Monday, August 30, 2010

A little help?

We want to know what you think about us! If you’d like to answer eight questions, we’d really appreciate it. Here at the Fenimore Art Museum we are planning for the future with you in mind. Please tell us what you like, what you don’t like, what you’d like to see us do and what you’d like to see us not do. We all truly believe that these museums are YOUR museums. You can help us make them everything you want them to be. Thanks very much for your input! Here’s the link to the survey:

Oh, and by the way, many of you may know our sister museum across the street, The Farmers’ Museum. Many of our members and visitors choose to visit both so there are questions about both museums in the survey. Please feel free to only answer the questions that you feel apply to you. Every little bit helps us make your experience better. Thanks again!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Motorin' Along, with the photo collection

John Hart, Assistant Curator of Collections

Driving past the Otesaga Resort Hotel, just down the street from the Fenimore Art Museum, is pretty much a daily occurrence for me since the storage facility for the museum is about two miles away from the actual Museum campus. I’m not usually surprised by what I see when I drive by, though there are a few times when my heart skips and I start to drool (not really, but close enough). Those are the times when a high-end car club will be there, probably having lunch at the Hawkeye Bar & Grill, or maybe even staying the night.

The other day there were several of what I think were Stutz Bearcats in the parking lot at the resort, though I’m not as familiar with those as I am with the more recognizable Ford of the pre-1932 vintage. Since I’m a car guy and own my grandfather’s 1929 Ford Model A Fordor, I thought maybe showing a few period photographs of historic automobiles from our Smith & Telfer Collection would be interesting.

My grandfather’s 1929 Model A

The first two show the same car at two different times in its life, but driven by the same person. In 1934, Arthur “Putt” Telfer (one half of the Smith & Telfer firm) must have thought this would be an interesting image to have - an old Model T Ford next to a probably-brand new 1934 Ford Victoria. The Victoria was Ford’s newest innovation after the Model A with a flathead V8 under the hood, a remarkable difference in speed and power compared to the Model T and A.

“Putt parked by 1934 Ford,” 1934
N0012.1975(0511). PH6820

Only a few years later the image below was taken, showing once again Putt behind the wheel of his car. In this image Louis Jones, one of the first directors of the New York State Historical Association (Fenimore Art Museum is the museum of NYSHA) in Cooperstown, is standing alongside the car talking to Putt while someone fills the front tire with air; we’re not sure who that person is unfortunately, maybe one of Putt’s grandsons?

“Lou Jones, Putt Telfer, Unidentified man,” ca. 1952
N0012.1975(0505). PH6814

The final image from the collection that I came across nearly made me fall to the floor. Not because it’s a beautiful car, though that was certainly part of it, but because this driver, Harry Davey is indirectly related to a Cooperstown family who was on the Titanic the night it sank. Davey was the driver for the Ryerson family. Arthur Ryerson and his wife Emily, their son John and their daughters, Emily and Susan, along with Emily’s maid, Victorine Chaudanson, were vacationing in Europe when they learned that their son, Arthur, Jr., had died in a car crash. The family boarded the Titanic in Liverpool. When the ship hit the iceberg and started to sink, Arthur Sr. gave up his own life-belt on the Titanic to save Victorine; he was never seen again. Despite several attempts, I could not learn anything of Davey, nor this beautiful car, even after staring at it for a long while.

“Harry Davey, Ryerson's Driver”
N0012.1975(0501). PH6810

The collection of images at the Fenimore Art Museum is pretty extensive and always growing, though my favorites by far are the historical images that you don’t always know you have.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Seneca Log House is Moving

Eva Fognell, Curator Thaw Collection of American Indian Art

There is a big change happening just outside my window! Where the back lawn of Fenimore Art Museum meets the wooded area to the north, close to Otsego Lake, a house is slowly emerging. After much planning our Seneca Log House has finally moved from the hill behind The Farmers’ Museum to its new location on the grounds of the Fenimore Art Museum. At the Farmers’ Museum, the construction crew very carefully took the house apart, uniquely marking each piece so they could be put together again at the new location. In the photos you can see that it is still in many pieces but it’s all coming together. Much work has gone into preparing the area for the house as well as the area around the house. There will be traditional Iroquois gardens surrounding the house, growing the important 3 sisters crops: beans, squash and corn. There is also a small pond in close proximity to the house, which will be used to grow reeds that will be made into basketry. You can see it in this photo, on the right behind the two patches of bare earth.

