Friday, November 19, 2010

On the March from Cooperstown to Virginia

By: Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

Research for an exhibit often starts long before the exhibit is slated to open. The curatorial staff pours over books, websites, meets with scholars and watches videos to get ourselves up to speed on our upcoming topics. The dazzle of the objects to be displayed is always augmented by enlightening facts that surface along the way.

With the 250th anniversary of the Civil War approaching we are diving head first into all things related to the conflict. In 2012 Fenimore Art Museum will mount an exhibition drawn from historian Sal Cilella’s book Upton’s Regulars, The 121st New York Infantry in the Civil War.

Eastern Theater of War 1861-1865
Courtesy of the National Parks Service

The 121st were Cooperstown’s hometown regiment. Drawn from the surrounding area the landowners, businessman, students and farm boys of Otsego and Herkimer Counties made their way to Virginia and were put under the leadership of Colonel Emory Upton. It is easy to be wowed by the battles the 121st engaged in and the hardships they endured, but I am awed at how far these guys had to sojourn just to be part of the fray.

Route from Cooperstown to Fredericksburg
Courtesy of Google Maps

Traveling from Cooperstown to Washington, D.C. and points south by public transport in 2010 can be a bit of a challenge. In 1862 it was considerably more difficult. Upton’s men traveled over 400 miles just to reach the fighting. Google Maps tells me that it would take 7 hours and 13 minutes to drive, and at least 5 days and 7 hours to walk that distance today. The 121st marched, traveled by train and by wagon to make their way south. This in an age when many men never left the confines of their village or county, let alone down to the nation’s capital and beyond. Once onsite the 121st faced 3 years of marching, camping and fighting, ending in another monumental trek back north to home and family in the Cooperstown area.

121st Battles and Casualties
From: New York in the War of the Rebellion, 3rd ed. Frederick Phisterer
Albany: J. B. Lyon Company, 1912

Monday, November 15, 2010

Opening Festivities for Art of the Native Americans: The Thaw Collection, at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

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

Fenimore Art Museum’s traveling exhibition, Art of the Native Americans: The Thaw Collection, opened at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) on October 24, 2010. Eva was there to celebrate and train teachers and docents. Here’s here recap of the opening events.

From teacher’s education programming and docent training to the opening day event this was one of the most inspiring, impressive and fun series of events I have been part of in a museum setting. The audiences at the MIA were wonderful, energetic, very interested and very grateful that they had a chance to see the magnificent collection. It was a successful, well-executed, and exciting weekend and the MIA had certainly put an extraordinary amount of their resources behind our exhibit.

On Thursday October 21st the museum hosted a 4-hour program for K-12 teachers. Four hundred thirty seven teachers were registered for the program that focused upon the exhibition and its themes. The museum had developed an extensive curriculum guide available on CD as well as on-line for in-class teaching. The teachers were also toured through the galleries. The teachers were asked to rank their experience that day and an overwhelming majority rated their visit to the exhibit as the best part of the program.

Thursday evening was also the MIA’s 3rd Thursday event when the museum is open from 5-9 pm. Live rock music bands, art making, dancers and performers were everywhere. The museum was very busy with people of all ages, including teenagers and 20- and 30-somethings. The gallery was open to members and there was a large audience in the gallery all evening long.

On both Friday and Saturday Joe Horse Capture (the MIA’s Associate Curator of Native American Art) and I conducted training sessions for museum docents. Over the two days at least 80 people participated in our tours. Their enthusiasm was truly amazing. Many had spent considerable time familiarizing themselves with the objects in the exhibition prior to the training sessions.

Representatives from the Twin City Press (St Paul), Star Tribune (Minneapolis), as well as NPR and St. Paul Magazine toured the exhibit on Friday. They all asked in-depth questions and were very impressed by the exhibition. This was later reflected in the superlative reviews that appeared in the Sunday editions of their respective papers:

On the last day, Sunday, a brunch event for 150 invited guests officially opened the exhibit. Later I presented a lecture, Masterworks in Native American Art. Throughout the day there was a museum-wide celebration featuring free art activities, story time, music and entertainment.

Photos by Eva Fognell and Joe Horse Capture

Friday, November 5, 2010

Philadelphia Story: the 2010 Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums Meeting

Douglas Kendall, Curator of Collections

Last week I had the opportunity to attend “Revolutionizing Museums,” the annual meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums on the Delaware River waterfront in Philadelphia. MAAM is our regional affiliate of the American Association of Museums. Every fall, museum professionals from New York to the District of Columbia gather to celebrate each others’ successes, brainstorm common challenges, learn new things and take away good ideas that can be adapted and reshaped for use at their own museums.

Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums, Washington, D.C., 2010.

I attended several sessions related to museum collections care and access, since those are my areas of responsibility here at the Fenimore Art Museum and The Farmers’ Museum. Things That Go Bump in the Night…When Collections Strike Back focused on dealing with artifacts and artwork that are potentially dangerous. Fortunately, we don’t have a fluoroscope—an x-ray shoe-fitting machine of dubious use in getting the right fit that also bathed customers and clerks in radiation—or a large medical collection of “wet specimens” like Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum, but every museum curator needs to be alert to the possibility of folks wanting to donate antique guns and cannonballs that could still be loaded or early plastics and film that can spontaneously combust.

Museum of the Macabre®, Philadelphia, PA, 2008-2010.

Lots of museums are finding new ways of sharing collections online (see highlights of the Fenimore Art Museum’s here). At the conference, we heard about the Museum of the Macabre®, which for now is entirely online. The Museum’s founders spoke about the numerous free software tools available online that allowed them to create a website that showcases their collections, educates the public about “the historical significance of the afterlife,” and allows visitors to add their own comments and content to the site. Many traditional museums with physical locations but small budgets can take advantage of these same web tools to make their collections more accessible to the public.

Photo, 2007 by Jan’s Cat/Felix Gomes,
re-used with permission under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Floating just outside the conference hotel is an illustration of some of the challenges faced by museums today: the USS Olympia. It is a National Historic Landmark, the flagship of Admiral Dewey’s fleet during the Spanish-American War. Decommissioned in 1922 and privatized in 1957, the ship is now part of the Independence Seaport Museum, which has spent $5.5 million on preservation since 1996. Unfortunately, at least $10 million is now needed to prevent Olympia from sinking at its mooring within the next 3 years. This month, the Museum is ending public tours of the ship due to its current condition.

I’ve returned to Cooperstown more aware than ever of the evolving nature of our museums—new virtual museums popping up, hoping to eventually have a bricks-and-mortar site—others struggling with the inherent disadvantages of physically preserving art and heritage for future generations. And now I’m back to trying to both preserve and share our collections from our little village in upstate New York.

If you want to find out more about the meeting, you can visit MAAM’s own blog on the Philadelphia conference.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Finding Frida

By: Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

It’s November, the trees are bare and the world is reduced to somber notes of ochre and burnt umber. So naturally, this curator’s thoughts turn toward warmer climates and tempestuous artists. How convenient that one of next year’s Fenimore Art Museum exhibits is Frida Kahlo: Through the Lens of Nickolas Muray.

Nickolas Muray, 1892-1965, American (b. Hungary)
Frida with Nick in her Studio, Coyoacán
Silver gelatin print

Friend, lover, confidant and photographer, Nickolas Muray captured Frida’s style and flash through his portraits. How to echo that in a gallery layout of Muray’s photographs with support graphics and color choices? Time for research! The book I Will Never Forget You: Frida Kahlo and Nickolas Muray explores Nick and Frida’s relationship through their passionate letters and Muray’s vibrant photos.

"Nick darling, I got my wonderful picture you sent me, I find it even more beautiful than in New York. Diego says that it is as marvelous as a Piero de la Francesca. To me it is more than that, it is a treasure, and besides, it will always remind me that morning... [when] we went to your shop to take photos. This one was one of them. And now I have it near me. You will always be inside the magenta rebozo (on the left side).” - Frida Kahlo to Nickolas Muray, 1939

Still not enough! Time to hit Netflix and watch Salma Hayek’s tour de force performance in Frida. This fabulous film brings both Frida and her work to life. It’s a bit of a steamy watch and not for those that blush easily! I wondered how Frida found time to paint with such an active and love life. . .

Finally, time to pour through Judy Chicago’s recent exploration of Frida and her work. Frida Kahlo: Face to Face brings a feminist perspective and new insight to Frida’s paintings and drawings. The book itself is sumptuous with great reproductions of Frida’s work and a beautiful layout in the style of a Mexican retalbo.

Nickolas Muray, 1892-1965, American (b. Hungary)
Frida painting The Two Fridas, Coyoacán
Silver gelatin print

Research results: vibrant colors for the gallery and festive fonts to mirror the feeling of Frida’s life and work as portrayed through Nickolas Muray’s photographs.

Tour Management of Frida Kahlo: Through the Lens of Nickolas Muray is by Smith Kramer Fine Art Services, Kansas City, Missouri

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