Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bird's Eye View

By: Stephen Loughman, Preparator
While working on the lighting for the new exhibit, Empire Waists, Bustles and Lace: A Century of New York Fashion, I took the opportunity to snap a few “eye in the sky” photos. Lighting an exhibition is one of the very last steps before an opening, and can be a bit nerve wracking. Because of the height of the ceiling in the Great Hall here at the Fenimore, the only real way to access the lights is by using a Genie lift. Even though it can be a bit scary at times, it is a crucial step in mounting exhibitions, and a lot of fun, too.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Trim, Stuff, Wrap, Steam

By: Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions
I'm not sure what it is like in other work places, but I am always amazed at the number of hidden talents my coworkers seem to possess. Empire Waists, Bustles and Lace: A Century of New York Fashion, our soon-to-open fashion exhibition, has brought to the surface the previously untapped skills of my colleagues

I wasn't too surprised when Michelle Murdock, Curator of Exhibitions, revealed herself to be adept at fashioning petticoats out of tulle and wire. And I was pleased when Steve Loughman, our new Preparator didn't even bat an eye at my request for him to trim the base of one of our manikins and then give it hips and a bigger bottom.
What did take me by surprise was the ability of Ginny Reynolds and Brooke Steinhauser, our Cooperstown Graduate Program volunteers, to adeptly stuff 3 corsets into just the right shapes. Now we have 3 curvaceous corsets to demonstrate the different female silhouettes of the 19th century. I am sure this skill can be worked into their resumes ... somehow.
That should have prepared me for John Hart, our Assistant Curator of Collections, demonstrating that he knew exactly how to wrap our civil war general's sash and sword to military perfection. Where did he learn to do that?!
To top it all off Curator Erin Crissman from our sister museum, The Farmers' Museum just happened to mention that she had, once upon a time, spent a long summer vacuuming and steaming costumes. A week later she was hard at it in the gallery, giving tutorials on how to vacuum a costume without sucking up buttons and lace. Then it was on to steaming out the wrinkles from dresses that had spent the last 100 years in someone’s attic and then neatly tucked away in our storage facility.
The results of this sudden revelation of amazing and somewhat obscure talents-a delightful exhibit well trimmed, stuffed, wrapped and steamed-ready for our April 1 opening date. My thanks to my talented colleagues for making it happen!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Caring for Photographic Negatives

By: John Hart, Assistant Curator of Collections
This blog was inspired by a wonderful friend of the museum who called me last week to ask me about caring for photographic negatives. There are probably fewer negatives out there than there was only a few years ago, thanks in part to advances in digital technology, but for many of us, myself included, we have negatives lying around the house that we’ve had for many years.

So how do you care for those negatives when you get them home? What if you’re cleaning out granny’s attic and find boxes and boxes of old negatives? And what’s the weird smell? Well, hopefully this will help explain some of the mystery behind negatives.

Caring for them is pretty easy actually. If they’re in strips, you can buy negative sleeves in a variety of sizes from online retailers like Light Impressions. You can even buy them with holes punched in the sides to load them into binders. But you have to keep in mind that you need something inert, meaning that it doesn’t react to temperature and humidity and doesn’t throw off gases which could harm your film. Make sure you’re getting protectors that are made of polyethylene or polypropylene. Both are archivally safe, inert plastics that nearly every museum uses in one way or another.

If you find negatives in an attic or in a basement, chances are they’ll have some condition issues, especially if it’s a damp or extremely warm environment. In some cases, the negatives might be too far gone to save, but if you’re lucky you can save them. First, get them to a stable environment. Usually the main floor of a house is the best place since the temperature and humidity are more or less stable. Carefully separate them and put them into the protectors, but use caution, over time they may have fused and if you pull too hard, you’re likely to ruin them. You may even want to consider scanning them like we do at the museum. We’ll scan at a high resolution once and then make sure the negative is preserved and housed safely, and only re-scanned it if it’s absolutely necessary or if better scanning technology emerges.

And finally, you’ve found a box of negatives and when you open it up, it smells like vinegar. Congratulations, you’ve just found negatives made from cellulose nitrate. There’s a lot of science behind why cellulose nitrate film smells like vinegar, but it’s bad. Very bad. If you smell vinegar, that means the film is staring to break down. Eventually it’ll completely degrade so your best bet is to scan the film at the highest resolution you can before it disintegrates or consult a conservator or film conservation company and have the negative transferred to a new film stock. The National Film Preservation Foundation can provide more information on this method, which is what they recommend.

Next time I’ll talk about the Smith-Telfer Photographic Collection which the New York State Historical Association is fortunate to have been given. You may have never seen these types of negatives before either. Think negatives on glass.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Kingfisher Tower

This is the third 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.

Rapunzel, Rapunzel… Halfway up Glimmerglass (Otsego Lake) lies Kingfisher Tower. A romantic, 60-foot, gothic revival folly, built by Edward Clark in 1876. Jutting out on a tiny spit of land, it seems to float somewhere off shore. Dreaming over old postcards and internet images wouldn’t do. I had to see it myself.

