Thursday, February 25, 2010

A catalog for Art of the American Indians: The Thaw Collection

By: Michelle L. Murdock, Curator of Exhibitions
 As I write this, we are about to “put the catalog to bed.” It has earned a good night’s sleep for sure. For the past few weeks I and my colleagues have been editing and proofing the new catalog that accompanies our traveling exhibition, Art of the American Indians: The Thaw Collection which debuts at the Cleveland Museum of Art on March 7th. I am absolutely in love with this book. It includes new essays by several authors including Janet C. Berlo, Ruth B. Phillips, Joe D. Horse Capture, Aldona Jonaitis, Steven A. LeBlanc and Norman Vorano. Several other scholars also contributed: D.Y. Begay, Marvin Cohodas, Chuna McIntyre, Scott Meachum, Marla Redcorn-Miller and Megan Smetzer.

Rather than publishing typical regional surveys of American Indian material, the authors were invited to choose an idiosyncratic approach to their essays, which offers the reader new insights into objects, makers and cultures. Phillips, for example, compares & contrasts three Great Lakes bags from the Collection, while Jonaitis discusses the art and culture of food in the Northwest Coast, as exemplified by objects from the Collection. The shorter essays in the catalogue demonstrate the varied ways that particular objects of Native art can be studied, understood, and appreciated, using diverse critical methods. The combination of these varied approaches has resulted in unique and engaging storylines.

And the design is just gorgeous. Our long-time publication designers at Nadeau Design Associates in Utica, N.Y. have worked their magic again. Their innovative approach this time includes details of many artifacts reproduced at full size. This allows readers to appreciate the intricacies of quillwork, beadwork, etching and painting.

The book Art of the American Indians: The Thaw Collection will be available from our Museum Shop very soon!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Totem Pole

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

I have the most exciting news to blog about today - we are getting a Totem Pole! A real 30-feet-high carved pole - imagine that! And it is on its way here right now. This is a monumental sculpture, carved from one 30’ tall, 4’ diameter cedar log. Trees that size are hard to find today. Eugene Thaw commissioned the pole from the internationally acclaimed Haida artist & carver Reg Davidson of Masset, Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia. Now we will have a monumental masterpiece of contemporary American Indian art on the front lawn of Fenimore Art Museum. We are planning a dedication celebration and other supporting programs for Saturday May 29th. The pole has taken months to finish. Here are some pictures showing the pole’s progression from a rough outline to the masterpiece carving that it is today. In my next blog I’ll address the imagery and provide some information about the artist.

Totem poles have a long tradition among American Indians in the Pacific Northwest Coast and may be one of the most widely recognized art forms from that region. Traditionally, totem poles were funerary containers and memorial markers, or symbols of clan and family wealth and prestige. The imagery carved into the totem pole may recount familiar legends, clan lineages, or notable events. The Haida are the native people of the Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia, and the southern end of Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

On the Road Again

By: Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions
The last year has been devoted, in one way or another, in preparing our exhibition, Art of the American Indians: The Thaw Collection, to hit the road. (First stop, Cleveland Museum of Art.) This is no small task. Getting close to 150 objects chosen, conserved, cataloged, mount-ready, insured, packed and ready to transport is a Herculean feat.

Now we are down to the wire. Large wooden crates are packed and ready to go on the truck. We have 3 bins and 3 boxes of painstakingly made mounts, all meticulously wrapped and ready to go. Each mount is documented with a how-to description of what to do with the oddly shaped piece of brass or Plexiglas meant to support masks, rattles, textiles and the like.

In addition to the mounts, we have to pack tools. We took this collection to Paris back in the mid-winter of 2000. We ran into many travel problems, mostly having to do with taking objects created from natural materials such as feathers and hide through customs. But back in those pre-9/11 days it was easy and acceptable to saunter onto an airplane with a ratchet wrench and X-acto knife in your carry-on bag. Now all tools need to be shipped ahead with the artwork. I find myself continually adding stuff to my little red toolbox, as if I were going to do an installation on the moon! My coworkers remind me that they do have hardware stores in Cleveland, not to mention a topnotch exhibit department at the museum itself.

What’s in the Toolbox: Picture hangers and nails, nuts and bolts, acrylic paints, a saw, mylar tape, muslin twill tape, brass rods, shrink tubing, acrylic felt, 10 lb. Test fishing line, needle nose pliers, hammer, tape measure, small level, X-acto knife, metal ruler, file, needle and thread, museum wax, pencil.

We have a week to go–plenty of time to add more must-haves to the toolbox before the truck pulls away from the loading dock! Which reminds me, I should add a handful of lag bolts for the house post mounts…

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Milo Stewart, Sr.

By: Michelle L. Murdock, Curator of Exhibitions
Those of us that have lived in Cooperstown for a while undoubtedly know Milo Stewart. Milo was Director of Education at Fenimore Art Museum and The Farmers’ Museum starting in the late 1950s. One of the many hats he wore was that of Curator of Photography. Makes sense since Stewart is widely recognized as one of our premier local photographers.

Stewart wasn’t always a local though. He grew up in the Buffalo area before coming here in the 1950s. “It didn’t take long for me to figure out that the village of Cooperstown and the surrounding countryside offered rich photographic opportunities,” Milo said. “Otsego Lake and the hilled vistas that frame it and the wide range of activities that take place upon it, from ice fishing to Flying Scots, were exciting. The splendid array of homes and businesses representing a variety of architectural styles were beautiful. And a host of seemingly unending creative community activities flourished, propelled by energetic, smart and friendly people.” Stewart’s other photographic projects include exhaustive surveys of New York’s courthouses, Greek Revival buildings, Route 20 and dying Main Streets – a project that was used by NYSHA for preservation efforts.

