Thursday, April 29, 2010

Caring for Photographic Negatives, Part 2

By: John Hart, Assistant Curator of Collections

For Part 1 of John's discussion of caring for photographic negatives, click here.

I’m sure you’re all used to seeing panes of glass in windows, in works of art, or in hundreds of pieces when little Jimmy’s baseball comes through your window. But did you know that in the 19th and even into the early 20th century glass plates had another use? Can you imagine seeing photographic negatives on glass? There’s a whole lot of science and history behind how these came into being and I’ll gladly spare you the details, but there are a few things you should know.

First, never handle the negative anywhere but on the edges because the negative can be damaged by the oils on your fingers. Second, handle them with extreme care. If they drop you’re likely to lose the image forever because it takes a skilled conservator to put the pieces back together again. And finally, if you want to scan them, it is best to not place them directly on the scanner bed. If you can, or you have a lot of glass plate negatives, it might be best to build out a wooden frame of sorts to place the negative in so that neither the scanner bed nor the top of the scanner come in contact with the negative.

The Smith-Telfer Photographic Collection is the single largest collection at Fenimore Art Museum. There are roughly 53,749 negatives in this collection from Arthur J. Telfer and Washington G. Smith. Donated in 1951, this collection documents history in and around Cooperstown and Otsego County and provides a one-of-a-kind insight into life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

D&H Locomotive and Cars, 1900, by Arthur J. Telfer, Dry Collodion negative. Smith & Telfer Photographic Collection, New York State Historical Association, 5-07216

Electric Railroad Convention at the Otesaga Hotel, 1910 by Arthur J. Telfer, Dry Collodion negative. Smith & Telfer Photographic Collection, New York State Historical Association, 8-00570

Smalley's Theatre, Main Street, 1933 by Arthur J. Telfer, Dry Collodion negative. Smith & Telfer Photographic Collection, New York State Historical Association, 8-00152

It would be exceedingly difficult for me to show you what a glass plate negative looks like – they’re very difficult to photograph - but if you ever see one you’ll know. And if you ever happen to find any glass plate negatives and have questions about them, Doug Kendall, Curator of Collections, and I are always available as a resource. You can also check this out for more information.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How to install a House Post (or two)

By: Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

Eva has done a fine job outlining how the Northwest Coast House Posts from our Thaw Collection of American Indian Art made it safely to the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) as a supplement to our traveling exhibition, Art of the American Indians: The Thaw Collection. These two pieces are not the easiest things to install. The House Posts are heavy and large, but fragile as well – one of my least favorite combinations when it comes to installation. Not to worry! Fortunately for us Cleveland has a topnotch art handling team that installed the objects with no problem at all.

What took the better part of a morning to accomplish has been cleverly reduced to less than a minute through the expertise of a CMA photographer. It is fun to watch, but don’t be deceived by the speed and ease with which it all comes together. Each move was discussed, planned, and then carefully executed to get the posts safely in place.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The House Posts are traveling

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

As some visitors and museum volunteers noticed when we opened our doors for the 2010 season here at the Fenimore Art Museum, the large Tlingit House Posts that are usually in the Great Hall, flanking the entry into the Thaw Gallery, are missing! But don’t worry, they’ll be back.

Of all the objects slated to travel to the
Cleveland Museum of Art with our exhibition Art of the American Indians: The Thaw Collection nothing made me worry more than the Northwest Coast House Posts. How are we safely going to deinstall these huge posts and get them into crates? But my fears were put to rest when the US Art art handlers expertly and safely got the Posts dismounted from the wall and onto the floor, which we cushioned with foam blocks.

After a condition check they were carefully placed into their large travel crates.

A couple of weeks later Chris Rossi and I were at the CMA as they were being installed there. So, they are now installed and grace the entrance to Art of the American Indians: The Thaw Collection at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Stay tuned for Chris’ blog with a short video on the installation in Cleveland.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Michele Harvey delivery

By: Michelle Murdock, Curator of Exhibitions

Recently, Michele Harvey and her husband, Steve Skollar, delivered Michele’s artwork to Fenimore for her exhibition, Watermark: Michele Harvey & Glimmerglass. Chris Rossi and I were here to help transport the paintings from our loading dock into the gallery. Here are some pictures, taken by Steve and me.

