Monday, December 27, 2010

Vote for your favorite posts for an upcoming exhibition!

Fenimore Art Museum is organizing its second blog-curated exhibition scheduled to open in the Spring of 2011. The content of this exhibition will be determined by you, the blog readers. You have the opportunity to vote for your favorite post, and the posts that get the most votes will be included in the exhibition along with the object most closely representing the content and, of course, the wording from the actual post as it appears in this blog.

In preparation for the actual voting, which will take place in January, we are testing the Blogger polling gadget this week to see if it will work for this purpose. It appears at the right. Please note that we have included the dates of these posts so you can go back and reread them.

So please go ahead and vote for your favorite, but remember, it doesn’t count for real yet. We’ll let you know when the real voting begins. In the meantime, we’ll at least know that the gadget works and that you all are interested enough to vote in large numbers. You can vote for up to three posts if you’d like.

Thanks for voting! And drop us a comment if you have better ideas on how to do this.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Raising, Conserving & Preserving the Past

John Hart, Assistant Curator of Collections

Underwater archeology has always been interesting to me and even though I don’t live anywhere near a body of water that has underwater shipwrecks, I’m still fascinated. When Dr. Robert Ballard discovered the RMS Titanic in 1985 I was barely two years old, but as soon as I was old enough to understand what an important discovery he’d made, I was hooked on shipwrecks.

However, this blog isn’t about Dr. Ballard or the Titanic (but this one was, in a way); it’s about the USS Monitor, the first ironclad ship in the US Navy during the Civil War. The Monitor, with its famous central gun turret, was lost on December 31, 1862 in rough seas, only a few months after its most famous battle at Hampton Roads. Sixteen men were lost when she sank.

While searching for something else entirely (which is often the case when I find interesting objects around here) I discovered a partial model of the Monitor and her Hampton Roads foe, the CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimac, which is probably another blog in it’s own right). Below are pictures of the model, and since it’s only a cross-section, you can see it’s pretty detailed. Also below is an image of the famous turret and the two eleven-inch guns that made this ship a formidable presence on the water. The Monitor Center at The Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Virginia, has a wonderful site dedicated to the efforts being made to conserve the turret, the two eleven-inch guns, and its engine, which were raised by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association and the US Navy between 2001 and 2002. The chemistry behind the conservation process is complicated, but fascinating all the same. Most recently, the tank of chemicals holding the engine was emptied and conservators began hammering away (ever-so-carefully, I promise) at the sediment that had accumulated during its 139 years underwater. You can see part of that process here.

USS Monitor (Cross-section model, above. Detail, below), Wood, metal and wax, H 11.25” x W 20.75” x D 13”, N0100.1973 New York State Historical Association/Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, NY, N0100.1973

Thanks to the efforts of The Mariner’s Museum, a dedicated team of conservators, and I’m sure hundreds of others, an amazing part of the history of the United States Navy is being preserved for the future. And that’s what museums do, preserve the past for the future.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Trim a Tree

John Hart, Assistant Curator of Collections

My family has many traditions, many of which I follow even though I live so far away from home. One of my favorite traditions from childhood was putting up the Christmas tree and hanging the ornaments, especially my grandmother’s that had been passed down to my mom. Grandma Bain died long before I was born so I never got to meet her, but my mom always made sure we remembered her when we put her ornaments on the tree or set up her crèche with many of the figures having come from Italy, where my great grandparents emigrated from in the early 20th century.

I still put up a tree in my apartment every year, but my grandma’s ornaments stay safely at my mom’s to go on her tree. I often see similar ornaments in other places, mostly antique shops, but the feeling I get when I look at them just isn’t the same. Oddly enough though, someone must have had the same type of feeling towards those old ornaments as me, because in the collection we have several dozen, many of which are nearly identical to my grandma’s.

Christmas Ornaments
Painted glass and metal
Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, N.Y., N0049.1978 and N0060.1978

From pinecones to bells, grandma had a pretty wide assortment and the two ornaments above, from our collection, are pretty similar, but painted a different color. I think ours are pink. In any event, they always find their way onto the tree…even if that means multiple ornaments on one branch.

Just like the a lot of things from our parents or grandparents, ornaments mean something different to everyone, but at least with ornaments, putting them on the tree is one way to remember loved ones that may no longer be with us.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

To Drive the Cold Winter Away

By Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

The view from my house this morning.