In 2006, Fenimore Art Museum had the long overdue opportunity to exhibit over 70 of Milo Stewart’s works. Both locals and friends from away enjoyed the celebration of one of Cooperstown’s favorite sons. After the exhibition, we were fortunate to be able to purchase three of those works for our collection.
Stewart’s sharp humor is reflected in this quote, which sums up his tenure at the museums - “A whole lot of serendipity put me on the road for projects that would lead me to all but six of New York’s 62 counties and use up most of my vacation time.” We were very fortunate that Milo was so dedicated and meticulous in his endeavors!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mount Up!

By: Stephen Loughman, Preparator

This is the first post for Stephen Loughman; he is the new Preparator for the Fenimore Art Museum and The Farmers' Museum. He joins us from SUNY Plattsburgh where he previously worked at the SUNY Plattsburgh Art Museum. He is very excited to be here, and show everyone what exactly a Preparator does here at the museum!

As we are gearing up and focusing more and more on the Thaw traveling exhibition, it is important to remember that it isn’t just the art work traveling to the Cleveland Museum of Art. For the past two weeks or so I have been working on preparing the mounts, for which many of the Thaw pieces need in order to be displayed on, for travel. Three large boxes of mounts to be exact! Each box was divided into little cubbies that the mounts will call home as they travel about the country. Many of the mounts themselves needed to be sanded and painted before travel. Once painted the layout of the boxes was configured taking into consideration the size and durability of certain mounts compared to others. I taped and hot glued a system of dividers and shelves so that each mount had its own place within the box making sure thus that the box could withhold the changing of venues and the wear and tear that goes along with such a process. The mounts themselves were then bubble-wrapped, labeled, inventoried and boxed, ready for Cleveland and beyond!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Thaw Travelling Crate Construction

By: Christine Olsen, Registrar

As you may already know from previous blogs, our traveling exhibition, Art of the American Indians: The Thaw Collection is going to be shipped to the Cleveland Museum of Art in February. It will be on exhibit there from March 7, 2010 – May 30, 2010. This week has been especially busy here at FAM with preparations for this venue. Six professional packers from a fine art shipping company have been here all week packing the objects into custom made boxes and crates for their travel across country. The skeletons for the boxes and crates were built off site at the shipping company’s production facility, and shipped here last week on a tractor trailer. These types of custom made crates and boxes are the industry (i.e. museum) standard. As you may recall, some of my previous blogs have discussed crating for paintings and sculpture in our most recent exhibits America’s Rome and Through the Eyes of Others travelling exhibit. The crates for this show are no different in design their interiors are just more elaborate to accommodate intricate three dimensional objects such as masks, headdresses, moccasins and clothing to name a few. The interiors of the crates and boxes are being customized here at FAM by the packers to fit each piece of artwork perfectly, thereby providing the necessary stability for travel. It is a long and bumpy ride, even on an air ride truck, and it doesn’t take much to cause damage to artwork. Interior supports are built from various acid-free, inert materials well known in the museum world, such as ethafoam and polyethylene foam blocks and sheets cut into various shapes and sizes and volara or Teflon film for use as barriers and over-wraps. The supports must be able to keep the work stable within the crate while touching as little of the object as possible in order to prevent undue stress. There are often instructions written on the boxes and crates that detail how to unpack and unload the object safely step by step. Many of the objects going to this venue are old and extremely fragile by design; beads fall off easily, animal hide tears, basketry fibers crumble. Crate building is an art and these packers certainly have their work cut out for them!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Scandal Behind the Image

By: Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

Many older pieces of folk art are created on material that might not normally be called “archivally approved”. Some of these same materials are used to back works of art as well. So it shouldn’t have been surprising to find that our lovely needlework picture created by Sally S. Washburn in January of 1808 was backed and sewn to an 1807 edition of the Otsego Herald.

What did come as a revelation were two little advertisements listed in that paper. I have this crazy idea that bad public behavior is a phenomenon of the modern age. I stand corrected. What we have in the 1807 Otsego Herald, from Oxford New York is the public airing of a private spat. Move over Tiger and Elin, Jenny and Mark Sanford, the Sills are hard at it in the press.

The October 30 advertisement, posted by Mr. Andrew Sills warns neighbors against harboring or trusting his wife, as he “shall pay no debts of her contracting.” Mrs. Parnell Sills takes it one step further in her advertisement. There she warns the public, more particularly all females “….against trusting him in any respect, for fear he will deceive and abase them, as he has the subscriber.” This after a preamble where in she gives hints at the numerous imprudences of her husband, including some that seem rather risqué for print in a public paper of the period. What happened with the Sills?! The advertisements leave one speculating on what went so terribly wrong that it would lead to dueling personal ads in an 1807 local newspaper. Then in contrast we have the needlework picture–a lovely depiction of domestic bliss with lovers courting against the backdrop of a charmingly rendered house and gardens. Who would ever imagine the intrigue and scandal that lurks hidden on the flip side of that innocent image.

Above: Needlework Picture by Sally S. Washburn, 1808, Fenimore Art Museum Collection along with Otsego Herald backing and close-up of articles.
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