Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Pit Stop for Art of the American Indians: The Thaw Collection

By Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

In addition to getting ready for the upcoming season here at the Fenimore Art Museum, the curatorial team is hard at work overseeing our traveling exhibit the Art of the American Indians: The Thaw Collection. Our objects are back from the Minneapolis Institute of Art and are resting comfortably until its time to hit the road for our next stop – the Dallas Museum of Art.

The parka takes a break from its crate.

For some of the objects that means getting a break from their crates and relaxing on manikins. Others are getting conservation care to make sure they look and feel their best for the Dallas venue.

Making sure all is well with the Boy’s shirt.

The crates themselves also need maintenance. Preparator Steve Loughman and I worked with Thaw Collection Curator Eva Fognell to review the crates and repair evidence of wear and tear. Over the course of packing and repacking, truck travel and handling, crates may need reinforcement, reworking or repair. Bolts strip and foam may wiggle loose. We need to make sure all the crates are ship-shape before hitting the road.

Securing loose padding inside a crate.

We will soon be repacking those objects that are out of their crates. Then off they go to Dallas, with Eva and I to follow and once again oversee installation at a new venue. The exhibition opens in Dallas on April 24.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Violin’s Secret

By John Hart, Assistant Curator of Collections

There are a few decorated violins in our collection, one is currently out on exhibit at Fenimore Art Museum, the other has sat up on a shelf, out of sight and likely out of mind, for many years. This violin, though not as nice as the Tippecanoe example on exhibition in Bits of Home, is pretty striking on its own.

On its back is a small church created using marquetry and inlaid mother-of-pearl. It is surrounded by a decorative purfling, or decorative inlay found on the edge of most violins. This purfling is doubled, which is somewhat unusual to see, and has become an extra embellishment on the violin. Though no longer complete, you can see three different types of wood used for the church, and mother-of-pearl for the windows.

I’m not certain, but I don’t think the church decoration was originally on the violin, at least not at first. There are a few repairs at the scroll area of the violin and other repairs throughout. Was this violin repaired and then someone decided to use it as a decorative piece, rather than a playable instrument? Maybe, but we’ll never really know.

Violin and Neck, 1875-1925, Maple, pine, mother-of-pearl and inlaid other inlaid wood, N0978-979.1943.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Docent training day!

By Nancy Pfau, Volunteer Docent

Paul telling us about the upcoming exhibitions

Docent Training - a day full of fascinating information! Vice President and Chief Curator Paul D'Ambrosio led us through the museum to see the works in progress and explain where the various collections the museum will be showcasing this summer will be placed. Paul also gave us a mini-lecture on Edward Hopper whose paintings will be in the Scriven Gallery this year -- one of the real perks of being a Docent, getting to hear the stories behind the art.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Theatres of Memory: Re-examining Edward Curtis at the University of Rochester

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

A few weeks ago I traveled to the University of Rochester to see the exhibition component of a project called Parallax Effects: Representations of Native North Americans Then and Now. The faculty and students organized a small exhibition in the Rare Books and Special Collections Library called Theatres of Memory: Re-examining Edward Curtis. The student curators - Visual and Cultural Studies graduate student Alex Marr, a former Otsego Institute participant that I had the opportunity to spend 5 days with last summer, and undergraduate Art History student Carlie Fishgold - did a splendid job of presenting the photographs and writing the text.

Carlie and Joe examining a bag before the event started

Otsego Institute reunion: Joe, Janet, Jessica, Jon, me and Alex

The afternoon program started with a viewing of the movie Coming to Light about Edward Curtis (dir., Anne Makepeace). I highly recommend the film – it is excellent. Then it was time for a lovely wine and cheese reception where I had a chance to talk to old friends and see the exhibition.

Curators Carlie Fishgold, Alex Marr with Joe Horse Capture from the MIA

Then the program continued with a Roundtable with Joe D. Horse Capture (A’aninin/White Clay People), Associate Curator of Native North American Art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Joe spoke about his personal experience with Edward Curtis photographs - his great-great-grandfather Horse Capture was photographed in the early part of the 20th century by Curtis. It was very interesting to get a Native persons view on the photographs and thoughts about what can be learned from them. Janet Berlo, Professor of Art History and Visual and Cultural Studies at the university, presented an overview of Curtis photographs. Jessica McDonald, doctoral student in the history of photography, placed Curtis in the history of photography. It was a most enjoyable scholarly afternoon and fun-filled evening as Janet Berlo treated us to a great dinner accompanied by fun art conversation, a sleepover party, and even a super-yummi cornbread breakfast.

