Tuesday, March 31, 2009

American Treasures: Installation

By: Paul D'Ambrosio, Vice President and Chief Curator
Life is good when business travel takes you to Palm Beach in February. That’s exactly what happened a few years ago when we sent an exhibition of the Fenimore’s permanent collection to the Society of the Four Arts. It was a big hit at the height of the winter cultural season; there were three nights of gala events with live music and dancing under a big tent on their lawn. The Society members were enthralled with our art collection – our Hudson River School landscapes and great folk art – and were equally entranced by the ocean breeze and 80 degree weather.

When we saw an opportunity in this year’s spring exhibition schedule, we thought it would be fun to bring many of these great artworks back together for a reunion. The result is the American Treasures exhibition, opening in the Fenimore’s Great Hall on April 1st. You’ll find some old friends along with some surprises, together in one gallery for the first time since the showing in Palm Beach.

Seeing these works together again – especially with the February snow blowing on the other side of the Great Hall window – brings back thoughts of a brief sojourn in a tropical paradise. And seeing how much the works were admired by a new audience recalls the continuing process of rediscovery that we hope to offer to all of you in the spring.

Right: Assistant Curator of Exhibitions Nisha Bansil installing Benjamin West’s portrait of Robert Fulton in American Treasures in the Fenimore Art Museum’s Great Hall.

Left: Laying out the title panel, featuring George Durrie’s Cider Making in the Country.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Hidden Treasures: Activity Sheet Now Available!

Find Hidden Treasures at the Museum on April 4! The activity sheet is now available on our website and it contains a bonus question that is only included on this special version.

We hope you’ll print out our activity sheet, check our recent blog posts for hints, and come to Fenimore Art Museum on April 4 to help us get ready for spring!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Beacon Lights

By: John Buchinger, Associate Director of Education
Working at an art museum, I see amazing things every day, and sometimes I only realize how special they are when someone else points them out. Though all of our pieces could be celebrated in this post, one object in particular shines above the others.

The Beacon Lights basket, a Washoe basket by famed Native artist Louisa Keyser, has been selected to be a part of the National Endowment for the Humanities’ newest initiative of its We the People program Picturing America. The basket is made out of willow, western redbud, and bracken fern root, and is the most historically significant basket of Keyser’s career and the one most widely referred to in publications on this famed Washoe weaver. Keyser’s mastery of the medium is revealed in the control of the extremely fine stitches of weaving and the elegant balance of her design as it moves over a constantly changing surface. Beacon Lights epitomizes Louisa Keyser’s greatest work.

Picturing America was launched in February 2007. This program distributes large, high quality reproductions of selected works of American art, along with a teacher resource book, lesson plans, and materials, to K-12 schools and public libraries.

We were incredibly thrilled to hear that not only Beacon Lights, but also our Black Hawk Sans Arc Lakota Ledger Book were both selected to be a part of this fantastic art education program. It calls national attention to our collections and shares our greatest hidden treasures with audiences across the country.

Beacon Lights, by Louisa Keyser (ca.1850-1925). Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, NY. Gift of Eugene Victor Thaw Art Foundation. T0751

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Otsego Lake Paintings

By: Michelle Murdock, Curator of Exhibitions
Do you know what I can see from my office window? I’m incredibly fortunate to look out and see one of the most beautiful, and most well-known, lakes in the United States. Fenimore Art Museum sits on the west shore of Otsego Lake, commonly known as Glimmerglass. James Fenimore Cooper coined its nickname in his early 19th -century novels. In fact, Cooper’s portrayal of the Lake in The Pioneers, was the first example in an American novel of a view of nature as something beautiful to be preserved instead of a threatening obstacle to be overcome.

Fenimore Art Museum holds numerous artifacts related to Otsego Lake, including several dozen drawings, prints and paintings and hundreds of photographs. Of the more than twelve paintings that come immediately to mind for me, my favorites include Cooperstown Winter Carnival by Janet Munro and Lake Party at Three Mile Point by Julius Gollmann and Louis Remy Mignot. On my daily commute to work, I pass by the Lake’s public-access Three Mile Point Park and I often picture the Lake Party painting in my mind. The painting is the combined work of Louis Remy Mignot and Julius Gollmann, two artists who spent the summer of 1855 in Cooperstown. Mignot painted the landscape in his meticulous Hudson River School style, while the figures were completed by Gollmann, a German portraitist. What I especially like about the painting, though, is the inclusion of many of Cooperstown’s notables around the time when the Point was purchased by the town for the benefit of the public. Included is Judge Samuel Nelson, who was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1845 to 1872.