It’s been snowing for three days straight out here in the snow belt, and my attempts to make it to work have been frustrated by whiteouts and squalls. My trusty steed, a 2004 Saturn Ion, is snugged into what part of the driveway I could manage. Looking down the snow-filled valley I think of the families who lived here before me, in particular the Swartwout sisters, Ann and Sarah.

These gals had a great sense of style and married into the well-to-do Green family of Hubbardsville and Utica. The Greens prospered at hop growing and banking. We are very fortunate to have some of Ann and Sarah’s costumes here on display at Fenimore Art Museum in our Empire Waists, Bustles and Lace: A Century of New York Fashion exhibition. In addition to the two lovely dresses shown we have more items tucked away in our collection.

While I am out trying to dig out the car in my high-tech winter boots, jacket and snow pants I can’t help but contrast it to what Ann and Sarah would have been wearing. During the 1890s ladies did not wear pants (nor did they shovel out vehicles!). Winter clothing for women included layers of flannel and wool petticoats piled under skirts. A warm jacket made of wool or fur would top that off, with hat and gloves to match, and perhaps a muffler tucked in around the neck and chest for good measure. Let’s not forget a muff to finish the picture – a warm fur roll to keep hands warm.

Plate from Peterson’s Magazine showing fashionable French Winter fashions for women in the USA
From Claremont College Digital Library

The trusty steed would be hitched to a cutter. Horse-drawn sleds were the way to get around during a central New York winter. Roads were often rolled flat to allow for passage. Thanks to a friend I now have a heated seat warmer that plugs into my car. Sara and Ann would have used ember-filled foot warmers and fur rugs to stay toasty during winter visits.

American Homestead in Winter by Currier and Ives
Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, NY, N0036.1964

The romance of a horse drawn sleigh ride does have its allure. But, it’s not the easiest way to make the slog to Cooperstown. I’ll leave that to the Swartwout sisters and be content to use my car, once they get my road plowed out...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Early Photography, Meet 21st Century Technology

By John Hart, Assistant Curator of Collections

It seems like not a day goes by that I’m not working on something that involves a camera. When you have upwards of 150,000 objects to manage, it’s no wonder that when you work with something, you photograph it, upload the image into the collections database and add a few details about the object here and there. The image saves the next person time and acts as a record of the object's condition when the photograph was taken. But what about photographs themselves? What more can they tell us about a particular time period? The short answer is plenty, if you know what you’re looking at. Many historians will tell you that photographs provide a wealth of knowledge and always tell a story.

The first photographs are nothing like today’s photographs, and they involved far more time and patience than a simple point-and-shoot camera of today. Imagine sitting in front of a camera for several minutes while trying to hold a pose so as not to alter the final image.

The first form of commercially available photography developed around 1839 and was called a daguerreotype, after the inventor of the process, Louis Daguerre. The photograph above is a great example of an early daguerreotype (ca. 1850) and if you look closely at her ears, neck and her index finger, you can see that this image was embellished with a bit of gold to enhance the jewelry. This embellishment, common on daguerreotypes, is echoed in the image below, as well.

The embellishments didn’t stop there. Many daguerreotypes, and later tintypes and ambrotypes, were hand tinted to emulate a color image. Cheeks could be made rosy red, a Civil War soldier’s pants could be tinted blue, and the list goes on.

Since most of the processes for early photography are easily identified, researchers, curators, and historians can easily find a date range for an image. The best example I found for this is in the image below.

It’s probably hard to see, but at the base of this image, on the metal framework, there are two crossed cannons, one with a mark of “76” and the other of “61.” It seems likely these refer to 1776 and 1861, the start of the American Revolution and the beginning of the United States Civil War. At the top and bottom are the Union shield, American flags and “Union” arched over the image. This image therefore likely dates somewhere between 1861 and 1865 (give or take a few months). It may have been carried by a Union soldier to remind him of his children back home, but that’s just a guess. Because of its date, and from evidence on the image itself, this is a tintype, a photographic process that began around 1855 and was popular up until the 1930s.

Unfortunately we don’t know too much about the individuals in these images, but the photographs provide a wealth of knowledge, from dress, to jewelry, to national events.
Even today photography is used to document events and everyday life, but like the images of the 19th and early 20th centuries, they are so much more.

