Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How did that end up in the museum, anyway?

Doug Kendall, Curator of Collections

“What’s New” is one of the recurring themes here on the Museum’s blog. We like to share the stories and images of our recent acquisitions. But how do artifacts and works of art find their way into the Museum’s collections? And why those things and not others?

The New York State Historical Association, which operates the Fenimore Art Museum, has existed for over 110 years and has been collecting for most of that time. As you can imagine, we’ve accumulated a lot of things over those years: almost 25,000 objects and over 100,000 photographs.

These days, the Museum continues to acquire artifacts, but the staff has to think hard before adding something new to the collections. We have limited acquisition funds, but even potential gifts have to be carefully scrutinized for relevance—after all, there are costs associated with cataloging, exhibiting and caring for each object in the Museum’s collection and both our resources and our space is finite.

That’s why the staff and Board of the Museum carefully developed a Collections Management Policy and review it every few years. One of the most important parts of the policy is the “Scope of Collections” section. Having a scope helps us recognize whether a potential gift makes sense as part of this museum’s collection or should perhaps be referred to another museum with a different mission. The Museum’s Collections Advisory Committee carefully considers every potential addition to the collection and makes a recommendation to the President and CEO of the organization, and the Vice President and Chief Curator, who have the authority to add items to the collection.

Residence and Office of James L. Smith, Mansfield, Cattaraugus Co NY
Graphite pencil on paper, framed
Artist Unidentified, ca. 1880
Gift of Scott and Gladys Macdonough, N0010.2010
Photograph: Richard Walker

Residence of Michael Van Alstine
Graphite pencil on paper
Fritz G. Vogt, 1890
The Farmers’ Museum, Museum Purchase, F0216.1944

Recently, a Connecticut couple offered to give the Museum a pencil sketch of a home in Cattaraugus County. This image falls within the Museum’s collecting interest in American folk art and it also provides evidence of upstate New York material culture, another of our collecting areas. Although we don’t know who sketched the James L. Smith residence and office, the style is reminiscent of the lithographs that appear in Victorian county atlases and histories, many of which can be found in our Research Library. In addition, the Smith sketch complements the drawings of itinerant Mohawk Valley artist Fritz G. Vogt in the collections of the Fenimore Art Museum and our sister institution, The Farmers’ Museum. So in this instance, the sketch of James Smith’s home and office is a welcome addition to the Museum’s collections for a variety of reasons.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hen Party

Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

Hen Party: A party for women only. First known use ca. 1885. (From Merriam-Webster online dictionary)

I had never heard the term Hen Party until I moved to Central New York. It’s a quaint folksy way of talking about a girl’s night out that for me, conjures up visions of ladies gossiping over their tea and knitting. The phrase has expanded meaning and in the 21st century can refer to a bachelorette party. Not quite the word picture I have in mind, but fun to think people are still using the term.

Did I mention the girl with the squirrel on her head?

We are having a Hen Party, so to speak, in the Clark Gallery here at the Fenimore Art Museum. Okay, our attendees are not as lively as those at the gatherings mentioned above. Instead they are quietly gracing the walls and pedestals of our exhibition, Picturing Women: American Art from the Permanent Collections, which opens on September 24.

Getting the ladies in place

Our collections hold a variety of portraiture from three centuries, which can make for some very interesting groupings. Laying out the gallery was like arranging seating at a dinner party. We have Abigail Adams keeping company with Dolly Madison while three folk art Madonnas enjoy each other’s presence. Perhaps they are comparing notes on childrearing? And I like to wonder what a very proper 19th century lady would like to chat about with her 20th century counterpart (who is shown lounging sans-clothing in a bed of water lilies.) We even have a kids’ wall, which is reminiscent of the kids’ table from the holidays of my childhood.

This eclectic gathering of women of all ages, social classes and occupations will be on view until the end of the year. Come visit the party, even if you are not a hen!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

New Acquisition: Yokuts Basket

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

Let me introduce the latest object added to the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art - a large, beautiful Yokuts basket.

It arrived just a short week ago and since then I have spent time researching the basket to find out more about it and its maker. The Yokuts were some of the leading basket makers of Central California. This great basket is tightly coiled and sewn with stitches of sedge root.

The motifs on the basket are stitched with black-dyed bracket fern root and redbud. The diamond-shaped designs are stylized rattlesnakes. It is 9 inches high and 21.5 inches in diameter so it has a demanding presence. It will be out in the gallery in the next few weeks so I hope you stop by and take a look at our latest acquisition.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

L’Expostion Universelle

John Hart, Assistant Curator of Collections

One way or another, most everyone has heard of the World’s Fairs whether from our grandparents, great grandparents, or maybe even experienced them first hand. Many monuments still stand from those cultural events, like Memorial Hall at Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, now home to the Please Touch Museum, the Space Needle in Seattle, and perhaps the best recognized monument of them all, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.

Built in 1889 and designed by Gustave Eiffel, the tower was seen as an eyesore to Parisians and was destined to be torn down in 1909, but city officials in Paris saw its potential for communication antennas, a purpose which it still serves today, and spared the tower from becoming scrap.

This intricately embroidered ribbon depicting the Eiffel Tower, made in 1889 by Marcoux et Chateauneuf, is one of the rarely-seen treasures in our collections. The files don’t seem to indicate why exactly the ribbon was accepted into the collection of the Fenimore Art Museum, but as a study of embroidery techniques, it’s definitely a wonderful object to examine.

Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York. N0668.1963

Based on what I found through several searches, it appears that we have an “advertising weaving,” something that I’ve seen several times in our collection, but never with this much detail. A book on Google Books lists the company Marcoux et Chateauneuf of St. Etienne as exhibit number 287 with fancy ribbons and velvets as part of their display for the 1893 Columbia World’s Fair.

Try as I might, I couldn’t find the company referenced anywhere else, at least not by the name they used in 1889; I couldn’t even find this ribbon anywhere online either. It seems strange that the closest name I could find was a wine maker - probably not what the company was doing in 1893 or 1899. Either way we have an interestingly embroidered object that’s good for study, but is also nice to look at too.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Summer Afternoons on the East End

Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

Summer afternoon–summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language. – Henry James

Every year my daughter and I make a pilgrimage back to Long Island to see family and visit some of my favorite childhood haunts. Long Island has changed a bit since I spent my summers at Camp Blue Bay, out on the east end, but the rambling and windswept sandy moors are still there, even if you have to look a little harder to find them.

Peconic Bay

William Merritt Chase spent summers out on the east end as well. From 1891 – 1902 he taught classes at the Shinnecock Hills Summer Art School. Students lived in a small art village near Chase’s home. They went off onto the moors and down by the bays to practice plein air (outdoor) painting, which was a staple of American Impressionists such as Chase. Over 100 students each summer passed through the Shinnecock School, and they indulged in more than painting. Theatricals and tableau vivants (living pictures) were sources of amusement, with students and Chase’s family dressing in costume to recreate well-known paintings. The Parrish Art Museum in Southampton has a wonderful collection of Chase’s work and photographs that document the students, as well as family, at work and play.

Chase with his daughter Helen posed as a Spanish Infanta, ca. 1899
From About the Bayberry Bush, the Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, NY, 2001

Chase’s work captures my memory of hot sunny afternoons out on the bay or strolling through bayberry-festooned moors. You can feel the heat of the day with the breeze coming off the water and up over the sand with a sky painted “as if we could see through it,” as Chase advised his students. His Shinnecock landscapes are a perfect recollection of summer afternoons gone by.

Idle Hours, 1894
From the collection of the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

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