Thursday, May 27, 2010

Trains, Taxis and Trucks

By Stephen Loughman, Preparator

As Preparator, I often get asked to run the longer distance errands. I was recently asked if I would be interested in being a courier for the day. A courier travels with artwork as it comes from one institution to another to make sure everything goes smoothly. In this case I was traveling with artwork from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (below). So early in the morning I took to the train down from Albany to Penn Station. Once in the heart of Manhattan I took a cab over to the Met. My hope was to beat the truck there so that I could have a few moments to check out the museum, but once there I was whisked away to the work areas underground. It was a bustle of activity, people scurrying around in every direction. I met my truck drivers for the day and hopped in the passenger side of the box truck. Getting out of Manhattan was somewhat of a challenge, kind of nerve racking for someone who is not used to traffic, even on my short drive into work every morning. Once we escaped Manhattan, it was smooth sailing up the Thruway towards Albany. We all settled in for a three and a half hour drive stopping only to grab a quick bite to eat. I caught up on some reading, but was glad to reach the museum and get out and stretch! The artwork was brought in, and my truck driving friends were off to their next stop. All in all it was about a ten-hour day of travel. But it will be all worth it when we open the doors for John Singer Sargent: Portraits in Praise of Women here at the end of May.

Two Girls with Parasols, oil on canvas. Lent by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond, 1950 (50.130.13)

Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), 1883-4, Oil on canvas. Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond and Miss Emily Sargent, 1931 (31.43.3)

Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), 1883-4, Oil on canvas. Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Charles and Anita Blatt Gift, John Wilmerding Gift and Rogers Fund, 1970 (1970.47)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Buried in Albany, Remembered in Cooperstown

By John Hart, Assistant Curator of Collections

Probably one of the best aspects of being an historian is sharing information with others, or learning something new from a fellow researcher. And in this position I’m always receiving and giving out the history of an object, a person, or even an event.

Most recently I’ve been researching T. Ellery Lord, a Brevet Brigadier General from New York, as we included part of his uniform in Empire Waists, Bustles & Lace: A Century of New York Fashion. We are fortunate enough to have not one, but nearly three complete uniforms (along with patches, epaulettes and the like) that once belonged to Ellery, as he often called himself in his letters, in the collection, along with much of his correspondence during the Civil War in the NYSHA Research Library.

Imagine, then, my surprise when I came across a website that listed a T. Ellery Lord as being buried in Albany Rural Cemetery! A little digging here, a few emails there, and I stumbled upon Mark Bodnar, a Civil War historian from Albany who is quite familiar with the cemetery. After corresponding with Mark a few times, he was gracious enough to send me the images you see here (above and below), along with a reference to Ellery in a book written in the late 1990s, Brevet Brigadier Generals in Blue.

I was surprised yet again when I found that this book included an image of Ellery in uniform, and so far as I can tell, in the uniform we’re exhibiting at Fenimore! (below) The image and present-day representation isn’t exact, in fact. As one of the Cooperstown Graduate Program students, Andrew Gaerte, suggested, it’s likely that Ellery placed the epaulettes on his uniform sometime after the war since they’re a little impractical in battle (and would have made him an easier target, I imagine). But, we have the shoulder boards, as they’re called, that show the same rank that you see in the image.

For any historian interested in the Civil War, finding uniforms as intact, complete, and in such good condition as Ellery’s is a dream come true, but the connection made with another historian familiar with Ellery is even better.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

John Singer Sargent - one crate at a time

By Christine Olsen, Registrar

Each spring you can find the curatorial department at the Fenimore Art Museum working hard to install our blockbuster show; this year the show we are excited to share is John Singer Sargent: Portraits in Praise of Women which opens on May 29th. As you may recall from my previous blogs as registrar here at the FAM, every incoming exhibition loan must have loan agreements signed, insurance coverage in place, and packing and shipping scheduled. I have been working diligently for the last 3-4 months to get loans in place from 18 different lenders – some as far away as California, Colorado and Kansas! The shipping and installation schedules always make for a hectic few weeks, but I look forward to receiving and opening each and every crate to see the works in person for the first time; photographs just never do paintings justice, and I must say that this is especially the case with this show!