Images, from top to bottom:
Daguerreotype, ca. 1850, Photographer unknown. New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, NY. N0087.1945(01)
Daguerreotype, ca. 1850, Photographer unknown. New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, NY. N0149.1976(01)
Tintype, ca. 1861-1865, Photographer unknown. New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, NY. N0266.1976(07)

Friday, November 19, 2010

On the March from Cooperstown to Virginia

By: Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

Research for an exhibit often starts long before the exhibit is slated to open. The curatorial staff pours over books, websites, meets with scholars and watches videos to get ourselves up to speed on our upcoming topics. The dazzle of the objects to be displayed is always augmented by enlightening facts that surface along the way.

With the 250th anniversary of the Civil War approaching we are diving head first into all things related to the conflict. In 2012 Fenimore Art Museum will mount an exhibition drawn from historian Sal Cilella’s book Upton’s Regulars, The 121st New York Infantry in the Civil War.

Eastern Theater of War 1861-1865
Courtesy of the National Parks Service

The 121st were Cooperstown’s hometown regiment. Drawn from the surrounding area the landowners, businessman, students and farm boys of Otsego and Herkimer Counties made their way to Virginia and were put under the leadership of Colonel Emory Upton. It is easy to be wowed by the battles the 121st engaged in and the hardships they endured, but I am awed at how far these guys had to sojourn just to be part of the fray.

Route from Cooperstown to Fredericksburg
Courtesy of Google Maps

Traveling from Cooperstown to Washington, D.C. and points south by public transport in 2010 can be a bit of a challenge. In 1862 it was considerably more difficult. Upton’s men traveled over 400 miles just to reach the fighting. Google Maps tells me that it would take 7 hours and 13 minutes to drive, and at least 5 days and 7 hours to walk that distance today. The 121st marched, traveled by train and by wagon to make their way south. This in an age when many men never left the confines of their village or county, let alone down to the nation’s capital and beyond. Once onsite the 121st faced 3 years of marching, camping and fighting, ending in another monumental trek back north to home and family in the Cooperstown area.

121st Battles and Casualties
From: New York in the War of the Rebellion, 3rd ed. Frederick Phisterer
Albany: J. B. Lyon Company, 1912

Monday, November 15, 2010

Opening Festivities for Art of the Native Americans: The Thaw Collection, at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

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

Fenimore Art Museum’s traveling exhibition, Art of the Native Americans: The Thaw Collection, opened at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) on October 24, 2010. Eva was there to celebrate and train teachers and docents. Here’s here recap of the opening events.

From teacher’s education programming and docent training to the opening day event this was one of the most inspiring, impressive and fun series of events I have been part of in a museum setting. The audiences at the MIA were wonderful, energetic, very interested and very grateful that they had a chance to see the magnificent collection. It was a successful, well-executed, and exciting weekend and the MIA had certainly put an extraordinary amount of their resources behind our exhibit.

On Thursday October 21st the museum hosted a 4-hour program for K-12 teachers. Four hundred thirty seven teachers were registered for the program that focused upon the exhibition and its themes. The museum had developed an extensive curriculum guide available on CD as well as on-line for in-class teaching. The teachers were also toured through the galleries. The teachers were asked to rank their experience that day and an overwhelming majority rated their visit to the exhibit as the best part of the program.

Thursday evening was also the MIA’s 3rd Thursday event when the museum is open from 5-9 pm. Live rock music bands, art making, dancers and performers were everywhere. The museum was very busy with people of all ages, including teenagers and 20- and 30-somethings. The gallery was open to members and there was a large audience in the gallery all evening long.

On both Friday and Saturday Joe Horse Capture (the MIA’s Associate Curator of Native American Art) and I conducted training sessions for museum docents. Over the two days at least 80 people participated in our tours. Their enthusiasm was truly amazing. Many had spent considerable time familiarizing themselves with the objects in the exhibition prior to the training sessions.

Representatives from the Twin City Press (St Paul), Star Tribune (Minneapolis), as well as NPR and St. Paul Magazine toured the exhibit on Friday. They all asked in-depth questions and were very impressed by the exhibition. This was later reflected in the superlative reviews that appeared in the Sunday editions of their respective papers:

On the last day, Sunday, a brunch event for 150 invited guests officially opened the exhibit. Later I presented a lecture, Masterworks in Native American Art. Throughout the day there was a museum-wide celebration featuring free art activities, story time, music and entertainment.

