Thursday, January 28, 2010

Making the Cut

By: Virginia Reynolds, CGP class of 2011

In the last ten years, reality TV has taken thousands of Americans behind the scenes. Whether it’s a jar of peanut butter or an evening gown, shows like How It’s Made and Project Runway show how much goes into a final product. Creating a museum exhibition is no different. Along with two other students from the Cooperstown Graduate Program (CGP), I have been working on the Fenimore’s upcoming exhibit, Empire Waists, Bustles & Lace: A Century of New York Fashion, which will open April 1, 2010.
My first official project was to locate prints in Godey’s Lady’s Book and Peterson’s Magazine, two nineteenth-century fashion magazines, to show changes in style over time. With over a hundred beautifully hand-colored images to choose from, selecting a few to accompany the exhibit’s labels was challenging. Next, I picked accessories for an 1830s dress and a men’s velvet suit from 1800. Even with a list of bonnets from the 1830s, it’s hard to not get distracted. Remember, the dress only needs one bonnet. The bonnets are stored in different boxes. Looking through and carefully unwrapping the acid-free tissue paper from the headwear feels like Christmas every time. While in storage or doing research, I am always surprised by what I discover.
Brooke Steinhauser and Jennie Davy also researched and recommended pieces for the exhibit. Brooke focused on undergarments – corsets, crinolines and bustle pads – all essential for creating iconic, nineteenth-century silhouettes. To put the dresses and people who wore them better into context, the some of the clothing will be displayed on antique furniture. Applying the information from her American Material Culture course, Jennie Davy selected a variety of furniture including chairs, mirrors, a sewing machine and reed organ.

From the time a museum picks an exhibit topic or theme, creating it takes hours of imaginative thinking, innovative research, careful selection, and meticulous design. Selecting what gets exhibited is only a small part of the process. Deciding what makes the cut is always difficult, but not everything can be displayed at once. Nevertheless, the design, materials, and intricate details of the items, which will be exhibited beginning in April, make the pieces absolutely incredible.
top: Godey's Plate, Fenimore Art Museum Collection.
bottom: 1890s hat worn by Catherine Odessa Sands Packard, Fenimore Art Museum Collection.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Penny Saved ...

By: Doug Kendall, Curator of Collections
The holidays are over, it’s a new year and here at the Museum we are already working on preparing for the opening of the 2010 exhibitions in April. The days are getting longer day by day and it seems like time for a fresh start. Undoubtedly that’s one reason many people make Resolutions to do something new, something better, or something different on New Year’s Day.
Many people resolve to be more careful with their money in the New Year, perhaps to save more than they did during the previous year. This idea may seem especially appropriate these days, but it’s an idea with a long history and it’s one that’s tangibly represented in the collections of the Fenimore Art Museum.
“Still banks” or what are commonly called “Piggy Banks” date to antiquity, but in the 19th century new forms were introduced to encourage children to save their pennies. In addition, new mechanical banks appeared in the late 19th century that combined the serious business of saving money with the fun of a toy.
At the same time, the modern celebration of Christmas was developing a special emphasis on children, with wrapped presents under indoor trees delivered by the intrepid Saint Nicholas. So this ceramic bank is particularly appropriate—a snowball topped by the old, thinner model of Santa Claus. Parents could give their children a bank like this on Christmas and encourage them to save their pennies in the coming year.
Or the message could be more direct, as in this still bank in the form of…a bank. A sturdy metal model, this bank was undoubtedly intended to remind one of the full-sized variety, a safe place to deposit one’s funds.

Mechanical and semi-mechanical banks gained in popularity from the end of the 19th century into the 20th. These banks required one to do more than simply drop a coin in a slot. First a coin was placed, then a lever was pulled or a switch turned and the device shot, dropped or slid the coin into the bank.
Mechanical banks reached the height of their popularity in the first half of the 20th century but persisted much longer. The Mercury Rocket Bank shown here brought the concept into the space age—or at least the Buck Rodgers era. To make a deposit in the Rocket Bank, one placed the coin in the slot on top, then pulled back the spring-loaded “spaceman” to fire the coin into the bank. These rocket banks were often bought by banks and given away to customers’ children as promotional items.

