people died in such camps.

Bak said he does not know why his father wound up as one of the “Nacht und Nebel” prisoners, but he somehow survived the camp and the war. After the war he went to Mannheim as a refugee. Other refugees had started an art school at the camp, although they had almost nothing in the way of supplies. But they were talented artists who had been influenced by Picasso and others, and they shared their knowledge with young Bak.

There he met his future wife, Heti, whom he soon married. They came to this country in 1952 with their two young sons, including Clemons.

Bak later ran an art school in Chicago, Studio 22. For health reasons he moved South in 1973, becoming associate professor of art at Georgia Southern. His best-known work of art is the stained-glass window at Saint John’s Abbey Church in Saint John’s University, Minnesota, which took him nearly 30 years to finish. The 1,400-square-foot window translated into the largest purchase of stained glass in the history of the art-glass industry, Bak said.

But despite his interesting life, Bak’s father, who died in 1981, said his work was not greatly influenced by the war.

“His interest was in the good nature of people, which is how he survived the camp and how he survived the war.”

The younger Bak’s tribute to his parents is Gallery 4463, which can be found at 4463 Cherokee St., in the heart of downtown Acworth. For information call (404) 808-9971 or go to www.gallery4463.com. Admission is free.

Bill Kinney is associate editor of The Marietta Daily Journal.
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