Thursday, December 31, 2009

‘Cause I’m Leaving, On a Je…No, Wait, Wrong Century

By: John Hart, Assistant Cuator of Collections
Ah the holidays, the joy of seeing family (or going abroad and avoiding them entirely), delicious food (at least in my family), and travelling. There are three main ways of getting somewhere nowadays for the holidays, planes, train, and automobiles.

Imagine if you will, a time when automobiles didn’t exist and the closest thing to a plane was a wood-working plane. Your land travel consisted of a train, wagon, carriage, or sleigh. You might be able to travel by canal or sea if the canal isn’t iced over and the weather holds. The 19th-century is certainly different in many ways when it comes to travelling, but one thing remains the same: the need for clothing and other odds and ends.
When I travel, I try to go as light as I can and try to only pack one bag and maybe my backpack. One of our newest objects is perfect for this task. This small suitcase has two separate sections for different pieces of clothing, and even has some pockets inside for small things. It even locks in case someone thought they wanted to play dress-up in the owners’ clothes!

Not big enough you say? Have to pack for yourself and maybe your spouse or kids? Or maybe you tend to pack too much to begin with? Well then, what about a trunk? This trunk was used by Harold Hollis to hold his World War II service uniforms, but is certainly large enough for at least an adult or two or a combination of adults and kids. You could probably fit a kid in it to be honest. It even has an area where you can keep clothing hung on a hanger and pull out drawers for other articles of clothing!

No matter how you get where you’re going for the holidays, one thing is for sure, a suitcase will likely be at your side.

Happy Holidays and Safe Travels to All!
top: “Suitcase,” Made in the shop of George Story, Cooperstown, New York, H 12 ½” x W 20" x D 11", F0010.2009. The Farmers’ Museum, Cooperstown, New York.
bottom: “Trunk,” Unknown maker, 20th century, H 21 ¼” x L 40 ¼” N0001.2001(01). New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cabin Fever Film Series Hits the Road: Thanks, Cooperstown!

By: Kajsa Sabatke

Thanks for all you do to help support us!

Each winter, the Fenimore Art Museum sponsors a film series to thank our local communities for all of their support, along with the Glimmerglass Opera and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. This year we will continue our film series with travel-themed movies as Cabin Fever Film Series Hits the Road! The films are shown each Friday in January and February (except January 1) and admission is free. Selecting the movies is my favorite part of planning the series. This year we took suggestions from our Facebook fans in addition to staff and had many fantastic options! The museum is sponsoring three of the films in 2010: The Terminal, It Happened One Night, and Big Fish.

For a complete list of films and their locations, please check our website or Facebook page. If you live in the Cooperstown area, please come to enjoy a Friday night movie and support other local groups who will be selling concessions.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Photographing for the catalogue

By: Eva Fognell, Curator of the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art
We are sending 111 objects as part of the show and if anyone of you has read any of my blogs you know that one of the preparation phases for many of the objects have been a date with a conservator. Then on to condition reporting and photographing the objects and then in another month or so, art handlers and packers will be here to work their magic packing and crating the collection. Exciting and nerve wracking all at the same time just thinking about the treasures out of my sight.

There is also a catalogue to accompany the exhibit The Thaw Collection: Masterpieces of American Indian Art. It will be about 120 -125 pages with new scholarship essays by leading authorities in the field of American Indian art, Janet Berlo, Aldona Jonaitis, and Ruth Phillips just to mention a few. In addition there will large color images and a short text to accompany each object.

Today I want to show you some images from the process of photographing the collection. Richard Walker was here for a whole day photographing objects for the catalogue. The catalogue is being designed by Nadeau Designs, a Utica based design company and Richard Nadeau was also here during the photo shoot. We had a great day playing with outfits, bowls and war helmets just to name a few things being photographed. In most catalogues you will have one photo of lets say a particular bowl documenting the piece. One of the things we are trying to do here is to show the dish from a few different angles. Here are a few photos from our day. As we are working to bring out the translucent qualities in the amazing Dall mountain sheep horn dish. When I get the professional photos I’ll post them for you all to see.

Friday, December 18, 2009

"I saw it in the window …”

By: Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions
When I was a teen the days would be spent at school, then sports, then homework and finally some down time with the TV and chatting on the phone with friends. My best buddy Sheila and I would even watch TV together while on the phone. Our favorite show was Carol Burnett. Her spoofs on famous films and stars were legendary.