With banks like these, maybe keeping that New Year’s resolution to save would be easier!
top: Saint Nicholas Bank. Ceramic, Maker Unidentified, 19th century. N0127.1958
middle: Still Bank. Metal. Maker Unidentifed, 19th Century. N0200.1968
bottom: Semi Mechanical Bank. Metal. Duro Mold and Manufacturing Company, Detroit, Michigan, ca. 1950. N0307.1956a-b.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Fairy Spring, Lakewood Cemetery & Natty Bumpo

This is the second in a series of posts by guest blogger, Michele Harvey. Fenimore Art Museum will exhibit new work by Harvey in the exhibition Watermark: Michele Harvey & Glimmerglass, beginning April 1, 2010.
On the wooded eastern shores of Glimmerglass there are quiet spots, mostly known to locals. At first glance Fairy Spring Park is just a steeply pitched, wooded picnic area and narrow dock. That is, until one finds the trail. The trail begins just north of the park proper. It disappears into the woods, literally. Although poorly kept, it reveals worthy secrets if you take the time. It's a hike for the sure-footed. The terrain is very steep and slippery. Fairy Spring is an apt name. The wooded, nearly vertical slope is covered by moss, ferns and tree roots. Under this living skin of roots and moss, rivulets sharply make their way down to the lake. It's a quiet, leafy place fit for fairies. Across the way, a 1932 iron plaque states:
Where "Natty Bumpo" Leatherstocking rescued Chingachgook from flames". Chingach dying in his care. "Pioneer".

Even today, one can surely imagine James Fenimore Cooper's 'Deerslayer' stalking these woods.
Hard by, is Lakewood cemetery. Upslope from Fairy Spring, it's a steep and terraced burying ground, full of stately trees and old stones. Each turn of the way, each unique monument calls to the curious. A quiet refuge from the world, where the water softly shimmers up from the lake, and a deep, cushioning moss hangs o'er all. Chipmunks and birds make it a lively spot, playing in expertly laid-stone walls and stone staircases. There is age here and history, and touching tales. A hand-hewn granite boat in full sail, attests to the love for family and water. Up the twin, steeply curved, stone staircases, a bench to contemplate a hero of the Titanic. It is a worthy place.

Cemeteries were the first American parklands. At a time when people preferred home burial, but when growing cities made that idea impractical. Here then, is an ideal spot, close enough to town for family to visit and spend a pleasant afternoon.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Results of the Photo Shoot

By: Eva Fognell, Curator of the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art
Last time, I blogged about a photo shoot we did here on Nov 23rd in preparation for the catalog that will accompany Art of the American Indians: The Thaw Collection, which opens at the Cleveland Museum of Art on March 7. Here is the stunning result of Richard Walker’s images of the Haida dish. Look at this amazing bowl! I love the photos that show the translucency of the horn. You can even see the veins in the horn, reminding us that this material was once alive. Northwest Coast artists were skilled carvers of sheep horn. The resilient horn was first steamed and then molded into shape. The dish is remarkable for its beautifully observed rendering of a small alert seabird. The bowl’s outer surface is carved in relief with formline designs representing the bird’s wings, feet, and tail-feathers, and there is an additional face on the breast with a projecting hooked nose. It is great to have an opportunity to photograph an object from many angles. I think readers of the forthcoming catalogue will really appreciate that feature.
Above: Dish, ca. 1840-1860. Haida, Queen Charlotta Islands, British Columbia. Dall mountain sheep horn, T0181

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Farewell to America's Rome

By: Christine Olsen, Registrar
As you may have read in my blog post “Making an Exhibition Happen” a lot of steps are involved in putting up and taking down an exhibit. In our exhibit, America’s Rome: Artists in the Eternal City, we had 134 works from 24 lenders, including Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Toledo Museum of Art and Brooklyn Museum of Art. In addition to some of the other projects that I am working on which I have blogged about, such as the Through the Eyes of Others Travelling show which returns from NYSM in January and preparing for the Thaw Travelling show to go to Cleveland in February, I am currently working on returning the loans for America’s Rome to their lenders since the exhibit closed on December 31st. Instead of shipping with UPS, Fed Ex or a standard moving company, I work with a handful of exclusive fine art handling companies who specialize in shipping for high value and fragile cargo. Their trucks have special air ride suspension, temperature/humidity control and dual drivers with a security system; a few more options than the standard shipper would provide! Sometimes, lenders require an exclusive use shipment, which means that their loan is the only one on the truck. For those that do not require exclusive use, I often combine shipments for lenders that are geographically near one another; they call these direct shuttles, and many lenders like to know that their artwork is on board with loans from other museums who lent to the same exhibition.

As I have discussed in detail in my blog “Making an Exhibition Happen”, each loan has specific requirements from the lenders which must be followed; for example, just as upon unpacking and installation, there are three lenders to this show that require a courier to oversee de-installation and packing. This means making flight and hotel reservations for each courier, and scheduling de-installation and shipping to coincide perfectly with their visits. It is a difficult juggling act, and it has taken me weeks to work out the details. Finally, two lenders to this exhibit require that their courier also ride on the truck for the return of their artwork; one lender will ride all the way from Cooperstown to Detroit in one day!