Photos by Eva Fognell and Joe Horse Capture

Friday, November 5, 2010

Philadelphia Story: the 2010 Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums Meeting

Douglas Kendall, Curator of Collections

Last week I had the opportunity to attend “Revolutionizing Museums,” the annual meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums on the Delaware River waterfront in Philadelphia. MAAM is our regional affiliate of the American Association of Museums. Every fall, museum professionals from New York to the District of Columbia gather to celebrate each others’ successes, brainstorm common challenges, learn new things and take away good ideas that can be adapted and reshaped for use at their own museums.

Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums, Washington, D.C., 2010.

I attended several sessions related to museum collections care and access, since those are my areas of responsibility here at the Fenimore Art Museum and The Farmers’ Museum. Things That Go Bump in the Night…When Collections Strike Back focused on dealing with artifacts and artwork that are potentially dangerous. Fortunately, we don’t have a fluoroscope—an x-ray shoe-fitting machine of dubious use in getting the right fit that also bathed customers and clerks in radiation—or a large medical collection of “wet specimens” like Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum, but every museum curator needs to be alert to the possibility of folks wanting to donate antique guns and cannonballs that could still be loaded or early plastics and film that can spontaneously combust.

Museum of the Macabre®, Philadelphia, PA, 2008-2010.

Lots of museums are finding new ways of sharing collections online (see highlights of the Fenimore Art Museum’s here). At the conference, we heard about the Museum of the Macabre®, which for now is entirely online. The Museum’s founders spoke about the numerous free software tools available online that allowed them to create a website that showcases their collections, educates the public about “the historical significance of the afterlife,” and allows visitors to add their own comments and content to the site. Many traditional museums with physical locations but small budgets can take advantage of these same web tools to make their collections more accessible to the public.

Photo, 2007 by Jan’s Cat/Felix Gomes,
re-used with permission under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Floating just outside the conference hotel is an illustration of some of the challenges faced by museums today: the USS Olympia. It is a National Historic Landmark, the flagship of Admiral Dewey’s fleet during the Spanish-American War. Decommissioned in 1922 and privatized in 1957, the ship is now part of the Independence Seaport Museum, which has spent $5.5 million on preservation since 1996. Unfortunately, at least $10 million is now needed to prevent Olympia from sinking at its mooring within the next 3 years. This month, the Museum is ending public tours of the ship due to its current condition.

I’ve returned to Cooperstown more aware than ever of the evolving nature of our museums—new virtual museums popping up, hoping to eventually have a bricks-and-mortar site—others struggling with the inherent disadvantages of physically preserving art and heritage for future generations. And now I’m back to trying to both preserve and share our collections from our little village in upstate New York.

If you want to find out more about the meeting, you can visit MAAM’s own blog on the Philadelphia conference.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Finding Frida

By: Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

It’s November, the trees are bare and the world is reduced to somber notes of ochre and burnt umber. So naturally, this curator’s thoughts turn toward warmer climates and tempestuous artists. How convenient that one of next year’s Fenimore Art Museum exhibits is Frida Kahlo: Through the Lens of Nickolas Muray.

Nickolas Muray, 1892-1965, American (b. Hungary)
Frida with Nick in her Studio, Coyoacán
Silver gelatin print

Friend, lover, confidant and photographer, Nickolas Muray captured Frida’s style and flash through his portraits. How to echo that in a gallery layout of Muray’s photographs with support graphics and color choices? Time for research! The book I Will Never Forget You: Frida Kahlo and Nickolas Muray explores Nick and Frida’s relationship through their passionate letters and Muray’s vibrant photos.

"Nick darling, I got my wonderful picture you sent me, I find it even more beautiful than in New York. Diego says that it is as marvelous as a Piero de la Francesca. To me it is more than that, it is a treasure, and besides, it will always remind me that morning... [when] we went to your shop to take photos. This one was one of them. And now I have it near me. You will always be inside the magenta rebozo (on the left side).” - Frida Kahlo to Nickolas Muray, 1939

Still not enough! Time to hit Netflix and watch Salma Hayek’s tour de force performance in Frida. This fabulous film brings both Frida and her work to life. It’s a bit of a steamy watch and not for those that blush easily! I wondered how Frida found time to paint with such an active and love life. . .

Finally, time to pour through Judy Chicago’s recent exploration of Frida and her work. Frida Kahlo: Face to Face brings a feminist perspective and new insight to Frida’s paintings and drawings. The book itself is sumptuous with great reproductions of Frida’s work and a beautiful layout in the style of a Mexican retalbo.

