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.

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