Janet making breakfast for her house guests

Be sure to come see our own Edward Curtis exhibition, Shadow Catcher: Edward Curtis Among the Kwakiutl, opening April 1 at Fenimore Art Museum.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The First Docent Training Session of 2011

By Nancy Pfau, Volunteer Docent

This is the first in an ongoing series of blog posts by Fenimore Art Museum's amazing Volunteer Docents!

Just spent the morning at the first of the 2011 Docent Training sessions at The Fenimore Art Museum -- such exciting exhibitions for this year! The Frida Kahlo: Through the Lens ofNikolas Muray photo exhibition should be a real draw! The photos are exquisite.

This will be only my second year as a Docent and I already feel as though I have learned a great deal! The conversations with the curators are enlightening as are the opportunities to meet some unique and very talented guests. Last summer I was fortunate to speak with a Native American Art Professor from the University of Zurich, Switzerland! We never know who will walk through the doors.

I'm sharing two fun photos -- the one below is of the snow I needed to shovel through to get to the car recently! And the other at the top is of my husband and me with friends from North Carolina who were visiting the Fenimore last autumn.

About me:
I grew up in Sharon Springs, a small village about 25 miles east of Cooperstown. As a girl, the village of Cooperstown was one of my favorite places to spend time swimming and picnicking at Otsego Lake, dining at the cafes and restaurants, going to the museums or shopping on Main Street. After graduating from Syracuse University, I married and moved away. My husband and I lived all over the world in our first 44 years of marriage and I taught in some fascinating places (Tehran, Iran; Miami, Florida; California; Virginia; Illinois). When we decided to retire, I could think of no place more special than my hometown! We still travel extensively with our children and their families scattered from Switzerland to Arkansas, but we love returning home, where I am now the Town Historian and we occasionally appear in cameo roles in Planet Green's reality TV show, The Fabulous Beekman Boys!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fritz Vogt sketches on view at the Arkell Museum at Canajoharie

By Christine Olsen, Registrar

The museum world is a small one. Especially in regard to the reciprocal loan of artwork between smaller institutions the size of the Fenimore Art Museum. It is an arrangement that works wonderfully for both institutions; the sharing of artwork helps expose the public to works that they may otherwise not see, and works that may not get much exhibition time at the lending institution have the opportunity to be on view. A nearby institutions, the Arkell Museum at Canajoharie, has requested the loan of four Fritz Vogt graphite pencil on paper sketches from our collection for their upcoming exhibition, Drawn to the Same Place: Rufus Grider & Fritz Vogt, 1885-1900, which will run from April 2, 2011 through August 14, 2011.

We will be lending the following works to this exhibition:

Residence of M. Van Alstine, Sharon, Schoharie County, September 25, 1890”

William Drane, Montgomery Street, Cherry Valley, Otsego County, March 8, 1893

Untitled (Cherry Valley Female Academy Teachers Residence), Cherry Valley, Otsego County, June 27, 1896

Residence of John Adam and Peter Kilts, Sharon, Schoharie County, June 15, 1899

The Arkell Museum, established in 1924 by Bartlett Arkell the founder and president of the Beech Nut Packing Company, features a remarkable collection of late 19th and early 20th century American Art, as well as artifacts from Mohawk Valley history, in a recently redesigned building on the scenic Mohawk River. The landscapes and regional stories of upstate New York and the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers were of particular fascination to Arkell, and are reflected both in their permanent collections as well as their choice in borrowed exhibitions.

To paraphrase the Drawn to the Same Place exhibition vision statement:

A Fritz Vogt exhibition at the Fenimore Art Museum in 2002 introduced Vogt as a major folk artist, and the exhibition at the Arkell with go on to place him next to a resident of Canajoharie who was drawing the same upstate New York locations at the same time - Rufus Grider. Both men came from Pennsylvania to the Mohawk Valley. Grider became a Canajoharie schoolteacher in 1883 who studied early historical accounts of the area in an effort to reconstruct the past, and Vogt an itinerant handyman and artist who created portraits of farms and homes as a way to earn a living. Both men travelled throughout the region, quickly sketching and memorizing a scene before later completing details and adding color. While creating artwork for different reasons, their works viewed together provide a picture of rural and urban landscapes of the past.

This exhibition is sure to expose these contemporaneous artists in a new and fascinating light, comparing and contrasting their artistic vision and techniques as they have never been before. If you are in the area, I highly recommend that you stop by the Arkell to see this exhibition. And make note to see our loaned artworks, of course!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Watching movies on the job!

By Nancy Pfau, Volunteer Docent

Well, after two days of watching the snow pile up recently, it was nice to have sunshine and a good excuse to drive to Cooperstown. The trip through the Cherry Valley by-pass where trees were glistening with hoar-frost was breathtakingly beautiful!

