Friday, July 29, 2011

The 8th Contemporary Iroquois Art Biennial: Four Artists Under 30

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

We are getting ready for the 8th Contemporary Iroquois Art Biennial exhibition and this years’ theme, Four Artist Under 30, is promising to be an exciting exhibition of young talented women artists. It will open at Fenimore Art Museum on August 27th and be on view until December 31. As in previous years the show is organized and curated by Peter Jemison (Seneca). Peter is a well-known artist and the Director of Ganondagan Historic Site in Victor, NY.

Here, Peter describes the show:

This year the exhibit features the work of four young women from the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederacy; Lauren Jimerson, Seneca; Awenheeyoh Powless, Onondaga; Leah Shenandoah, Oneida; Natasha Smoke Santiago, Mohawk.

The artists are influenced by their heritage as Haudenosaunee but have sought unique ways to express their individual vision. Perhaps the most traditional in terms of media is Lauren (who is in her final year at Rochester Institute of Technology). She uses pastel on paper to create portraits including a self-portrait. 

 Crop Rot
Lauren Jimerson

Awenheeyoh is a recent graduate from the Rochester Institute of Technology and incorporates Iroquois music and traditional dance steps to create paintings with her feet on un-stretched canvas. In this process she listens to women’s dance songs through head phones and then steps in acrylic paint barefooted to apply it to the canvas using footsteps associated with Iroquois women’s dances.

Dance #4
Awenheeyoh Powless

Leah (M.A., Rochester Institute of Technology) has focused on three dimensional objects that are a cross between sculpture and painting. They are made of stretched fabric on a wire frame to which paint has been applied as a stain. They are exhibited hung from the gallery’s ceiling in a grouping. She is also a jeweler using copper and silver to create large necklaces.

Installation view of Leah Shenandoah's artwork

Natasha is a self-taught artist who has been actively exhibiting her art since she was a teenager. She casts the bellies of pregnant women then forms sculptural objects incorporating traditional Haudenosaunee craft techniques such as pottery making or basketmaking. The bellies are turned into pottery, or fancy baskets with materials resembling splints.

 Belly Basket
Natasha Smoke Santiago

They have each found their unique voice at a relatively young age and they extend the tradition of art making among the Haudenosaunee, combining art school training and traditional knowledge of their heritage, to produce a new form.

Past Iroquois Art Biennials have featured art by the master carver Stan Hill (Mohawk), sculptor Diane Shenandoah (Oneida), painter Peter Jemison, and ceramicist Peter Jones (Onondaga) among others. We are looking forward to this year’s installation with great anticipation. We hope to see you here at the museum August 27 - December 31st.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tales from the Exhibition Script

By Emma Porter, Curatorial Intern

There is a first time for everything, and I have loved every “first” during my time here at Fenimore Art Museum. As I conclude my internship at the Fenimore, I reflect on all that I have learned and what I will now "do" with my newly gained experience. I am fortunate enough to have been given this opportunity and to have worked with such outstanding professionals who greatly improve our society everyday. My mentor, Michelle Murdock works with profound intention and articulation. She inspired me to do the same with my projects and collaborations.

Bye Bye House! (I mean the Fenimore Art Museum) I will miss you!

For my concluding project I am working on the exhibition script for a 2012 exhibition featuring Kevin Gray's modern tintypes. Corresponding with Gray and sharing materials and ideas is exciting, and a true treasure, to say the least.

Kevin Gray, Devils Den (2)

Studying Gray’s work, what he has to say about it, and reading his graduate school thesis has been the ground work for constructing the exhibition script. Researching and writing about themes that correlate with Gray's artwork will deepen the viewers’ experience of the work. The sub-themes, if you will, surrounding Gray’s modern tintypes are: Civil War photography/photographers, the place of Gettysburg, the history of the panorama, and contemporary artists who use and reinterpret antiquated photographic techniques. I have learned how to organize and edit ideas into a coherent message that is both informative and appealing. As the Fenimore aims to produce more and more shows based on contemporary art, it becomes an even more dynamic institution and important contributor to our culture.

