Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sharing Christmas in Cooperstown

By: Michelle Murdock, Curator of Exhibitons
Christmas is for children, after all, isn’t it? One of my greatest pleasures at Christmas time is participating in Secret Santa events for disadvantaged families in my community.

In late 1912, the Otsego Farmer, a Cooperstown newspaper, proclaimed, “Santa Claus didn’t forget the orphans” at the Christmas party at the Village Hall. Besides gifts and treats for all, the enormous tree came to life with lights “with a wave of Santa’s hand.”

The Village Hall was located on the second floor of the Fire Hall, built in 1889 on Chestnut Street. It was an auditorium with a stage and hosted large community meetings and performances, including the Cooperstown Youth Center in the 1950s and 60s. It was demolished in 1972 to make way for the present Fire Department headquarters, still a center of community activity from voting to spaghetti dinners.

Cooperstown photographers ‘Wash” Smith and “Putt” Telfer compiled an exceptional record of the Village’s people and places for almost a century. The Smith and Telfer Photograph Collection, donated to the museum in 1951, numbers nearly 55,000 glass plate negatives. Their familiarity with Cooperstown’s people and places gave their images a natural, un-posed quality, which captures the spirit and sensibility of small town life. Through their lens Cooperstown is remembered as the classic American rural village.

Orphan’s Christmas at the Town Hall, 1912
Smith & Telfer Collection, 8-445

Friday, December 5, 2008

Tribute to An Eclectic Visionary

By: Paul D'Ambrosio, Vice President & Chief Curator
I was saddened to hear of the recent loss of folk art collector Dorothea Rabkin. She and her husband Leo built one of the most interesting and eclectic collections of American folk art assembled in the late 20th century, and it was my great privilege to know them and visit their home on a number of occasions to enjoy their company and see their amazing things. They became friends and benefactors of the Fenimore Art Museum, and we are very fortunate to have wonderful examples of the fruits of their endless scouring of the countryside in our permanent collection. It is so rare to meet someone with a vision so astute and yet so broad; a testament to the enduring cultural value of the arts that she and Leo championed.

One incident at the Rabkins’ home stands out for me. My wife Anna and I were visiting the Rabkins several years ago, and after admiring their new purchases for awhile they offered us some refreshments. Dorothea served the coffee, handing the cup first to Anna. She immediately handed the cup over to me, whereupon Dorothea’s eyes widened and a smile lit up her face. “A wife serving her husband is something you just don’t see anymore,” she said, clearly impressed. I pretended like it was a daily occurrence, of course, but it illustrated to me that beneath the surface of the Rabkins’ innovative and omnivorous collecting was a wonderfully solid and old-fashioned relationship. They truly reveled in making each other happy. I am reminded of this incident often when I think of Dorothea, an immigrant woman with a traditional outlook within the home and a far-reaching and complex cultural vision without.

You can read more about Dorthea Rabkin here.
Empire State Building by Gregorio Marzan. Gift of Dorthea and Leo Rabkin. N0104.1991

Thursday, December 4, 2008

What's your favorite toy?

By: Kate Betz, Manager of Public ProgramsAll during the month of December, the Fenimore Art Museum is celebrating childhood and play through history. We've mined our collection for the best examples of historic toys--but even more exciting are the samples of today's favorite toys, made possible by the participation of second grade students from the Cooperstown Central School.

What struck me the most when reading all of the students' labels was how the simple toys are still the best. Stuffed animals, blocks, and dolls were the clear winners. Though my personal favorite--the Playdoh Fun Factory--did not make an appearance, I was still extremely proud of all the thought that the students put into their selection. On Tuesday evening, the museum was filled with students, parents, and extended family to proudly pose in front of their labels and discuss their work over milk and cookies. It was a great night and a great finish to a fun project.

Make sure to visit the museum this month to read all about their favorite toys and strike up a conversation with your own family about your "couldn't-live-without" toy from childhood.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

View of Cold Spring and Mount Taurus from Fort Putnam

By: Michelle Murdock, Curator of Exhibitions

Although the winters can be brutal in upstate New York, the splendor of nearly perfect summers makes it all worth it. On many summer days when I’m driving home, cresting the hills and plunging through the valleys, I encounter scenes that remind me of this painting. The quality & angle of the light, the length of the shadows, the nature of the clouds and the variety of green are all spectacular.

This popular view from the Revolutionary-era Fort Putnam shows the village of Cold Spring, home of the West Point Foundry, the most extensive and complete iron works in the United States. The depiction of the ruins is a subtle reference to American history and to a romantic interest in antiquity.

Thomas Chambers emigrated from England to the United States in 1832. His work as a landscape and marine artist is characterized by simple outlines, bold colors, and strong forms. Some of Chambers’ subjects were drawn directly from nature while others, such as this painting, were inspired by prints. His work has been described as a departure from traditional landscape painting and is highly distinctive in terms of color and design.

View of Cold Spring and Mount Taurus from Fort Putnam, ca. 1850
Albany, New York City, or Boston, Massachusetts
Thomas Chambers (ca. 1808-after 1866)
Oil on canvas
Museum purchase N0011.1999
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