Fenimore Art Museum strives to collect artifacts of local importance. Its Otsego Lake views, including the recently-acquired Otsego Lake by Thomas Hicks, are among its great American treasures. Four of our Otsego Lake paintings are on view in Fenimore Art Museum until May 6th. You can learn more about Otsego Lake in Otsego Lake: Past and Present available from our Museum Shops.
Top: Lake Party at Three Mile Point, Otsego Lake, New York, ca. 1855. By Louis Remy Mignot and Julius Gollmann. N0341.1955
Bottom: Otsego Lake, 1862. By Thomas Hicks. N0018.2006(01)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bear and Pears Fireboard

By: Paul D'Ambrosio, Vice-President and Chief Curator
Can a simple board and batten construction, meant to cover a fireplace in the summer months and painted with the edges of a rag or even a sponge, be considered an icon of American art? The Fenimore Art Museum’s Bear and Pears fireboard is just such a piece. In the past 150+ years this work has gone from gracing the parlor of a rural home in New Hampshire to the more auspicious homes of a series of astute collectors that included a famous modernist sculptor (Elie Nadelman) and a pioneering scholar/author (Jean Lipman) to its current museum setting.
Why is this fireboard considered a great work of art? The unknown artist who painted the picture followed the guidelines of tastemaker Rufus Porter, who published a book in the 1820s (titled Curious Arts) and a series of articles in Scientific American in the 1840s on how to do mural painting and simple, effective decoration. Everything in Bear and Pears is on the horizon line, objects are made different sizes to give the illusion of depth, and the artist used a rag or sponge and stencils to paint faster. The result may be out of line with what we consider realism – the “pears” are larger than the house – but the balance of forms and colors is striking. It’s no wonder that so many of these untrained artists created works that bend the rules of realism; it requires a lot of training and experience to make a painting a “window” into the observed world. It is a testament to their innate artistic ability that the works these folk artists made were sought after by connoisseurs of modernism and eventually enshrined in museum collections.

Unknown Artist. Bears and Pears Fireboard, c.1825-1835. Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, NY. Gift of Stephen C. Clark, N0044.1961

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

From House to Home for Great Art

By: Kate Betz, Manager of Public Programs
The name Harry St. Clair Zogbaum conjures up a number of images in my head: tweed coats and bowler hats, afternoon teas, and Colonial Revival structures built in Cooperstown in the 1930s. When Edward Severin Clark, brother of our museum’s founder Stephen Carlton Clark, decided to build the commanding estate that would eventually become the Fenimore Art Museum, he selected Zogbaum as his architect. Zogbaum had worked extensively in the Cooperstown area during the 1920s and 1930s and was well known both for his Colonial Revival style and for his use of local materials. In fact, the stones used to build Fenimore House came from nearby abandoned mills.

Construction likely began in mid-1929 or early 1930. Zogbaum had drafted plans that created a grand estate with many classic features. The house contained 46 rooms including the usual expectations for a house of this size—multiple bedrooms, a study, library, ballroom—but also a few less usual features including a basement level indoor pool. The plans included – at least initially - keeping intact the cottage structure which currently stood on the property and which had been built by James Fenimore Cooper. Arthur Telfer took the first photos of the new house, including the one below, which were dated on the back November 14, 1930. They show the house partially complete with the old “Fenimore” cottage attached as a south wing. (Later the cottage was torn down and replaced.)
The house was finished late in 1932 and its occupant hosted a number of holiday parties to celebrate the completion. Sadly, Edward S. Clark died unexpectedly September 19, 1933, after living in the house for only 9 months. By the terms of his will, the farm and house passed to his brother Stephen C. Clark who, eleven years later, would donate the home to the New York State Historical Association for use as a museum space.

The process of turning a private home into a modern museum was a formidable one, but was made much simpler because of Zogbaum’s help. Zogbaum designed the modifications for the house that would pave the way for what we now know as the Fenimore Art Museum. Bedrooms, library, ballroom and even the pool were all converted into gallery and office space.
This original house blueprint is one of my favorite objects in our collection. You can see where it has been relabeled in red pencil to demonstrate where all of the museum’s galleries should go. I don’t know that I could say why this object above any other is my particular favorite. I think it just creates such a unique visual perspective on the creation of a museum that I had never before considered. How would you go about deciding whether the dining room or the library was the ideal location for a new museum’s collection of James Fenimore Cooper ephemera? What is in fact the most efficient way to turn an attic into a proper collections storage area?

Looking at the blueprint, I can almost picture the many hands that have not only touched it in particular, but that have helped to create the museum that I now walk through every day I come to work.
top: Arthur Telfer, Fenimore House under construction, November 14, 1930. Smith and Telfer Collection, New York State Historical Association.
bottom: Original Fenimore House blueprint, NYSHA Library Special Collections.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Hidden Treasures on Display

By: Kate Betz, Manager of Public Programs
Did you know that the Fenimore Art Museum’s collection has some of finest examples of American art in the country? Many of these spectacular works are often on loan to other museums for their exhibitions. You've may have walked past some of these paintings in the museum's'= galleries before and noticed their beauty, but you might not have known just how important they are in the field of art history. This year, on April 4th, we’re bringing our Hidden Treasures to the forefront. Interested visitors can pick up a series of questions to answer about some of our greatest pieces of art. For each completed question, you will receive one ticket good for a chance to win one of several prize packages which will feature tickets for admission, workshops, and special events, as well as items from our shops and from area merchants.