After nearly a year of planning and preparing for Michele’s exhibition, and getting teased with her incredible sketches, it was so exhilarating to see these works in the gallery. Chris’ gallery layout flatters both the artworks as well as the gallery space. One of the most extraordinary aspects of the exhibition, though, is how Michele’s works compliment and reflect the picturesque setting of the museum.

The exhibition is open through December. We hope you can make it out to see the show.

Friday, April 16, 2010

President Abraham Lincoln's Autopsy

By: Michelle L. Murdock, Curator of Exhibitions

Even 17 years into my museum career, artifacts can still send shivers down my spine. Today’s post is about two documents that do just that every time I see them.

Today is the 145th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s death. The New York State Historical Association Research Library houses two autopsies of Lincoln, one by Surgeon Joseph Janvier Woodward and another by a Dr. R.K. Stone. (These are, more accurately, reports written shortly before the President died.) You can also see the tools the doctors used here. Most amazingly, Dr. Woodward’s autopsy is also smeared with the President’s blood. The transcripts are below.
Dr. Woodward’s report:

Autopsy of President Abraham Lincoln

April 15, 1865. 12 o’clock am

Eyelids and surrounding parts of the face greatly ecchymosed. Eyes somewhat protuberant from effusion of blood into the orbit. There was a gunshot wound of the head around which the skull was greatly thickened by hemorrhage into its tissue. The ball had entered through the occipital bone about an inch to the left of the median line and just above the lateral sinus which it opened; it then penetrated the dura mater, passed through the posterior lobe of the cerebrum, entered the left lateral ventricle and lodged in the white matter of the cerebrum just above the interior portion of the corpus strictum where it was found. The wound in the occipital bone was quite smooth and spherical in shape and beveled off from without inwards so that the opening of the tuble was larger than that through the external tubal. A fragment of the ball was found in the orifice through the bone. The track of the ball was full of clotted blood and contained several small fragments of bone. The brain around the track was pultaceus and livid from capillary hemorrhage into its substance. The ventricles of the brain were full of clotted blood. A thick clot beneath the dura mater coats the whole upper surface of the right lobe of the cerebrum. There was a smaller clot under the dura mater of the left side. But little blood was found at the base of the brain. Both the orbital plates of the frontal bone were fractured and the fragments pushed up towards the brain. The dura mater over these fractures was uninjured. The orbits gorged with blood…

Dr. Stone’s report:

Notes autopsy of Pres. Lincoln (Side 4)

Made Apr. 14th/65/Friday

Shot. 1 inch left median line traversing left lateral sinus upper edge, through occipital bone toward edge of lateral sinus. Thru occipital bone, touched ledge of lateral sinus, struck posterior lobe traversing it in a horizontal place (passing forwards inclining to the right.) In orifice of wound a scale blood 2 ½ in. in track, pieces of bone – 2 pieces of bone about 4 inches in advance in track of ball . Entered the left ventricle behind, followed the course of ventricle accurately, inching upwards and inwards, ploughing thru the upper part of thalamus nervorum opticorum, other 2 lodged in cerebral matter just above the corpus stratum of the left side. The brain track of ball was in a bubbly disintegrated state.

Both ventricles filled with blood. Whole brain engorged and bloody prints. More matter than wounds. On reviewing, the dura mater was displaced with a large coagulation of blood - lying upon the right hemisphere of the brain. Reviewing the dura mater, no wound in which was found, we found the orbital plates of both sides, the seat of comminuted fracture, the fragments being forced from within, outward. The orbit oculum palpitated membrane and cavity was filled with blood. Origin of which we didn’t seek. The right had been notably protruded, later sank back after death. Ecchymoses of the left eye 1st and right eye 2nd

Great oedema of sinus and a little blood extravasated about shot wound, clean cut as if by a punch. 2 feet off orbital plates, very thin.

Look for these incredible artifacts, as well as a document signed by Lincoln and his cabinet, in an upcoming Civil War exhibition planned for 2012 at Fenimore Art Museum.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Installing "In Our Time"

By: Michelle Murdock, Curator of Collections

I have to admit that of all the artwork we exhibit at Fenimore Art Museum, I have a soft spot for photography. Our latest photography exhibition is In Our Time: The World as Seen by Magnum Photographers. It is traveling to us from the George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, N.Y.

