Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Campbell Family’s Service

By: John Hart, Assistant Curator Collections

It never ceases to amaze me how some objects can be related to one another, but that relationship is unknown until you are bitten with the research-bug. As I was preparing to write this I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about, but then I came across a powder horn that had the same family name for two swords I have been researching, and sure enough, they all shared the same donor. And, since I was writing this around Veteran’s Day, I thought it might be nice to talk about this family’s service.
Samuel Campbell, born in Londonderry, New Hampshire, in 1738, served in the New York Militia during the American Revolution during a stay at Fort Schuyler. He had a son, James, in 1772, but by 1778 the “Cherry Valley Massacre” had separated Samuel from his family. His wife, Jane, and his children were taken captive and held for two years.

James went on to marry Sarah Elderkin and they had a son, William W., in 1806. William had a successful career as a lawyer and judge, but never served in the military. William married (though I couldn’t find the name of his wife) and two of his sons, Douglas and Cleveland served in the 121st New York Volunteer Regiment, as a Captain/Brevet Major and Colonel, respectively. Cleveland was transferred to the 23rd US Colored Infantry where he would serve until his death in 1865 from wounds he received during the battle at Petersburg. Another son, Lewis, served as a Captain for the 152nd New York Volunteers; he was captured and held as a prisoner of war for two years and finally died from his wounds.

Still with me? I know, that was a lot of detail for such a small space, but it leads me to my next part.

Though the powder horn and swords are separated by two generations, the family tradition of service is clear from the markings made on each. Though Cleveland’s sword has the decorative engraving, it is Douglas’s that shows the wear and tear. What you can’t see in the picture, Douglas scratched his service record into his leather scabbard and the blade and grip show evidence of wear over the years. A lot of Civil War soldiers used their blades and scabbards to record their battles and at least in this case, it provides a great source of information to learn where the brothers fought.

Do you know of a family member that served in the Civil War, or any war for that matter? The National Park Service hosts a site called the “Soldiers and Sailors System” and with a little bit of information provided by you, you could find basic information on a family members’ involvement in the Civil War. If your relative served in any other war, check out the National Archives and Records Administration where you can find a whole host of resources, some available online and some that you’ll have to mail in or call about, but all available to the public.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Generous Donor

By: Eva Fognell, Curator of the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art
Bird Effigy, Peter Jones, 2007. T0853

We just received 3 new objects to our NYSHA collection of American Indian art. John Wilkinson from Schoharie NY told me he decided to donate the objects after seeing our Bird Effigy sculpture by Onondaga artist Peter Jones in our West Gallery show “New Additions: New Perspectives”. What Mr. Wilkinson gave us is a smaller sculpture in the same series. This ceramic sculpture is titled Deer Dancer. In addition we received Warrior Dreamer another ceramic sculpture by Peter Jones and a bone carving titled Spirit of the Three Sisters by renowned Mohawk carver Stan Hill, Sr. (1921-2003). The artwork is from the late 1980s-1990s. It is so exciting to have more local artists in our collection. I hope to be able to display Bird Effigy and Deer Dancer next to each other in the Study Center along with the other Peter Jones pieces in our collection. The donation of the Spirit of the Three Sisters comes at an opportune time since our four small carved bone combs by Stan Hill Sr. are part of our traveling Thaw exhibition and will not be available to view here for a couple of years. Now we have an opportunity to show a carving by this important artist filling what would otherwise be a gap in our representation of Haudenosaune contemporary art.
Spirit of the Three Sisters by Stan Hill, Sr. 1999. N0009.2009(01)
Warrior Dreamer, Peter Jones, 1990. N0009.2009 (02)
Deer Dancer by Peter Jones, 1990 N0009.2009(03)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Quilting up a storm of activity

By: Michelle Murdock, Curator of Exhibitions
In January of 2004 (hard to believe it was that long ago!) I had an amazing opportunity to participate in the Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival held at the Tokyo Dome. Fenimore Art Museum sent 35 of our best quilts to the Festival to be featured in their showcase exhibition. I worked with guest curator Jacquie Atkins to install and answer questions about our exhibition Uncommon Quilts: Treasures from the Fenimore Art Museum. We greeted over 289,000 (!!) women, men, and children from all over the world during the course of seven days. Many visitors to the exhibition wanted to learn more about Fenimore Art Museum. It was an amazing opportunity for us to gain true international exposure. The quilts at Fenimore Art Museum include textile masterpieces that represent the history of New York State and each reflects the historical, social, and cultural context of its time. For example, one of the most unusual quilts ever made in America, known as “Trade and Commerce,” shows its maker was clearly familiar with the busy river commerce so important in the development of New York State. This unique pictorial quilt, made about 1825 by Hannah Stockton Stiles, is a lively appliqué depiction of life along the shores and on the waters of a major river.
During 2010 and 2011 Fenimore Art Museum and The Farmers’ Museum are embarking on a brand new quilt project. Next year we will hold a state-wide juried quilt competition and exhibit the entries in the Louis C. Jones Center at The Farmers’ Museum in the fall. We will also exhibit many of our historic quilts on beds throughout the Historic Village.
The top three winners from the competition at The Farmers’ Museum will be included in an exhibition at Fenimore Art Museum in 2011. The exhibition will feature our masterpiece quilts such as Night Hunt from our permanent collection. The Farmers’ Museum will continue to feature quilts in the Historic Village and both museums will host lectures, workshops and seminars on the art. Finally, the Fenimore exhibition will hit the road in 2012, traveling to several venues throughout the United States.
Are you a quilter? Do you know a quilter? Maybe you want to become a quilter! We want your quilts! Keep your eyes peeled for more details on the competition, coming soon.
Top: Inside the "Tokyo Dome"
Center: Trade and Commerce. Quilt top, ca. 1835. Gift of Hannah Lee Stokes, N0222.1956.
Bottom: Night Hunt. Quilt, 1885. Gift of Dorothy E. Hubbard, N0024.1973