All of the crates for the work in this exhibit have been stored since April in a storage space with security, pest and environmental controls (you can go back and see the pictures I posted of crates stacked in the hallway in my previous blog). When it is time for de-installation, the crates will be moved into the exhibition gallery to be packed by myself and other Curatorial staff. The artwork itself is thoroughly examined again by me for condition changes and has detailed pictures taken of its packing. As anyone who has read my blogs knows, condition reporting itself takes a lot of time, and I can only do it when the museum is closed to the public.
This is the life of every loan that comes in and out of the museum; after doing this for so long I have a system down so that this process goes smoothly. But of course there are glitches along the way and unexpected things that come up that I and my colleagues must contend with. It certainly makes the winter go by quickly! I will soon be blogging about loans that will be coming in for our Spring exhibitions, such as John Singer Sargent: Portraits in Praise of Women…if the technical aspects of registrarial work interest you, stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Fall of (America's) Rome

By: Michelle Murdock, Curator of Exhibitions

It’s true what they say – all good things must come to an end. January is always a bittersweet month for us here at Fenimore. It’s sad to see the exhibitions we’ve come to love taken down, but it’s very exciting to prepare the road for new exhibitions. This week, we packed up America’s Rome, and several staff dropped by the gallery to say goodbye to their favorite works. While we are all looking forward to re-opening in April with a bevy of new exhibitions (cant wait for John Singer Sargent: Portraits in Praise of Women!), this is the time to lovingly pack up the old friends. Here’s a picture of Chris Rossi affixing a painting to its crate using Oz Clips.
As my colleague Christine Olsen noted in her blog Making an Exhibition Happen, there’s just as much involved in taking an exhibition down as putting one up. Thankfully, we have a new Preparator to help us out. Stephen Loughman comes to us from the Plattsburg State Art Museum where he was a Preparator. Look for his blogs soon, too.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

All in the Family and soon to be All in the Exhibit

By: Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

One of the best parts of doing an exhibit based on our own collections is the possibility of discovering or rediscovering something wonderful. I knew we had a fabulous clothing collection but was not aware how many family stories were woven throughout it.

We are fortunate in having Sue Friedlander working with us on the Empire Waists, Bustles and Lace exhibit for Fenimore Art Museum in 2010. Sue, a historian/museum consultant, knows the collections well so I should not have been surprised when she started linking objects and revealing a wonderful family story that goes back to a needlepoint, a wedding dress, a quilt, and a travel dress.

Our story begins with Sally Washburn, a resident of Oxford, NY, who, in 1808, stitches a lovely needlepoint of a country scene. A year later Sally marries Henry Mygatt and soon after gives birth to Sarah Eliza Mygatt.

Sarah grows-up and marries William G. Sands in 1837. For her wedding she wears a dress that becomes one of the stars of our collection. The Sands wedding dress is exquisite – white floral satin with numerous hand-stitched tucks and pleats. In addition to being in great shape and drop-dead gorgeous it is the earliest known example of a dress with a label in it (and we have it here in the NYSHA collection!).
The saga continues. In 1884 Catherine Odessa Sands Packard, daughter of William and Sarah makes a crazy quilt. In the quilt is a patch of fabric contributed by Catherine’s mother Sarah, and stitched with the dates 1837 and 1882. The fabric is from our very own Sands wedding dress (Sarah’s) and the dates commemorate Sarah and William’s 45th wedding anniversary (1837) and the 1882 wedding of their daughter Catherine.

One more piece from the family puzzle – a beautiful travel dress and jacket that was likely part of Catherine’s wardrobe. The burgundy velvet dress and matching jacket have molded glass buttons and are in stellar condition. The color and fabric resemble other patches on the quilt. Did Catherine work it in, as she had done with a patch from her mother’s wedding dress? It is hard for us to be certain. You will have an opportunity to decide for yourself when all 4 items go on display for the first time in 2010 as part of Empire Waists, Bustles & Lace.
Top: Needlework picture by Sally Washburn, 1808. Fenimore Art Museum Collection, Museum Purchase, N0161.1955
Center: Dress made by Warncock Fashionable Milliner, ca 1837. Silk, Fenimore Art Museum Collection, Gift of Mrs. Ruben Crispell, N0023.1962(01).

Bottom: Quilt by Catherine Odessa Sands Packard, ca 1882. Fenimore Art Museum Collection, Gift of Mrs. Ruben Crispell, N0022.1962.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Pardon me, ma’am, there’s a body in your office

By: Michelle Murdock, Curator of Exhibitions

We had our first messy weather of the year today. Area schools were closed and several staff couldn’t make it in. I took advantage of the fairly quiet morning to work on some mounts for the Thaw Collection artifacts that will travel to Cleveland. The textiles that will hang from battens needed to have sleeves sewn on. Other textiles will be displayed on mannequins, so those needed to be freshened up. As I was working on one mannequin, a coworker walked into my office and yelped with surprise. It was a bit of a change of pace seeing me working on mounts instead of paperwork, I suppose. Or it could have just been the body laid out on the floor…

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