I will be returning as much as possible to the Fenimore to see the exhibitions and to catch up with the people I have met and learned from. I cannot thank Michelle enough for letting an undergraduate art history student intern at such a prestigious institution. She took much of her time and energy to teach and mentor; I am eternally grateful. A big thank you to Christine Rossi, Stephen Loughman, Eva Fognell, and Caitlin Miosek and others! Parting is such sweet sorrow. But it is comforting to know that there are people like these who make the world more beautiful each day.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Nature and The Smith-Telfer Photography Collection

By John Hart, Assistant Curator of Collections

I had a pleasant surprise during NYSHA’s Annual Meeting recently involving the work I used to do for Rights and Reproductions for Fenimore Art Museum and The Farmers’ Museum. David Stradling, author of The Nature of New York: An Environmental History of the Empire State, was the keynote presenter this year and discussed the examination of the idealized landscapes of the Hudson River School artists.

It was a fascinating presentation and before he even began, he took a moment to thank me for the images I provided him from the Smith-Telfer Photography Collection for his book! I would get thank you notes once in a while, but have never been thanked, let alone acknowledged, in a university professor’s presentation before. It was certainly unexpected, greatly appreciated, and a privilege to help him with his book project.

If you have an interest in environmental history, The Nature of New York: An Environmental History of the Empire State, is certainly a book you should consider reading. And since the weather is starting to cooperate (maybe I should knock on wood now…), go out and enjoy the nature that David writes about. There’s nothing like a nice hike up a mountain to see what the great artists of the Hudson River School admired so greatly.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Museum shipping crates

By Christine Olsen, Registrar

Over the years we have acquired many shipping crates that are specially fabricated for artwork in our collection. I am currently in the process of physically inventorying our crates in order to dispose of ones that are no longer in good enough shape to travel and making sure that the ones we keep are properly numbered and tracked. They are stacked to the ceiling at our storage facility and are hard to move around given their size and weight, so it is a project that requires some help from my colleagues in the facilities department!

Whenever something travels outside Fenimore Art Museum, such as a loan to another museum for exhibition, it requires a specially built crate. Fine art shipping companies make crates for us, often building them at their warehouse and finishing the interiors once they arrive at the museum to ensure a perfect fit. In order to save money and materials we try to reuse and retrofit crates we already have whenever possible – an accurate inventory of our crates is therefore very helpful. Precise measurements and photographs of the artwork are provided to the crate fabricators when the order is placed as it must fit like a glove. They have to be sure not to put too much pressure on the artwork, especially if it is fragile, while ensuring that it doesn’t shift during transit; it truly is an art form in and of itself when you see it in person!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Story Stitched In

By Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

One of the pleasures of designing an exhibit is getting to know the objects to be displayed. Behind the piece itself is usually a story about the maker and their life. Sometimes that is easy to read into a piece and other times the artist only leaves clues and little else.

One of the most intriguing pieces in Fenimore Art Museum's upcoming exhibit Unfolding Stories: Culture and Tradition in American Quilts, is the Trade and Commerce quilt. Created around 1835 the quilt is an exuberant depiction of life along a major river and truly exceptional for its conception and execution. The delightful vignettes of trade and commerce on water and on land reflect the observant eye and compositional expertise of its maker, Hannah Stockton Stiles. She clearly was familiar with the maritime trade, and her accurate depiction of the boats that formed part of the river traffic is remarkable.

Who was Hannah? She was born in Trenton, New Jersey to John and Hannah Stockton. We know she was married in 1818 to John Stiles of Philadelphia. That means the Delaware River was a familiar setting for Hannah in both her childhood and married life.

She stitched her story into the quilt with some references we can only guess at. Is it possible that the figures at the lower center of the outside border represent Hannah and her family? Perhaps she kept a cow and drove to market. Did her family own any of the boats depicted on the quilt? Whatever the answers, it is clear that life along the river was a major part of who Hannah was and how her life was shaped.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Remembering a colleague & making visitors feel welcome

By Nancy Pfau, Museum Docent

There are so many "perks" to being a Docent at Fenimore Art Museum -- lunch on the terrace on beautiful days with the lake and the incredibly beautiful plantings as background! This year our staff room, "The Rusty Roland Room," has a computer plus snazzy new chairs in an animal print -- we feel very special. What a great way to memorialize a former docent!

But best of all are the chances to meet fascinating visitors. Joyce and Mike Stern from Philadelphia requested a tour -- I know I learned as much from them as they did from me! Since retiring, their vacations are spent traveling around to regional art museums. They were very impressed with both special exhibits [Edward Hopper and Prendergast to Pollack] and wondered how the Fenimore was lucky enough to get such treasures. I remarked that we have excellent curators and Mike said he thought the State Department should look to museums for our Diplomatic Corps!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Moosehair Embroidery on Birchbark

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

When you go through The Eugene and Clare Thaw Gallery of American Indian Art or the open-storage Study Center the next time you visit Fenimore Art Museum, look for the intricate small objects made of birchbark and embroidered with moosehair. If you didn’t read the material section of the object label would you guess that the embroidery floss is made of moosehair? I had no inkling of this amazingly creative use of animal hair until I started to study Native American art.