Nickolas Muray, 1892-1965, American (b. Hungary)
Frida painting The Two Fridas, Coyoacán
Silver gelatin print

Research results: vibrant colors for the gallery and festive fonts to mirror the feeling of Frida’s life and work as portrayed through Nickolas Muray’s photographs.

Tour Management of Frida Kahlo: Through the Lens of Nickolas Muray is by Smith Kramer Fine Art Services, Kansas City, Missouri

Thursday, October 28, 2010

While the Registrar is Away, the Curators Play

By: Christine Olsen, Registrar

My three month maternity leave from the Fenimore Art Museum and The Farmers' Museum was a lovely escape from reality. I was due August 1st with my first child and so I decided to use my vacation time during the month of July to “nest.” Fortunately, my generous employer and coworkers thought this was a good idea and sent me off, to be seen again only after I had a babe in arms. I spent the whole month lounging around the house, and out on our boat on Otsego Lake soaking up the sun… and trying to get up and down the ladder into the water (there are some entertaining pictures of that by the way that I will keep to myself). I ate lots of ice pops, wore a flowing summer dress every day, and had no schedule. It was wonderful. Miraculously, I also didn’t think about work ….much. Being a registrar is a career for me, not just a job. I love what I do and proudly consider myself “on call” here at the museum 24/7.

Perhaps lending to this carefree attitude was the knowledge that our Assistant Curator of Collections, John Hart, would be diligently working on a list of pending projects in my absence: changing out of exhibits, arranging crating and shipping, accessioning new objects, negotiating loans and insurance. Summer is a somewhat slower time of year for me but even juggling a few projects can be overwhelming to someone who doesn’t normally do it. Additionally, it wasn’t easy for me to leave things entirely to someone else, and I may have been slightly guilty of burying poor John in the details of how to do it “Christine’s way”. Registration work isn’t for everyone and I give John a lot of credit for even attempting to take on my responsibilities (while still doing his own job might I add!).

I had our son, Shepard Franklin Olsen, on August 7th at 3:27pm after 23 hours of labor and an unplanned cesarean section delivery. I then took the next 8 weeks to recover, staying at home with the baby and learning to be a mom. Although it is cliché I dare say that being a mom is the hardest job I have ever had; but it wasn’t long before I came to the realization that I could never be a stay at home mom. I missed the challenges and demands that work provides me and I missed socializing with my coworkers (i.e. adults who spoke of things other than diaper changes and timing of naps!).

Undoubtedly knowing that I needed some socialization, John and our Curator of The Farmers’ Museum, Erin Richardson, came to visit at my home on a regular basis following the delivery. They kept me abreast of the latest curatorial department developments and occasionally solicited my advice on things registration related. During these two months exhibitions came (Picturing Women: American Art from the Permanent Collections) and went (In our Time: The World As Seen By Magnum Photographers), and our travelling exhibition, Art of the Native Americans: The Thaw Collection, was shipped to its next venue at Minneapolis Institute of Art (I found this especially hard to miss). It all went without a hitch, of course, thanks to the wonderful curatorial department at the museums, but it felt good to be in the loop none the less…and to know that I was missed by my colleagues, if even just a little.

I returned to work part time as of October 4th. I had a slow recovery from the cesarean section delivery and wasn’t quite emotionally ready to leave the baby., but, in the end it was for the best. Both the baby and I have adjusted now and everyone is doing well. John did a great job while I was gone and the transition back has been easy. I am getting ready for the end of this year’s exhibitions and preparing for the next - I am back at the job I love…only now, I get to go home at the end of the day to an awesome new baby boy that I love even more!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Native American art is alive and beautiful

The Ferns, ca. 1904
Scees Bryant Possock (ca. 1858-1918) Wa she shu (Washoe)
Photograph by John Bigelow Taylor

On Sunday October 24, Fenimore Art Museum's traveling exhibition, Art of the Native Americans: The Thaw Collection, opened at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. We'd thought our blog readers would like to see a wonderful review of the exhibition, given by Minnesota Public Radio. If you are in the region, it's well worth a stop by the MIA to see the show.

Native American art is alive and beautiful | State of the Arts | Minnesota Public Radio

Friday, October 15, 2010

Birth of the United States Navy

By John Hart, Assistant Curator of Collections

In honor of the 235th birthday of the United States Navy, celebrated on October 13th, I decided to blog about a print in the Fenimore Art Museum collection to celebrate. First established as the Continental Navy by the Continental Congress in 1775, the first Navy dissolved shortly after the end of the American Revolution. It wasn’t until almost two decades later that Congress authorized the creation of the Navy we know today.