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What did you do on your summer vacation?

By: Doug Kendall, Curator of Collections
It’s a gloomy late October afternoon in Cooperstown. The leaves are down, there’s word of blizzards out West and summer vacation is only a distant memory.

This past summer my family visited Prince Edward Island, Canada, as we often do—my parents first visited PEI in 1967 and now my wife , son and I continue that tradition. The drive allows us to see parts of New England and New Brunswick along the way. There’s usually some time for a busman’s holiday too and this year we stopped on the way home to visit the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John. It’s neat place with historical and art exhibits located in the historic uptown harbor area—inside an urban mall, of all places.

We took some pictures of Saint John to jog our memories on damp fall afternoons like this one. The tradition of bringing home visual reminders of vacations goes way back, though. The photography collections here at the Fenimore Art Museum include such personal mementoes.

When I was young, one of my uncles would invariably show slides of his vacations when we all got together for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Sometimes this was entertaining, sometimes not so much.

Nowadays, those have been supplanted by Powerpoint presentations, family web site and blogs. One hundred years ago, the vacation slide show was well established, but in those days the slides were made of glass and they were shown with a lantern slide projector.

A few years ago, the Museum acquired a collection of lantern slides taken about 1905 in an online auction. We were interested in them because most of the scenes were of Otsego County, our part of upstate New York. When we received them, it seemed that the set was taken on someone’s summer vacation. We don’t know who the tourists were, but they were clearly taken by Otsego Lake scenery and the lakefront in Cooperstown village. They also spent time elsewhere in the area, as there are several slides of the Major’s Inn in Gilbertsville as well as other locations. The tourist who took these lantern slides didn’t often focus on people. But this image of boys wading in the lake somehow seems much more recent than the early 20th century. The summer vacation was still a new phenomenon to most Americans at that time, so early documentation of one family’s trip to Otsego County is an intriguing addition to the Museum’s collections.
So…what did you do on your summer vacation?
From top to bottom:
Boys Wading in Otsego Lake. N0006.2004(19) Museum Purchase.
Otsego Lake with Kingfisher Tower. N0006.2004(10) Museum Purchase.
The Major’s Inn, Gilbertsville, NY. N0006.2004(26) Museum Purchase.
Lakefront Park with docks, Otsego Lake. N0006.2004(23) Museum Purchase.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Thaw Collection of American Indian Art hits the road

By: Eva Fognell, Curator of the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art


So, as you’ve probably noticed, for the last few years many of us here in the curatorial department have been organizing a traveling exhibition of art from the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art. It has all come together in the last year as some of the finest art museums in the country have signed on to host the show. The date for the first departure is getting close! The exhibition premieres at the Cleveland Museum of Art where it will open on March 6th and be on view to the end of May 2010. Then in the fall of 2010 it will go to the Minneapolis Institute of Art where it will be until early January of 2011 and then in December of 2011 its off to the Indianapolis of Art. Check out our official press release.

The exhibit is a masterpiece collection of American Indian art but on a more subtle level it also tells a story about its collectors, Eugene and Clare Thaw. All of you that are familiar with the Fenimore Art Museum knows that the objects were collected and are displayed here as art. It is going to be so exciting for me to see the things I take care of on a daily bases in other environments. And for Chris Rossi and I who both are traveling with the exhibit to install and deinstall at the venues it will also be an experience we could call “Three winters in the Midwest.” As a native Swede, Minneapolis may be almost like home with its January weather!

Stay tuned – I’ll be sure to keep you updated with more of our preparations.

Top: Mask, ca. 1800-1840. Tlingit, Southeast Alaska, Thaw Collection, Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, N.Y., T0214. Photograph by John Bigelow Taylor.