The work is still in progress so I will post an update soon with new pictures and plans for the area. It is going to be a fantastic site when all parts are complete. The move of the house will allow us to better interpret Iroquois life during a period of tremendous change for the Native population. The Fenimore Art Museum’s back lawn already has the Iroquois Bark House / Fishing Camp that interprets the history of New York’s Native peoples as well as frontier life in the 1770s. And now with the Seneca Log House, built on the Tonawanda reservation between 1780 and the 1810s, we can offer a much richer experience to our visitors.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Treasure Hunting for Wyeths

Michelle Murdock, Curator of Exhibitions and Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

Ideas for upcoming exhibits occur in all sorts of ways. Some stick and get developed and others fall by the wayside. Right now, we have some exciting future prospects being developed for the coming years. Among our favorite possibilities is one centering on the Wyeths, and we are finding ourselves being swept up into their powerful family current.

Most of us are familiar with the works of N.C. Wyeth, his son Andrew and grandson Jamie. What we didn’t realize was that N.C.’s daughters, Henriette and Carolyn, also painted. Some of the other children who didn’t paint married painters. The family was one big art enclave with more talent than you could shake a stick at and with the kind of intriguing stories that go along with fame and talent.

NC Wyeth, ca. 1920
Charles Scribner and Sons art reference department records

The Wyeth Family, 1922
N.C. Wyeth, A Biography, by David Michaelis, Knopf, 1998

So how were we to find out more? We decided it was time to make a pilgrimage to the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, the site of N.C. Wyeth’s home and studio. In the Pennsylvania countryside N.C. found the inspiration and setting he was looking for to hone his illustration and painting. In 1911 he wrote “I’m totally satisfied that this is a little corner of the world wherein I shall work out my destiny.”

Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania

Much of N.C.’s work is known to many through his book illustrations. In person, though, the canvasses sing the way a reproduction barely hints at. Carolyn and Henriette’s works were new to us and enlarged our understanding of the family talent. Jamie and Andrew’s work confirmed our appreciation of their art.

“One More Step Mr. Hands”
N.C. Wyeth Illustration for Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Charles Scribner and Sons art reference department records

Then, while on vacation in Maine, Michelle visited the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland. They were featuring an N.C. exhibition, Poems of American Patriotism, and a 3-generation exhibition called The Wyeths’ Wyeths. The Wyeth Study Center at the Farnsworth houses Andrew Wyeth’s works inspired by the Maine coast spanning his career from early childhood drawings to works completed shortly before his death in 2009. The Farnsworth also operates The Olson House, the subject of Andrew Wyeth’s famous painting, Christina’s World, housed at the Museum of Modern Art.

Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, Maine

Christina's World, 1948
By Andrew Wyeth (American, 1917-2009) Tempera on gessoed panel, 32 1/4 x 47 3/4" (81.9 x 121.3 cm)
Museum of Modern Art Purchase, 16.1949

Finally, we both recently visited The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, New York, to take in their current exhibition, Andrew Wyeth: An American Legend, which they organized with the Farnsworth.

The Hyde Collection, Glens Falls, New York

What’s next? A bit more research, perhaps some more road-trips, and hopefully a sublime exhibit to share with our visitors in the upcoming years.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

From Farmland to Mature Forest: The Changing Landscape of Crumhorn Mountain

Doug Kendall, Curator of Collections

While working on a recent blog ("See It Now in 3-D! Hi-tech imagery of the 1880s"), I came across another stereograph made by Cooperstown photographer Washington Smith that caught my eye because I had recently been at the same location—Crumhorn Mountain in the Town of Maryland, New York, about 15 miles south of Cooperstown.

Lake on Crumhorn Mountain
Stereographic print on cardboard
Washington G. Smith, mid-late 19th century

Smith’s caption added that Crumhorn Mountain was 2000 feet above sea level and someone else penciled in “Highest water in the state.” I don’t know whether that’s true, but today Crumhorn Mountain is home to Boy Scout Camp Henderson. My son’s troop spent a week there in July. According to the camp’s website, Henderson “is situated on 630 acres of rolling hills and mature forest on Crumhorn Mountain in upstate New York. Its’ reservation is home to a superb lake and miles of hiking trails that meet all ability levels.”

Lake on Crumhorn Mountain
Digital photograph
Douglas Kendall, July 15, 2010

As the description suggests, the area is heavily forested today. Entering “Crumhorn Lake, NY” into a Google Maps search and viewing the satellite image confirms that the trees come nearly to the water’s edge all around Crumhorn Mountain’s lake.

But look at Smith’s stereograph of the lake. Although there are trees around the far side of the lake, the entire foreground (apparently including about half the lake shore) is devoid of trees. Instead, the landscape is one of cleared fields with barns near the lakeshore.

