Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Shine a Light

By Steve Loughman, Preparator

As we finished our May installations I was thinking about how important lighting is to all of the shows that we put on here at Fenimore Art Museum. While lighting Prendergast to Pollock: American Modernism from the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute which has just opened here at the museum, many people stopped to watch me up in the lift since the gallery was open to the public as we were finishing.

And here are before and after pictures of the lighting in our other new exhibit, A Window Into Edward Hopper, which really shows of how much of a change the right lighting brings to a show.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Seneca Log House updates

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

I’m here to update you on the status of the Seneca log house, now that spring has made it possible to see it out from under all the snow!

Here are a few photos showing the additions and changes that have taken place.

A fence marks the boundary of the site, and new trees, shrubs and grasses have been planted to create a space distinctly different from the great lawn that surrounds the museum on the lake side. Indigenous plants used by the Iroquois people for utilitarian purposes and for food will grow all around the Seneca log house.

As an aside, when I was out taking the log house photos I noticed lots of work taking place to make the museum grounds in tip top shape for the spring and summer season. New plantings and big baskets of yellow flowers adorn the back terrace, planted by the Clark Greenhouses.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

When a Horse Isn't Just a Horse

By John Hart, Assistant Curator of Collections

I cant put my finger on it, but it seems like at every museum that I’ve ever interned, volunteered or worked (with the exception of a historic battlefield) something from China always appears. In my first experience it was ceramic jugs that had been turned into electric lights. A few years later at a different institution I ran into two statues, a horse and a camel, referred to as Sancai (pronounced sāncǎi), which were previously owned by an Asian art collector. Fast-forward three years and lo and behold, now it’s two other horses, one made into an electric lamp and the other left as a statue.

My first reaction was “Hey, I didn’t know we had any Sancai pieces in the collection!” That is, until I saw them. Sancai is a glazing technique, literally meaning “three colors,” using different elements that turn to yellow, green, and white when fired in a kiln. While the form is certainly correct (Sancai pieces tend to be horses or camels, and this prancing horse is a common theme), it’s pretty clear from the surface that these were never really glazed and the paint has certainly seen better days.

Electric lamp, date unknown, earthenware, N0547.1948(01) #1

Statue, date unknown, earthenware, N0547.1948(02)

Could they be from the Tang Dynasty, which is when this art form was at its height? Certainly, but there’s no way to know for sure until an expert looks at them and compares them to other known pieces and styles of construction. In the meantime, they’ll remain safe and sound in storage for someone else to find and become interested in.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sprint to the Finish Line

By Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

This has been a busy season for the curatorial department. The Fenimore Art Museum opened on April 1 with some wonderful new offerings. Hard to believe it is already time to change out some of these exhibits. A Window Into Edward Hopper and Prendergast to Pollock: American Modernism from the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute both open Memorial Day weekend. We have been hard at work with the help of our fantastic maintenance crew, shuffling walls, laying out galleries, painting, and designing new graphics for the exhibits.

All of this activity is mirrored across the street at The Farmers’ Museum where we are simultaneously preparing New York’s Good Eats: Our Fabulous Foods for opening the same weekend. One of the joys of working for both The Farmers’ Museum and the Fenimore Art Museum is the diversity of the objects I connect with. I can go from hanging an Edward Hopper painting to filling a case with Shredded Wheat artifacts in the space of an hour. It makes for an interesting day, which helps make lighter work of a busy installation schedule.

Assorted objects for New York’s Good Eats. Wings anyone?

Wall of graphic samples in preparation for production

Initial layout for Prendergast to Pollock

The Great Hall gallery being painted by our wonderful painters, Pete and Chiba, in preparation for Prendergast to Pollock

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Experimenting, with the Preparator

By Stephen Loughman, Preparator

One of my favorite parts of working in the Exhibitions Department of the Fenimore Art Museum and The Farmers’ Museum is when I get to experiment. Last year it was coming up with a way to keep our Totem Pole covered for a month before its grand unveiling. This year, I was given a stack of plates (purchased – not from the collections!) and told to figure out a way to make them stay on the walls of The Farmers’ Museum for our upcoming New York’s Good Eats! Our Fabulous Foods exhibition opening on May 28. After a trip to the hardware store, I began testing different epoxies, glues, gels and other adhesives trying to find a winner. I was looking for an option that could withhold the weight of the plate while also being able to withstand the climate fluctuations of the Main Barn gallery. Everyone will be happy to know that no plates were harmed (yet) in the making of this exhibit!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Opening Week for Art of the American Indians at the Dallas Museum of Art

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

I recently spent a great week at the Dallas Museum of Art doing what I love doing; talking and thinking about American Indian art.

I arrived in Dallas on Monday the 18th. Tuesday morning was off to the DMA for press tours at 10 am. It was an impressive event as their Board President introduced the exhibit and its sponsors. My guess is that about 35-40 people were there for the tour. Here are a few of the reviews that were published by various organizations in the following week: Dallas Art NewsD Magazine and Art & Seek. At the bottom of this blog is the review from the Dallas Morning News.