As a crate arrives, we let it acclimate for 24 hours; after that we unpack the painting and I do a condition report right away to make sure nothing has changed during transit. Tracking numbers for all of the paintings ensure that they are fully documented in the database for quick reference by myself and my colleagues; I record everything about the loan in the database including information that will be helpful when it is time to return the loan such as shipping requirements, courier needs, crate sizes, and packing images. It is amazing how blurry one’s memory is about such details, especially after 9 months!

With each new exhibition season I like to think that I have learned some tricks of the trade that make my job easier, more efficient and more FUN! So far, this exhibition has been a joy to work on and I am eager to see it all come together for our opening on May 29th! We hope to see you then… or before the show closes on December 31st!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Spring has sprung!

By Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

Spring in Cooperstown sounds pretty good. Not a bad place to be as the tulips magically appear out on our terrace and the ice lets out on the Lake. It’s past our April 1 opening date and we have already had 80-degree weather followed by flurries today. Such are the vagaries of spring in Central New York.

More constant than the weather is the exhibit schedule here at the Fenimore Art Museum. Yes, our exhibits Empire Waists, Bustles and Lace: A Century of New York Fashion and In Our Time: The World As Seen By Magnum Photographers are up. But, we’re not ready to kick back with an ice tea on the terrace just yet. Our John Singer Sargent: Portraits in Praise of Women exhibition makes its debut on May 29 and there is work to be done.

I have been sizing vinyl titles for the hallway just outside the Scriven Gallery where the exhibition will be installed and designing graphics - that's the on-screen mockup, above. Our Preparator, Stephen Loughman, spent quite some time creating full-size paper mock-ups of the portraits to help us lay out the gallery - that's the gallery, below. Not what you would call hi-tech, but sometimes the old-fashioned way works pretty well. Seeing the paper at the actual size helps you imagine how the paintings will fill the gallery. And it’s much easier to move a piece of paper than re-hang a large and valuable painting!

From here it’s just a matter of hanging all those fabulous portraits, tweaking the lighting and installing the graphics. With a little bit of luck it will have stopped snowing in time for the May 29th opening!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

QR codes - connecting galleries to blogs

By Michelle Murdock, Curator of Exhibitions

Are you thinking, “What is this?!” Or maybe you’re thinking, “Wait, where’s my phone?!” Yep, I said phone. For many smartphone users, this funny looking box is a gateway to new learning opportunities. Does that sound too stodgy? How about this – if you have an iPhone or Blackberry or Android, you know that this code can direct you to the coolest stuff you never knew about, and that these codes can be found anywhere from water towers to magazines to cupcakes to museum galleries.

They’re called QR codes – as in quick response. They’re two-dimensional codes that are very similar to barcodes. They can look slightly different depending on the company that created them. The phone applications are varied, too, but the vast majority are free. What does this have to do with our museums? As you can see in the picture above, we are using QR codes in our galleries this year. But let’s back up a sec. Remember our sister blog, American Folk Art @ Cooperstown, run by our VP & Chief Curator Paul D’Ambrosio? Last fall, the Exhibitions team at Fenimore dreamed of bringing our social media efforts into our galleries. We knew that we could run a poll on Paul’s blog, asking readers to vote for their favorite posts and we could then install the artifacts that the posts addressed. But that was kind of boring. Not very innovative. Thankfully, two fellow staff members, Kajsa Sabatke and Erin Crissman, suggested we use QR codes. We jumped on the opportunity to allow our onsite visitors to participate in our online conversations.

Each artifact in the exhibition is accompanied by the original blog post, the original comments associated with that post, and the QR code that directs users to the post itself. We’re encouraging on site visitors to use the codes to link to the comments section and leave their own thoughts about the artifacts and the exhibition.