At the southern tip of Otsego Lake lies The Glimmerglass Queen. A small, lovely tour boat, she skims across the water, affording spectacular views and long approaches to Kingfisher Tower. Glimmerglass is 168 feet deep (some say much deeper) and 9 miles wide, surrounded by unspoiled hills that come to drink at the water’s edge. The sense of time and space is different here. The glitter of the lake’s light cast its spell, not just upon me, but on all my fellow passengers too. There is something primal about the horizontal lines of a lake or plain surrounded by forest. Something that harks back to our ancestors’ and hunters' roots. Here it still is found, preserved, with an unlikely, romantic, miniature castle to dream on. One where dragons, damsels and knights may play in ageless imagination.

One may view the tower from land, from Lakefront Park, at the southernmost tip of the lake. It's also there you can purchase tickets for The Glimmerglass Queen's daily (in season) boat tours. Kingfisher Tower is difficult to view from other public spots; although it's across the lake from Brookwood Garden, it's hidden by a fringe of trees. The beauties of Otsego Lake are best seen (including the grounds of The Fenimore Art Museum) from the top of this little tour boat. It travels at a leisurely pace half way up the lake, close to the Tower and back down the other side. The size and the depth of the lake, Kingfisher Tower, the skies and marvelous views are well worth the admission.

Above: Watercolor sketches of Kingfisher Tower on Otsego Lake. Courtesy of Michele Harvey.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Pot of Gold

By Eva Fognell. Curator Thaw Collection of American Indian Art
While many familiar objects from the Thaw Collection are currently on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art, we are installing several rarely-seen objects into the Thaw gallery. One of the pieces I am very excited about is a jar from the Picuris pueblo in New Mexico made by artist Anthony Durand (1956-2009). The Picuris geographical area contains a micaceous material that produces a high luster when used as slip and gives the jars a golden glow.
When Durand returned to Picuris pueblo in 1976, he became intent on preventing the Picuris micaceous tradition of pottery from dying out. With inspiration from his grandmother, and using an old and unsigned Picuris pot as an example, he was able to reproduce the traditional golden color and high luster that has since become standard to his works. Pottery fragments from the ruins of the old Picuris pueblo have also inspired some of his molded detail. Since the pottery of Picuris was traditionally made for cooking, it has no painted decorations but instead includes sculpted details. You can see these in the detail of the jar. Anthony Durand received several awards and honorable mention at the Santa Fe Indian Market.

I’ll keep you posted on other remarkable objects as they get installed for Spring re-opening.
I hope many of our visitors will be as enthralled by this golden pot as I am! Yes, we do have a pot of gold!

Above: Jar, 1994, by Anthony Durand (1956-2009) Picuris, New Mexico, micaeceous clay, T0435.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Ins and Outs of Exhibit Catalogues

By: John Hart, Assistant Curator of Collections

I’m sure you’ve all seen them. Books in a gift shop which discuss a specific exhibit in a museum, sometimes small, sometimes not. Either way, if you like the art, chances are you’ll learn more about the art and artist if you purchase an exhibit catalogue.
They’re usually written by scholars in the field and include much more information than you might find in the exhibit. But there’s a lot that goes on behind-the-scenes before you, the visitor, see them on a shelf. Articles have to be written, images have to be collected, proofs have to be sent to the lending institutions, and edit, upon edit, upon edit to get the final product readable by someone who isn’t an art historian.

Mrs. Abbott Lawrence Rotch, 1903. By John Singer Sargent. Image courtesy of the Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, NE
That’s what we’re doing right now with the upcoming exhibit, John Singer Sargent: Portraits in Praise of Women. Since we’ve been preparator-less for about six months and I handle rights and reproduction requests for NYSHA’s collection at Fenimore Art Museum, I was asked by Paul D’Ambrosio and Michelle Murdock to work on gathering the images. All of the paintings that are being loaned for the exhibit will be included in the catalogue and Paul and Dr. Patricia Hills are writing the text to accompany the images. Trust me, if you like Sargent, you’ll like the catalogue. I know from personal experience that Paul is great at teaching people about art and artists.

John Singer Sargent: Portraits in Praise of Women opens in May and runs through December and I invite you all to come and see it (and buy a catalogue too). You’ll be in for a treat since we’ll have Empire Waists, Bustles and Lace in the gallery right next to Sargent and can see examples of the fashions during the 19th-century.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Wrapping it up in Cleveland

By: Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions
Taking an exhibit on the road is always an adventure. Once you have prepared and packed and shipped the objects you actually have to install them at your new venue. Depending on the size and location of the museum you are taking your work to you could be working with a large crew or just a few people.

Overseeing the installation of the Thaw material at Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) was made easy for Eva and I by the large, welcoming, and proficient crew assigned to the task. Here at home at Fenimore Art Museum we have a smaller staff and are used to doing much of the work ourselves. At CMA there is someone to curate the show, someone to design the exhibit, someone to oversee objects, a crew to make mounts, a crew to install artwork, someone for making the labels, and someone to do the lighting. And I am probably missing someone in the vast array of folks that make their exhibits happen. It was amazing to see all of these different elements coordinated and brought together for a stunning final product.

(Southwest Gallery almost complete)
As with all exhibit installations, there were snafus along the way. The appropriate parties calmly put their heads together and came up with smart solutions that were then quickly and expertly executed by the appropriate team member.

With Thaw now installed it’s time for me to put my designer/installer/graphics hats all back on and get to work on our spring exhibits here at home. It was wonderful to have such a big team to pull the exhibit together with in Cleveland, but I do look forward to working with our little home crew to make Fenimore shine for our April 1 opening.
(CMA lighting designer, Mark, works on a tricky northwest coast case)
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