Wednesday was the big opening evening event for a select group of members and sponsors. Carol Robbins (the DMA curator of the show) and I took a group of people on a tour and after drinks and snacks and much talking about the exhibit we later went for a wonderful dinner at Stephen Pyles restaurant around the corner from the museum.

On both Thursday and Saturday I did a few more tours of the exhibit with members and other interested parties. On Thursday we were joined by Lou, (“doing a tour with a dog named Lou” is my new opening line to that famous song …) who was an adorable little Chivava service dog accompanying her owner:

Thursdays, the DMA is open late night and there was live music and lots going on in the museum. The glass flowers are by Dale Chihuly:

Monday was for training docents and a wonderful, interesting and thoughtful group they were! Maybe about 70-80 docents attended the talk and although I had a few hours to take them round the galleries there just is never enough time!)

Spiritual works: Thaw Collection brings American Indian creations imbued with a sense of the sacred to the DMA

To a Texan overdosed on Santa Fe blankets, kokopelli dolls and turquoise bracelets, a museum show of American Indian artifacts might not seem a prime draw.

But “Art of the American Indians: The Thaw Collection,” which opened Sunday at the Dallas Museum of Art, will open eyes to wonders far beyond clichés of Southwestern tchotchkes.

Exploring widely varied indigenous cultures from the Northeast to the Great Plains to Alaska, stretching back a whole millennium, it’s a revelatory display of earthy vigor balanced by exquisite detail, visual fantasy by material practicality. From cultures that sensed supernatural forces in earth and sky, rain and wind, coyotes and snakes, items as different as capes, war clubs, masks and pottery exude totemic resonance.

Organized by regions, more than 100 items are on a national tour from the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. The show was assembled by Eva Fognell, curator of the Fenimore’s Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art.

Eugene Thaw had a distinguished career as a dealer and collector of European art. But on retiring to Santa Fe in 1987, he was captivated by the purely aesthetic qualities of American Indian artifacts. By 1995 he and his wife had amassed a substantial collection they offered to the Cooperstown museum, which built a new wing to house it.

There are some eye-poppers here: a circa-1850 Chilkat robe boldly patterned in cream, black and white; a 15{+t}{+h}-century clay jar with amazingly modern-looking geometric designs; a Navajo blanket brilliantly striped in red, white and black.

At the other end of the spectrum are finely woven baskets by early 20{+t}{+h}-century artists Scees Bryant Possock, Louise and Elizabeth Hickox. The 19{+t}{+h}-century introduction of tiny colored beads, bought in trade from the white men, inspired finely worked garments, bags, even saddles. French missionaries taught embroidery to the Hurons in Quebec, with results including a miniature settee with exquisite floral designs on birch bark.

The hybridization of aboriginal and invasive cultures is a recurrent counterpoint. A paint-decorated circa-1800 hunting coat is made of caribou skin, but in a contemporaneous European cut. Commercial cloth, silk ribbons, glass beads and ostrich feathers are incorporated in an exuberantly decorated hood presented around 1850 to Lord Elgin, the British governor-general to Canada.

“Eye-dazzler” serapes in the Southwest were made possible by commercial, synthetically dyed yarns. As the 19{+t}{+h} century progressed, the American flag began to appear as an emblem of power.

More striking, though, is imaginative use of indigenous materials, and not just animal skins and bird feathers. The Indians of the Pacific Northwest were particularly ingenious in steaming and re-forming wood and even animal horns into food containers and implements. Looking at a silky waterproof parka, decorated with zigzags of dyed walrus and polar bear fur, you wouldn’t guess it’s made of seal intestines dried, sliced into strips and stitched together.

Spirituality imbues much of what we admire. Prayers were offered as Indians scooped clay out of the earth to make pottery, and as weavers began to make baskets. Garments and masks had ritual uses; animal skins and hair incorporated animal forces into clothing. A Lakota lyric says, “Something sacred wears me.”

Add deep, nature-based spirituality to imaginative use of materials and real visual flair, and the DMA show is well worth a visit.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Reorganizing Photographic History

By John Hart, Assistant Curator of Collections

In other posts I’ve mentioned the thousands of glass plate negatives in the collection of the New York State Historical Association, but something exciting is happening to those plates once again - they’re being moved. Not off-site, but rather into a newly renovated space in our storage facility. We’re in the midst of a project that will give us heat, ventilation, humidity control and air conditioning control of the space; part of that is reshousing nearly 60,000 glass plate negatives. It’s a long and tedious project that requires us to be very careful as we move groups of plates from one shelving system to the next, not only because they are fragile, but we need to keep them in order to find them later.

Current storage area for the plates is pretty tight and difficult to maneuver.

As difficult as it is to move these plates, the project is coming along well. With the help of assistants like Elizabeth Nerland of the Cooperstown Graduate Program, and others, we’re making steady progress towards completing this phase of the project. It’s a worthwhile cause and will allow us to access the plates quickly and easier than before, as well as consolidate our storage space, freeing up desperately needed space for other objects.

New storage area for the plates is open and more accessible.

It’s a win-win for access and preservation, even if it will take us a few weeks to move the plates and make all of the other necessary changes in our database.
Blog Widget by LinkWithin