In Our Time is a substantial show – in terms of content, of course, but also in regard to the number of photographs included. Chris Rossi and I spent the better part of three days unpacking and laying out the photos in the Clark Gallery last week. The exhibition was not organized by section so we had to determine how we wanted to display the extremely varied images. We decided upon topic areas that include World War II, the Middle East, Africa, New York City and famous personages.

Part of laying out an exhibition also includes determining where the graphics are placed. You’ll see in this image that we use paper mock-ups of the text panels and vinyl lettering.

The final product is truly outstanding. One of our security guards dropped by to take a look at the photos as we were hanging them. He was telling us how interesting and thought-provoking the images are for him. We discussed how they make you take a step back from your present circumstances and remember the history you’ve seen throughout your life – thanks to the talented photographers that comprise Magnum Photos, Inc.

The exhibition is open through September 6th.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Drawing a Totem Pole

By: Michelle Murdock, Curator of Exhibitions
It’s the little things that make all the difference. Last Saturday I met up with Ray Kimball, an illustrator from Utica, New York, at Fenimore Art Museum. We hired Ray to make a line drawing of our new totem pole. He and his wife, Laurie braved the chilly tractor-trailer bed in which the totem pole is stored in order to become familiar with the imagery before he made the drawing. They took a lot of pictures and a lot of measurements, since Ray made the drawing to-scale, of course. I explained the imagery to Ray and let him borrow a book called Looking at Totem Poles.

Ray’s finished product is a pencil-and-ink drawing that our Associate Curator of Exhibitions, Chris Rossi, converted into an electronic file. Chris’ file was then embedded in an interpretive graphic panel that will be installed next to the totem pole. This little drawing will make a big impact on our visitors, helping them identify the individual images on the totem pole, which include a beaver, raven and eagle.

The totem pole, made by Reg Davidson, will be dedicated Memorial Day weekend. Stay tuned and come join us for the celebration!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Relive the Adventure Right in Your Own Home! A 19th Century Pop Culture Tie-In

By: Doug Kendall, Curator of Collections
Do you know anyone who’s bought a kids’ meal at a fast food place to get the special toy from the latest movie sensation? Are your children begging you for a Percy Jackson or Harry Potter action figure? Have you toyed with the idea of buying The One Ring™ - Sterling Edition from The Lord of the Rings for $129.00 and claiming absolute power for yourself?

Today, our culture abounds with “tie-ins” that maximize the money-making potential of popular novels, movies and television programs. These artifacts, which range from cheap plastic toys to finely-crafted “facsimiles,” seem the epitome of popular culture in the 21st century.

While the variety and number of such tie-ins may seem infinite today, the phenomenon goes back at least a couple of centuries. James Fenimore Cooper’s novel The Last of the Mohicans, published in 1826, became the most popular English-language novel of its time. Although it would have to wait 80 years or so to receive its first movie treatment, tie-in products appeared much sooner.
One group of Cooper tie-ins was a series of girandoles featuring characters from The Last of the Mohicans. Girandoles are “figural candelabras or candlesticks of the mid- to late 19th century, made of cast brass with gilt finish, and having marble bases and cut prisms around the candle sockets, often used in sets consisting of a candelabrum flanked by two candlesticks.”[Art and Architecture Thesaurus] The central candelabrum in the set featured the hero, Hawkeye (also known as Natty Bumppo) together with two Native Americans, most likely Uncas and Chingachgook. Flanking them are two single candlesticks with the figure of an army officer, probably the British Major Heyward. Candlesticks featuring Cora Munro, the leading female character, were also made.

In an age in which candles still provided most artificial light, girandoles were especially showy. The light reflected off their gilt surface and glass pendants. Girandoles were often placed on a mantel in front of a mirror, which further accentuated their glittery surface.

The makers of the Last of the Mohicans girandoles, Cornelius and Company of Philadelphia, did not have an exclusive deal with a toy retailer or fast food chain, nor could patrons order these figures from their website. Nevertheless, they managed to tap into the public’s desire to prolong the experience of Cooper’s novel and to permanently display that connection in their homes—something that seems very much in tune with our own times.
Above: Cast brass, gilt, glass, marble, Cornelius and Company, Philadelphia, PA, ca. 1849, N0 N0067.1977(01) and N0101.1978(01)-(02)

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