Even 2000 feet above sea level, the scene recorded by Smith was typical of the landscape of upstate New York and New England in the mid to late 19th century. Land was relentlessly cleared for agriculture and mining throughout the region. By the end of the 19th century, many farmers had moved further west where the land was flatter and farms were larger. Marginal farmland, such as that atop Crumhorn Mountain, began to give way once again to forest—so much so that today the area appears to be a “mature forest” inhabited mainly by deer, small animals and the occasional bear, except for 6 weeks every summer (and other occasions throughout the year) when Camp Henderson is home to Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts from central New York and beyond. I doubt many of them suspect that their campsites were cleared farmland 150 years ago…but Wash Smith has left us the proof.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Smiling Iron

John Hart, Assistant Curator of Collections

Every once in a while you come across an object in storage and it just makes you scratch your head. Usually it’s due to the fact that it isn’t in the right place, has a numbering issue, or some other issue that you have to figure out. But every now and again, I find an object that makes me scratch my head because it makes me think ‘What the heck!?’

When I was putting something away recently that’s exactly what happened. I’m used to finding objects in the collection that are strange and different; I mean really, we have a two-headed calf and an adult-sized potty chair! But these andirons just made me smile, probably because they were smiling at me.

Andirons, maker unknown, ca. early 1900s, F0035.1954a-b.

We don’t know an awful lot about these objects, though thanks to research done by Cooperstown Graduate Program student Erik Larson* several years ago, we can guess at the history of these whimsical andirons. Erik believed, and I’d say rightfully so, that these andirons were likely products of the early 1900s. Even though they’re cast iron, and constructed using historic methods, it wasn’t until the 1900s that smiley faces were used for advertisements and “the designs of the times mirror the style of these andirons.”

The museum acquired these andirons in 1954 and as Erik stated this eliminates “any reference to the popular “Smiley” fad which was to sweep the world [a decade later].” All I can think of in this reference is that great scene in Forrest Gump when Forrest, on his cross-country run, meets up with the t-shirt salesman who hasn’t done well in business until Forrest wipes his face on the shirt and voila the smiley face is born.

Whatever the history of these andirons turns out to be, one cannot deny the fact that they would be amusing to have in a fireplace, though I imagine with the open eyes and mouth, having a fire behind them could seem a little demonic. Demons aside, I agree with Erik: “The “Smiling Face” andirons are perhaps best viewed as their original maker most likely intended them to be: fun and functional conversation pieces.”

*Larson, Erik. "Untitled," unpublished seminar paper, CGP Methods of Artifact Study, 2002-3.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

See It Now in 3-D! Hi-tech imagery of the 1880s.

Doug Kendall, Curator of Collections

If you’ve been to the movies lately, you know that “3-D” is back in a big way. More and more movies must be viewed using plastic glasses provided by the theatre in return for a premium ticket price. I recently saw Despicable Me which was shown using “Real D 3D” TM technology. The movie was amusing, though I’m not convinced the illusion of three dimensions added much to it.

Of course, this isn’t the first wave of “3-D” image technology. 3-D goes way back—much further than Bwana Devil (1952) starring Robert Stack, considered the first color, American 3-D movie. As early as the 1860s, photographers were capturing images that could be viewed as if they were 3-dimensional. The last half of the 19th century was the first golden age of stereoscopic still images, usually known as stereographs or stereopticons.

It is necessary to take two photographs for a stereoscopic image. In the 19th century, photographers such as Cooperstown’s Washington G. Smith did this with two cameras or with one camera moved quickly to two positions.

In the Cooperstown area, Smith and his rival A. A. Cooley provided tourists with 3-D mementoes of their holidays on Otsego Lake. Cooley took this image of Kingfisher Tower, Edward Clark’s “folly” on the eastern shore of the lake, shortly after it was built in 1876. Smith recorded the journeys of the steamboat Natty Bumppo up and down the waters of the Glimmerglass.

Point Judith with Kingfisher Tower
Stereographic print on cardboard.
A. A. Cooley, Cooperstown, after 1876.

Then again, stereoscopy also lent itself well to images of extraordinary events, such as “Professor Maillefert’s Sub-Marine Exhibition,” photographed by Smith in August 1871. Benjamin Maillefert, a Spanish-born engineer, pioneered methods of underwater blasting that helped make New York’s Hell Gate safe for shipping. Evidently he also travelled the country to demonstrate his methods. His performance on Otsego Lake was “witnessed by a large number of highly interested spectators” according to S. M. Shaw’s Chronicles of Cooperstown. Wash Smith undoubtedly believed that those spectators—as well as those who didn’t see the explosions first-hand—would want a 3-dimensional record of the event.

Professor Maillefert’s Sub-Marine Exhibition
Stereographic print on cardboard.
Washington G. Smith, 1871.

Stereoscopy has faded in and out of popularity in the years since these images were created. With the reboot of cinematic 3-D and the advent of 3-D televisions and digital cameras, perhaps we are seeing its latest boom—will 3-D last this time?

Steamboat Landing-Rose Lawn
Stereographic print on cardboard.
Washington G. Smith, 1872-1898.

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