Moosehair also was used by Native people prior to European contact to decorate objects but Native artists did not embroider directly onto birchbark. Prior to the use of birch bark to make decorative items Native people used it for canoes, wigwams, baskets, and more.

French nuns brought European embroidery traditions with them to the new world and started using moosehair as embroidery floss on birch bark in the beginning of the 18th century. The convents had little access to supplies and goods (imported silk treads etc.), and turned to local converted Native people and their natural resources for new materials.

The Native phase of creation of these wares began in the early 1800s. The mid 1800s saw a major turning point in the art of moosehair embroidery as tourism and the popularity of Native-made art purchased as souvenirs increased. Women embroidered many different types of objects with moosehair, creating wonderful masterpieces; boxes, scissor cases, needle cases, spectacle cases, card cases, cigar cases, purses, trays, fan handles, screen fans, pictures, decorative panels pincushion, photo frames, blotters and notecases. Ruth Phillips in her book Trading Identities wrote that “The origin of these wares was a true contact zone event that fused the technological knowledge of Aboriginal peoples with the entrepreneurship of the Quebec Nuns.”

The most common types of decoration are either local village scenes or everyday occurrences and include people, animals and plants.

This tray is embroidered with animal as well as human figures. The many scenes speak of life around the village. The woman on the left, smoking a pipe, may be going to the market with baskets she made for sale.

This small card case shows that the birchbark was first covered with red trade cloth and then a beautiful spay of moosehair flowers were embroidered on both sides of the case.

The short length of the moose-hair, only about 9-12 centimeters, makes only a few insertions possible for each hair. Natural dyes from roots, as well as aniline dyes, were used. The hair was pulled from the mane, rump, and neck of the moose because that is where the hair is the longest. The moose’s fall and winter coats provided longer and better quality hair.

The loose ends of hair on the reverse were always hidden by a second layer of birch-bark. The two panels, the decorated panel and the lining panel, were joined together and edged with strands of un-dyed white moose-hair laid along the edges and over-sewn with stitches of contrasting dark commercial thread.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Shine a Light, Part 2

By Steve Loughman, Preparator

In May, I told you about lighting the galleries in preparation for our exhibition openings of A Window Into Edward Hopper and Prendergast to Pollock: American Modernism from the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute. The process doesn't end there. One of my favorite parts of working at Fenimore Art Museum is being able to walk around the galleries first thing in the morning. It’s quite a different atmosphere when it’s just me and the art.  Every day I do my rounds in the galleries at least twice a day. Before we open for the day I like to make sure that all our lights are working, labels still look good, and the overall appearance of the galleries is ready for the day's visitors. Checking all the lights is quite the task in itself. To give you an idea we have about 100 lights on the 1st floor of the Fenimore Art Museum, and we have about the same in the Clark Gallery, where you can currently see Frida Kahlo: Through the Lens of Nickolas Muray!  

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Rain Rain, Go Away

By John Hart, Assistant Curator of Collections

There is a painting in the Fenimore Art Museum collection that always makes me stop and think, and this even after a few years of Paul D’Ambrosio explaining the work to my class as a student with the Cooperstown Graduate Program.

Poestenkill, N.Y., 1862
by Joseph Henry Hidley (1830-1872)
Oil on wood panel, H: 19” x W: 31 ¼”, N0382.1955. Photograph by Richard Walker

Poestenkill, N.Y., painted in 1862 by Joseph Henry Hidley, shows a typical New York in the 19th century whose sight lines not only draw you to the village, but to the clouds above. It makes you stop and think, ‘Has the storm passed or is it just arriving?’ 

Given the weather we’ve had in Cooperstown over the past few days (torrential downpours, thunder, lightning and streets flooding), I was reminded of this painting. We’ve had cloudscapes the past few days that definitely make you wonder, ‘How bad are we going to get hit this time?!’ Several years ago the area received such bad storms that several roads were washed out, a bridge was destroyed, and other significant damage.  I hope to not experience that anytime soon, and rather focus on the peaceful calm of the village of Poestenkill. 
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