According to the USS Constitution Museum, six frigates were built between 1797 and 1800 – the USS Constitution is the only ship that remains. Dubbed “Old Ironsides” because of her very strong hull, she either repelled cannon balls completely, or absorbed enough of the impact to prevent the ship from sinking. Now resting in Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston, Massachusetts, Old Ironsides remains a popular tourist attraction and one of the oldest surviving relics of the American Revolution. And arguably, the most recognized, too.

The Kearsarge and the Constitution, 1892, by Fred S. Cozzens
Lithographic print, H: 10 ¾” x W: 14 ½”
Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, N.Y., N0612.1942(22)

The print in our collection, shown above, depicts the USS Constitution in the foreground, and to the viewer’s left is the steam sloop of war, USS Kearsarge, commissioned in 1862 during the US Civil War. Like the Constitution during the War of 1812, Kearsarge proved her worth during several important battles during the Civil War, including her defeat of the CSS Alabama. To this day, there is a ship named USS Kearsarge in honor of the original, which ran aground in the late 19th century. The ship to the right was not identified in the print’s key.

If you’re ever in Boston, stop by the USS Constitution Museum – the tour of the ship is free, and offered by active duty sailors. The museum itself is a treasure trove of history and definitely a destination you shouldn’t miss.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Another Installation of Another Show (with apologies to Cole Porter...)

By Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

Another Installation of Another Show
(with apologies to Cole Porter, on the occasion of installing Fenimore Art Museum's exhibition, Art of the Native Americans: The Thaw Collection, at its second venue, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts)

Another install'in, another show
In Cooperstown, Cleveland, or Minneapolo’
A chance for museum folks to say hello!
Another install'in of another show.

Another installation you hope will be a blast
Will make your museum’s future and salute its past
Another venue where visitation will grow
Another install'in of another show.

For weeks, you plan and rehearse
Three weeks, and it couldn't be worse
One week, will it ever be right?
Then out of the hat it's that big first night

The press preview is about to start
You cross your fingers and hold your heart
It's curtain time and away we go -
Another install'in
Another installation of another show!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Hanging Smith & Telfer photos at the Otesaga Resort Hotel

By Michelle Murdock, Curator of Exhibitions

One of the many pleasures of working in a tight-knit community is having the opportunity to work with our friends at local businesses and organizations. Recently, Preparator Steve Loughman and I were asked to hang photographs at the Otesaga Resort Hotel, just down the road from the Fenimore Art Museum here in Cooperstown, New York. The photographs are of the Hotel, taken in the first three decades of the 20th century, and were reprinted from Fenimore's Smith & Telfer photography collection. Here are some pictures from our day.

The Hotel's designer had specific instructions for installation.

It was a fun and challenging installation, hanging horizontal frames on vertical wallpaper. Precision was definitely the word of the day!

They turned out great and it was nice to be able to provide our services to our friends at the Hotel.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Celebrating the Thaw Collection at the MIA with teepees

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

The installation of Art of the Native Americans: The Thaw Collection is progressing well at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. It is very exciting to see the space take shape. Yesterday’s highlight for me was to see Joe Horse Capture, the MIA’s Associate Curator, Department of African, Oceanic, and Native American Art, and a few of his staff raise two teepee's on the front lawn of the museum in preparation for the opening of our exhibition.

Today the third teepee is going up. They have already created quite a buzz. The teepees will be lit up at night so I will try to get some evening shots of them later on this week.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Installing the Thaw Collection at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

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

On October 24th, the Fenimore Art Museum's traveling exhibition Art of the Native Americans: The Thaw Collection will open at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Yesterday, Associate Curator of Exhibitions, Chris Rossi, and I spent our first day at the museum and we got a good start on unpacking and installing the objects. It is so exciting to walk into another museum's prepared galleries and see their vision for the Collection in regards to layout and design.

The first picture, above, is from the Northwest Coast section of the exhibition, with our Potlatch Figure in the foreground.

The other gallery shot was taken while the crew was installing a large photomural depicting the Grand Canyon in the Southwest section of the exhibition.

When we went out for lunch I took the opportunity to take a picture of the entrance to the Target Galleries, where the exhibition is being installed.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How did that end up in the museum, anyway?