The crème de la crème for us was the Gone with the Wind routine. Carol as “Starlet O’Hara” tripping (literally) down the big staircase in her over-the-top southern bell dresses. The climax being a send-up of the famous scene from the original Gone with the Wind when a down but never beaten Scarlet makes a dress from the window curtains. Of course, in the Carol Burnett version the dress still has the curtain rod in it. A brilliant touch topped by her comment that she “saw it in the window and just couldn’t resist it!”
Carol Burnett as “Starlet O’Hara”
Dress, Fenimore Art Museum Collection

This little vignette has been tucked at the back of my mind since those halcyon days of endless phone chats with Sheila. So, I should not have been surprised when some of the dresses for our upcoming Empire Waists, Bustles and Lace exhibit brought it all back for me. We have one dress with such an accumulation of fringe and eye-popping colors that I could hear Miss Burnett’s dialogue as if it were yesterday. By the late 1870’s women were not just considered the light of the home, their dresses often resembled a decorative accessory for the home. With gathered drapes of fabric, tassels, and sculpted silhouettes, women’s fashion might have been worn, or, one could imagine it working equally well as household drapery or a throw for the couch. Wouldn’t “Starlet” be delighted!
Portrait of Miss Grady by Smith and Telfer, Fenimore Art Museum Collection

Godey's Fashions, Fenimore Art Museum Collection

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Planes, Trains and .... Nope, Just a Train

By: John Hart, Assistant Curator of Collections

How many of you had electric train when you grew up? I had my little Lionel setup with a steam engine (which could actually throw off “steam”), a “diesel” locomotive, and my oldest train, a late 19th-early 20th century wind-up train that my Great-Great Uncle Fonz (short for Alphonso) gave me. I learned very quickly that the wind-up wasn’t really a toy, or at least that’s what my dad told me, so I played with my Lionel set mostly. I spent hours in the basement running those trains, and even went so far as to take old cracker or cookie boxes and make “houses” or “skyscrapers.”
Above: Charles Lemaire Zabriskie and his grandson, John Lippincott.

Charles Lemaire Zabriskie, from Cooperstown, took his love affair with trains one step further; he built a scale model he could ride. I’m not talking about the little trains you find at some amusement parks, no, in fact, think much, much smaller. He even built a coal tender, a caboose, and three flat bed cars so that he could carry passengers. Lemaire, as Mr. Zabriskie preferred to be called, built this train by hand, and up until 1972, it worked (he built it in the early 20th century) and was ridden. Though he may not have been the first to do so, there are groups all over the country that create scale models they can ride and even built intricate track layouts they can use. One in particular, the Adirondack Live Steamers, is from Saratoga County, New York, and run 7 ¼” gauge (1.5”:1”) locomotives. Check out their webpage for images, history of the club, and projects their members have undertaken.

Above: “Train,” made by Charles Lemaire Zabriskie, Early 20th century, Fenimore Art Museum Collection, Cooperstown, NY. N00012.2008

In 2008 Walter Poor, the grandson of Lemaire, donated this train to the New York State Historical Association, and we are certainly proud to have it. With its local provenance, uniqueness, and all around attention to detail, this train certainly has a place in the collection, and even though it sits on its carrying tray, you can still imagine the years of fun it gave Lemaire and his family.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thaw Travelling Exhibition Condition Reporting

By: Christine Olsen, Registrar
As you’ve already read on previous blogs from my colleagues, the Thaw Travelling exhibition is going to be going to the Cleveland Museum of Art in February 2010. There are many steps that are taken in advance of a travelling show, or any loan for that matter, including signing loan agreements, making packing and shipping arrangements, and condition reporting. It is the latter step, condition reporting, that the Curator of the Thaw Collection, Eva Fognell, and I have been diligently working on the last few weeks.
There are over 100 objects going on loan with this show, from goggles to totem poles, and they all have to be photographed in the round and have every detail of their condition recorded. For large or detail heavy works or those with many condition issues, condition reporting is time consuming and tedious. We use ample lighting, black lights, magnifying glasses and other “toys” to help us see minute detail. Condition reporting it is a very important step in the processing of any loan and has to be done many times along the way. If damage should happen I need to know where along the way it occurred and develop a plan to remedy it as soon as possible.
Once the objects are unpacked at CMA they will be condition reported again in case anything has changed during packing and shipping. Eva and Chris Rossi, our Associate Curator of Exhibitions, are going to be responsible for this task on that end (they are taking over my role as supervisor of condition reporting and installation for this travelling show; and as any registrar will tell you, giving up control but maintaining the responsibility is hard on the nerves!).

When the venue is ready to be de-installed in May, Eva and Chris will go and do it all over again; with a final round of reports done by me upon its’ unpacking at FAM. Travel is inevitably hard on objects and I expect there to be some changes seen on some items, particularly those that are very fragile (which our American Indian collection inherently is); however, the opportunity to share our collection with visitors far and wide makes it well worth it.

If you have good attention to detail and lots of patience, you would do well as a registrar; condition reporting is the ultimate test of these skills. I am sure Curators such as Eva and Chris would agree that it is best left to registrars; I thank them for being such great team players!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Nickel Movie Night: December 10th

By: John Buchinger, Associate Director of Education

When I moved to Cooperstown four years ago my son gave me one of those folksy wooden signs with a heartfelt quote. It said “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Now I am not the kind of guy for whom wooden crows, and country candles and blue geese rally work, but the sentiment was an acknowledgement of my love for the Frank Capra classic that debuted in 1946.