Today at training we watched the PBS documentary The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo in preparation for our upcoming exhibition, Frida Kahlo: Through the Lens of Nickolas Muray. The movie was totally enthralling! While I have been fascinated with her art for years, seeing it through the lens of her life's story enriches the experience, a life of pain made manifest in her unique paintings.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Fenimore's volunteer docent program

By Nancy Karaman, Volunteer Services Administrator

Today, Nancy will introduce us to Fenimore Art Museum's docent program. Look for upcoming posts written by our fantastic docents!

The docent program commenced in 2008 when a group of inspired Fenimore Art Museum volunteers were gathered together to learn more about the exhibitions in order to become the knowledgeable, welcoming face of the Museum. The goal of the program was, and is, to offer to our visitors a well-informed docent staff whose purpose is to enrich visitor experience. Fenimore docents bring to the museum a wide variety of experiences and interests. The group has expanded over the last two years and currently numbers thirty-seven, including three Junior Docents who serve during the summer months. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer docent, you can contact me at

Here are some pictures of our amazing docents at a recent training session.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Television and Art Museums

By Stephen Loughman, Preparator

I have to admit that one of my favorite TV shows is American Pickers, featuring two men that travel around the country looking for great items to sell at their antiques store. They dig through barns looking for old advertising pieces, turn of the century bicycles, or even folk art, as they look for the next big score that they can then sell to keep their adventure going. Luckily for me, I don’t have to do too much digging to see similar items that are popular on the show – many are found in our own collections here at the Fenimore Art Museum. One piece that seems straight from TV is our Pontiac Service sign; this will be on display this year as part of our exhibition, Art Buzz: Reader's Favorites from the Fenimore Art Museum Blog. It is a great example of a porcelain sign that adorned a car dealership in the 40’s or 50’s.

Another piece from our American Indian Art Collection would also fit right in on the show - this great cardboard box featuring the Moto Meter Gauge and Equipment Corporation logo. This box would housed a replacement part, most likely a dashboard gauge for a 50’s era vehicle. Unlike the television show where they always seem to find the part and the box, our example is only the box!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Brooklyn Museum's Tipi exhibition, starring our Horse Mask

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

Sitting in my office and reading the book Tipi: Heritage of the Great Plains, in anticipation of my visit to the Brooklyn Museum, I came upon an image of a war shirt (Shirt for a Chief’s War Dress) from the early 19th century. It is truly stunning. Our own magnificent beaded Horse Mask is also in the catalogue, as is one page from our Black Hawk’s Ledger Book. On another page is an image of a local Mohawk Valley landmark, The Tipi (on Route 20), which is where some of us, (guilty!) go for Hot Dog Pete’s great hotdogs with chili. But I am digressing…  The Shirt for a Chief’s War Dress was collected by Dr. Nathan Sturges Jarvis at Fort Snelling, Minnesota. It is such a beauty! Brooklyn Museum has so many treasures from all over the world. Thinking about the museum brought back memories for me...

War Shirt and leggings

For a long time while I lived in New York City the Brooklyn Museum was my favorite because SHE lived there. SHE was and is the most fabulous piece of art ever made, in my humble opinion. On the museum’s label she was referred to as Figure of a Lioness, 3000 BC - 2800 BC, from Elam. The unforgettable face and sculptured body, only 3.25” high but larger than life, is no longer at the Brooklyn museum, unfortunately. The Lioness was on loan to the museum when I saw it and it was eventually sold at Sotheby’s in 2007. Take a peak at the Sotheby site for some amazing close ups of this magnificent masterpiece of early art.

So this time it is not the Lioness that is calling me to the Brooklyn Museum but the opportunity to see the Tipi: Heritage of the Great Plains exhibit. I blogged about this show a few weeks ago so this is a follow up. The museum entrance had changed since I last visited. It was a much-discussed architectural revamp of the front. It was a bit startling to see the change but it will undoubtedly work better for the museum and it added more public space upon entering.

Front entry of the Brooklyn Museum

Tipi exhibition ad on Flatbush Avenue

The exhibition was on the 5th floor and covered quite a few galleries. Our Horse Mask is in the first gallery and looks magnificent. In the photo you can see the mask with the large tipi in the background. There were quite a few visitors in the galleries and everyone seemed to really enjoy the exhibit. The Shirt for a Chiefs War Dress looks even more powerful in person then in the catalogue.

Our Horse Mask in the gallery

Also check out what’s for sale in the gift shop! Love the little popcorn tipi! I had a wonderful visit and really enjoyed seeing our Horse Mask so prominently displayed.

Popcorn tipis for sale in the Brooklyn Museum's shop
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