Doug Kendall, Curator of Collections

“What’s New” is one of the recurring themes here on the Museum’s blog. We like to share the stories and images of our recent acquisitions. But how do artifacts and works of art find their way into the Museum’s collections? And why those things and not others?

The New York State Historical Association, which operates the Fenimore Art Museum, has existed for over 110 years and has been collecting for most of that time. As you can imagine, we’ve accumulated a lot of things over those years: almost 25,000 objects and over 100,000 photographs.

These days, the Museum continues to acquire artifacts, but the staff has to think hard before adding something new to the collections. We have limited acquisition funds, but even potential gifts have to be carefully scrutinized for relevance—after all, there are costs associated with cataloging, exhibiting and caring for each object in the Museum’s collection and both our resources and our space is finite.

That’s why the staff and Board of the Museum carefully developed a Collections Management Policy and review it every few years. One of the most important parts of the policy is the “Scope of Collections” section. Having a scope helps us recognize whether a potential gift makes sense as part of this museum’s collection or should perhaps be referred to another museum with a different mission. The Museum’s Collections Advisory Committee carefully considers every potential addition to the collection and makes a recommendation to the President and CEO of the organization, and the Vice President and Chief Curator, who have the authority to add items to the collection.

Residence and Office of James L. Smith, Mansfield, Cattaraugus Co NY
Graphite pencil on paper, framed
Artist Unidentified, ca. 1880
Gift of Scott and Gladys Macdonough, N0010.2010
Photograph: Richard Walker

Residence of Michael Van Alstine
Graphite pencil on paper
Fritz G. Vogt, 1890
The Farmers’ Museum, Museum Purchase, F0216.1944

Recently, a Connecticut couple offered to give the Museum a pencil sketch of a home in Cattaraugus County. This image falls within the Museum’s collecting interest in American folk art and it also provides evidence of upstate New York material culture, another of our collecting areas. Although we don’t know who sketched the James L. Smith residence and office, the style is reminiscent of the lithographs that appear in Victorian county atlases and histories, many of which can be found in our Research Library. In addition, the Smith sketch complements the drawings of itinerant Mohawk Valley artist Fritz G. Vogt in the collections of the Fenimore Art Museum and our sister institution, The Farmers’ Museum. So in this instance, the sketch of James Smith’s home and office is a welcome addition to the Museum’s collections for a variety of reasons.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hen Party

Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

Hen Party: A party for women only. First known use ca. 1885. (From Merriam-Webster online dictionary)

I had never heard the term Hen Party until I moved to Central New York. It’s a quaint folksy way of talking about a girl’s night out that for me, conjures up visions of ladies gossiping over their tea and knitting. The phrase has expanded meaning and in the 21st century can refer to a bachelorette party. Not quite the word picture I have in mind, but fun to think people are still using the term.

Did I mention the girl with the squirrel on her head?

We are having a Hen Party, so to speak, in the Clark Gallery here at the Fenimore Art Museum. Okay, our attendees are not as lively as those at the gatherings mentioned above. Instead they are quietly gracing the walls and pedestals of our exhibition, Picturing Women: American Art from the Permanent Collections, which opens on September 24.

Getting the ladies in place

Our collections hold a variety of portraiture from three centuries, which can make for some very interesting groupings. Laying out the gallery was like arranging seating at a dinner party. We have Abigail Adams keeping company with Dolly Madison while three folk art Madonnas enjoy each other’s presence. Perhaps they are comparing notes on childrearing? And I like to wonder what a very proper 19th century lady would like to chat about with her 20th century counterpart (who is shown lounging sans-clothing in a bed of water lilies.) We even have a kids’ wall, which is reminiscent of the kids’ table from the holidays of my childhood.

This eclectic gathering of women of all ages, social classes and occupations will be on view until the end of the year. Come visit the party, even if you are not a hen!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

New Acquisition: Yokuts Basket

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

Let me introduce the latest object added to the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art - a large, beautiful Yokuts basket.

It arrived just a short week ago and since then I have spent time researching the basket to find out more about it and its maker. The Yokuts were some of the leading basket makers of Central California. This great basket is tightly coiled and sewn with stitches of sedge root.

The motifs on the basket are stitched with black-dyed bracket fern root and redbud. The diamond-shaped designs are stylized rattlesnakes. It is 9 inches high and 21.5 inches in diameter so it has a demanding presence. It will be out in the gallery in the next few weeks so I hope you stop by and take a look at our latest acquisition.

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