For those of you who have just landed here from another planet this iconic Christmas classic follows the life of reluctant home town hero George Bailey as he struggles with the demons of living out life on the big stage of the world or on the small one in his hometown of Bedford Falls. The action of the film surrounds the loss of a large bank deposit by his business partner, Uncle Billy, that threatens to ruin George and his life. Facing financial ruin, shame and imprisonment, he throws himself from a bridge on a snowy evening, only to be saved by his guardian angel Clarence. Clarence grants George’s wish that he “had never been born.” And in a Dickensian turn, George is taken back and shown how life would be in the small town if his wish came true. After seeing the dark flip side of a world without George Bailey he begs for his life back. In the end George finds out he had a pretty wonderful life after all, and is brought back to his life and his family and finds that the town he has done so much for comes to his aid, saving George and saving Christmas.

I watch this film every year. I watch as he saves his brother from drowning. I watch as he eats a meal with his father and sacrifices his future to save the family business. I watch as he opens his arms and asks for “A big One.” I watch as he reluctantly woos his future wife in one of the most romantic scenes ever committed to celluloid, and I watch as he is reunited with his family, the most important and essential part of who he is, despite the chance of ruin and imprisonment. This is an important movie for me. Not because I am in the banking industry, or because I am a huge Capra fan, but because I have a family. Christmas is always a time of joy but also a bit of darkness that sometimes leaves us doubting. Many of us have metaphorically peered down into frothing waters when faced with hardships and have been tempted just to give in to despair.
But this time of year is a time to look around and take in the full picture of life. It is a time to see the joy in the everyday, to recognize the little connections that make all our lives better. On December 10th, we will celebrate the season and everyone’s wonderful life with Nickel Family Film Movie Night. We will screen this classic film and even enjoy a short live version of a select scene from some local actors. Pack up the kids, and join us at The Fenimore for an evening of family fun!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

'Tis the Season

By: Michelle Murdock, Curator of Exhibitons
We had our first real snow of the season today, just one day after the museum’s halls were decked out in glorious holiday decorations. Every year on the Monday after Thanksgiving, the Lake and Valley Garden Club arrives at Fenimore bright and early to decorate the museum. (I was so excited after working with them yesterday that I went home & decorated my own house last night) Staff and locals look forward to the festivities every year, and our visitors from away are always pleasantly surprised by the extra treat. This year the Lake and Valley club was joined by several other local garden clubs. We thank them all for helping to make the museum a magical place to visit during the holiday season. In addition to the garden club decorations, we have installed four cases of 19th century toys from the permanent collections throughout Fenimore. Visitors young and old love to see what appeared under Christmas trees in years gone by. The outside of Fenimore Art Museum was decorated today, too. When we host our annual Member’s Holiday Reception Sunday evening, the lights will be aglow on the local evergreens. All of us at Fenimore wish you a very merry holiday season!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Straight from the Heart of Hubbardsville

By: Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions
My friend lives in a 19th century farmhouse in the same lovely valley that my house inhabits. These grand old homes are left from the days when “Hops were King” and some farmers in Hubbardsville had the wealth to live like a central New York version of a minor monarch. The hops have come and gone and most of us live a much more modest lifestyle than the hop farmers before us. Many of the old farmhouses are now homes for those who work at schools, hospitals, and local businesses. And, as with my friend, the costume of choice for fall leisure time activity in Hubbardsville, is usually camo or Carharts rather than a fancy gown for a hop-pickers ball.
So, after catching her all tricked out for goose hunting – complete with pink/camo knitted gun cover - it was with some delight that I was able to send her images of our latest find for our upcoming fashion exhibit (Empire Waists, Bustles and Lace). The dresses, which were given to NYSHA by former Hubbardsvillians, the Green family, are opulent 19th century high fashion. It’s hard to reckon anyone in my town being able to wear dresses of this caliber anywhere ever! So it took a step back in time and a little research to see a different picture of sleepy little Hubbardsville that included the possibility of high fashion in the heart of rural New York.
In the mid-19th century Hubbardsville could boast a grist mill, saw mill, and cider mill, two stores, a meat market, a hotel, a wagon shop, two blacksmith’s shops, a cooper shop, and a shoe shop, as well as a boys academy and an opera house. Green Road, the big road in town, is named for Charles Green, a wealthy hops merchant and farmer, who built his large house on that road. It is this large Italianate house that we believe the dresses derive from. The women of the house attended fancy dress parties, including, it is rumored, the Astor Ball in New York City. Apparently hops money could even support buying gowns from Paris, as the label in one of the dresses attests. The hops money is gone and the little hamlet is living a more sedate lifestyle. The population numbered 123 in 1880. Today the population is about double but public buildings have been greatly reduced to a fire hall, old age home and a combo gas station/general store/post office fondly referred to as the Mall. The Hubbardsville Manor, our old folks home, is what was once the stately Green mansion. The view from my porch, however, remains essentially the same as it did in 1880. Looking down the valley I can make out the goose hunters waiting in the corn, and ahead, I can imagine the shadow of one of the Green girls in her velvet riding habit making her way before them through the autumn light.
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