Bottom: Shield, ca. 1860, Crow, (Apsaalooke), Montana, Thaw Collection, Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, N.Y., T0048. Photograph by John Bigelow Taylor.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Making Mounts for the Thaw Collection

By: Eva Fognell, Curator of the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art

It’s all about the traveling Thaw exhibition for me right now. Spicer Conservation has been here weekly for about 6 months to stabilize and clean the objects (see here and here) and now it is time for the mount makers to work their magic. David and Mar from Benchmark, have been here making mounts for 9 of the traveling objects. The conservation lab has been turned into a mount making workshop complete with tools and all the stuff needed to make safe cradles for the objects. Most of the things that need mounts are masks. We want to be able to install them with out having to affix new hardware to them and we are trying to spare them being handled too much. I have attached a few photos of the lab as it looks right now with objects propped up so that their backsides are available for fitting. Also check out how unobtrusive the mounts are and how nice it is to see the masks set off from the back. This will add to the visual impact of the mask, as well as provide an opportunity to light the masks in a more dramatic way.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Night at Our Museum: Rock Out!

By: John Buchinger, Associate Director of EducationThis week Fenimore Art Museum will be debuting a new program called Night at Our Museum from 7-10 pm. This new program will open our doors for a little after-hours fun for families and kids of all ages in the galleries of the museum. The night will feature family music artist and all around rocker Uncle Rock, who will do two sets during the evening. I was fortunate to find out about UR from a friend who had hired him for a party. She let me borrow some CDs, which I quickly tested on my four- and six-year-olds. They whole-heartedly approved. When from the speakers Uncle Rock yells “Are you Ready?!” Both girls in unison screamed “YEEEEAHHHHH! “ Rock plays off of classic rock sensibilities and merges them with kid and family friendly topics. He covers hard hitting issues like children pretending to be asleep in Playin’ Possum, and lost foot coverings in Shoe Bandit. My favorite is a montage of super hero songs which features several classics such as the Spiderman and Batman themes, and he throws in some contemporary examples such as REM’s I am Superman.

I was surprised at the infectious rootsy sounds that had me singing along. My favorite is Picnic in the Grave Yard. This is about a celebration of El Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. Rock sings “We’ll sit in the grass with people from the past and we will not be afraid.” His appeal to parents is strong as he hits topics important to families such as remembering loved ones, and offers us a chance to explore themes with our kids in a different way.

The evening isn’t all rock. Our paintings come to life as our “security guard” takes you on a tour where you will meet the people in the paintings, and characters or artists associated with the work. Some of our featured characters include artist Thomas Cole who will share with us his views on painting, and a Russian explorer will tell us about his meeting with Aleutian peoples in the Thaw gallery.

Local arts groups and businesses who support families and family related programming will be also be on hand to preview some of their holiday wares and provide crafts and activities to visitors.

This is a great chance to expose your family to the rich offerings that are always present at The Fenimore Art Museum, but also the larger community that is rich with cultural groups serving families and their children.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Take Me Out to the (Soft)Ball Game!

By: Doug Kendall, Curator of Collections
When Stephen C. Clark and his old brother Sterling had a falling-out back in the 1920s, I’m fairly certain neither foresaw one result of their quarrel: a couple dozen museum staff members playing softball on a muddy field in Cooperstown on a cold and wet October morning in 2009. The two Clarks were among the heirs to the Singer sewing machine fortune, which had been amassed largely through the business acumen of their grandfather, Edward Clark (1811-1882). Their disagreement apparently related to their differing views of how their fortune should be managed.

The details aren’t important at the moment. But Stephen and Sterling refrained from speaking to each other for the next several decades. Both brothers created cultural institutions that have endured into the 21st century. Stephen focused his energies on the Clarks’ hometown of Cooperstown, New York, founding the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and The Farmers’ Museum and inviting the New York State Historical Association to settle in the village, where it soon began to develop what is now the Fenimore Art Museum. Sterling Clark, perhaps because of the old sibling rivalry, founded the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

These institutions have long since forgotten any animosity that existed between their patrons. But several years ago, the Hall of Fame staff decided to challenge the Clark Art Institute staff to a softball game. Staff from the Fenimore Art Museum and The Farmers’ Museum were invited to take part as well, and the game has become an annual event, complete with a trophy (the Clark Cup) awarded to the winner.
This year I volunteered to play for the first time. Mind you, though I have coached Little League baseball for the past five years, the last time I played “competitive” softball was about 30 years ago. So I was quite happy to find that most of the others on the Clark Stephens were younger and considerably more spry than me.
Curator Trying to Turn Two, October 7, 2009
Despite intermittent rain and gusty winds, we played the planned six innings. After one batter, our pitcher retired only to be replaced by a surprise ringer: Hall of Fame knuckleballer Phil Niekro. Phil held the Clark Sterlings at bay (more or less), our offense took off and Cooperstown prevailed 22-19. As for me, I got my softball swing timed right by my third at-bat and singled to left, got my uniform all dirty diving back into first on a line out and later forced a runner on a ground out (though we didn’t get the double play). It was great fun, overall—especially getting to play behind Phil Niekro, who seemed to be having a great time, too.
Phil Niekro on the mound, October 7. 2009
The soreness wore off after a few days, so I guess I’ll have to consider playing in next year’s game, which will be in Williamstown. Now back to normal curatorial activities…

The Clark Stephens with Phil Niekro, October 7, 2009

All photography by Zachary Winnie.

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