We also have plans to incorporate more QR codes throughout the museum. The exhibition Watermark: Michele Harvey & Glimmerglass includes a code that links to Michele’s website. The exhibition In Our Time: The World as Seen by Magnum Photographers includes a code for The George Eastman House and Magnum Photographers.

Why are we doing this? Just for fun? Well, sure it’s fun, but of course there’s more to it than that. We believe in giving our visitors every opportunity – whether traditional, innovative, or downright wacky – to use, explore and engage with our collections in ways that they find appropriate and satisfying. What do you think? Let us know!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Cracking the Case

By Stephen Loughman, Preparator

For a little over two weeks now, here at the Fenimore Art Museum, my colleagues and I have been trying to solve the mystery of the display case that would not open. When I was first told to look at the case, I was given a bag of different keys and other tools and told that it should open with no problem. After scratching my head for sometime on how to open it, many here on the staff tried to crack the case but to no avail. After talking with the dealer from which the display case originally came, the case was cracked! There was a hidden hinge on the left side of the front of the case which, unless you knew it was hinged, could not be opened! I am proud to say that we now have a gorgeous new functional display case which is now on display in the American Memory: Recalling the Past in Folk Art exhibition for the upcoming year.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Installing the Haida Totem Pole

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

After storing our totem pole and admiring it in the confined space of a trailer (here and here), we recently enjoyed the big day when we would finally be able to see the pole the way it is meant to be admired – standing tall.

The pole was first taken out of its trailer and then driven on a flatbed truck onto our front lawn. Tobi Voigt, our Manager of Statewide Programs, took a few great shots of the pole from above as it passed underneath her office window.

With a crane and a bucket truck the pole was carefully placed. It looks magnificent! No one on our staff has had any experience with raising totem poles but the event went smoothly with no problems.

Stephen Loughman, our Preparator, had a chance to take a ride into the sky in the bucket truck while figuring out how to get the cover over the pole. It will be covered by fabric until its unveiling on May 29th.

Come and join us on May 29th at 1:00 pm for an afternoon of celebration. The Rainbow Creek Dancers will perform and Reg Davidson, the carver of the pole, is part of the dance troupe. After their performance on our front lawn, scholar and artist Steve Brown will give a talk in the auditorium on Totem Pole carving styles of the Northwest Coast.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Beyond Curation-Teaching Collections Care & Management

By Doug Kendall, Curator of Collections

As Curator of Collections for Fenimore Art Museum and The Farmer's Museum, I expect to spend much of my time here at the Museums managing and caring for those collections. One aspect of my job that is unlike that of my colleagues at other museums is my involvement with the Cooperstown Graduate Program.

CGP is well into its fifth decade as the premier program for the training of museum professionals in the United States. Each year, there are about 30 students enrolled in the program. As a program combining academic rigor and technical training in all aspects of museum training, CGP produces graduates who go on to careers not only as curators, but as directors, educators, exhibition designers and development staff at history museums, art museums and even some science museums.

Assistant Curator of Collections, John Hart, works with students to make custom housing for small objects.

First-year students in the Program take Collections Care and Management during the spring semester. I get to put on my Adjunct Professor hat and teach about the current professional standards for collections care (the physical preservation of the objects) and collections management (all the legal and ethical aspects of maintaining museum collections), with the help of other staff members. One week, we may be considering the potential dangers to textile collections, the next reviewing current debates in the museum field about deaccessions or repatriation of cultural objects to their countries of origin. Not only do I get to teach the students, they always help keep me and the other teaching staff up-to-date on issues in the museum field.

Curator of The Farmers' Museum, Erin Crissman, discusses the condition of a buffalo hide lap robe with 1st year students at the museums’ storage facility.

This spring the students in Collections Care and Management are submitting blog posts about the class as one of their assignments. I hope that I’ll be able to share some of them with you in the coming weeks.

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