Each week, this blog will feature clues and information that will be related to the activities and questions of our April 4th event. And if clues weren’t enough, one week prior to the event, we will be posting a link on the blog to a downloadable version of our trivia quiz with a bonus question that will only be available online. Hidden Treasures will feature tours and activities throughout the day in addition to the quiz and is a perfect day out for families, couples, or individuals who like a bit of a challenge and like to win prizes. Make sure to stay tuned for your first clues!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Katsitsionni Fox and Shelley Niro

by: Michelle L. Murdock, Curator of Exhibitions

Every two years Fenimore Art Museum has the pleasure of hosting the Contemporary Iroquois Art Biennial. Since its beginning in 1995, the Biennial has been organized by G. Peter Jemison, manager of Ganondagan State Historic Site, a recreation of a 17th-century Seneca village, located in Victor, New York. Peter, a Seneca, is also a visual artist and film director.

This year, Peter has selected Mohawk artists Katsitsionni Fox and Shelley Niro. Shelley is a painter, printmaker, photographer and filmmaker. Katsitsionni works in a variety of media including digital printing from photography, video making and installations.

For this year’s Biennial, both artists have created new art based on the story of Skywoman, who is an integral part of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Creation Story, as well as their own contemporary Haudenosaunee cultural traditions. Niro has also rendered paintings relating to the Journey of Our Peacemaker who united the Haudenosaunee into a Confederacy of Five Nations. You can find the story of Skywoman here and here.

In his introductory text for the exhibition, Peter states: “Katsitsionni Fox and Shelley Niro have created art to help define the state of indigenous people in North America, the spirituality of our Indian Way of Life and the resilience of our people. Just as two women played a prominent role in how this earth came to be, Fox and Niro have important contributions to make. Their art is a reflection of the leadership and strength of our women.”

Our Stories Made Visible: Two Mohawk Women Artists, Katsitsionni Fox and Shelley Niro. The 7th Contemporary Iroquois Art Biennial opens April 1 at Fenimore Art Museum.
Left: Skywoman’s Daughter by Katsitsionni Fox
Right: Skywoman 2 by Shelley Niro

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Cooperstown Pursuit #3

by: Kate Betz, Manager of Public Programs
Due to political infighting, the village that we all know as Cooperstown almost wasn’t. In 1807, two rival factions headed by Elihu Phinney (the publisher of the Otsego Herald, Cooperstown’s first newspaper) and William Cooper proposed bills to incorporate the village and begin municipal services under two different names. Cooper favored the name Cooperstown (for obvious reasons), while Phinney favored Otsego. Phinney won in the state legislature because his party, the Republicans, had temporarily gained control. Cooper dominated village politics, however, and ensured that village trustees refused to enact any policies or begin any municipal services until the “mistake” in naming was corrected. The correction was five years in the making. In 1812, the village was reincorporated as Cooperstown. Never one to admit defeat, Phinney labeled the village Otsego until his death in 1813, more than a year after reincorporation.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

American Photography: Recent Acquisitions

By: Michelle L. Murdock, Curator of Exhibitions
Fenimore Art Museum has been actively collecting photographs by contemporary artists since 1998. Each new work enriches the Museum’s photographic collection by adding to the evolution of photographic techniques and subject matter from the dawn of photography to the present day.

The images in this upcoming exhibition are the highlights of the museum’s acquisitions of this new material. From Bruce Davidson, who was praised by John Szarkowski, former Director of the Photography Department at the Museum of Modern Art, to Milo Stewart, Sr., a renowned Cooperstown documentary photographer for 30-plus-years, each artist has contributed his or her unique perspective on the art of photography. The portraits, landscapes, genre scenes, cityscapes and abstract images harmonize with the museum’s painting collections of the same subject matter.

The photography collection at Fenimore Art Museum numbers nearly 125,000 images which range from mid-19th century daguerreotypes and tintypes to 21st century digital prints. The heart of the collection is a group of several thousand glass plate negatives from the Cooperstown photography firm of Smith & Telfer, which was in operation for over 100 years.
American Photography: Recent Acquisitions will be on view at Fenimore Art Museum from April 1 through August 2, 2009.
Left: Kaaterskill Clove, North Lake, NY, 1997. James Bleecker (born 1960). Museum Purchase, N0024.2001
Right: Jefferson County Courthouse, Watertown, NY, 1974. Milo Stewart (born 1928). Gift of the artist, N0002.2008 (3)
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