Friday, August 26, 2011

Firefighting in the 19th Century

By John Hart, Assistant Curator of Collections

Over the past several months, the curatorial staff has been busy moving things around in the basement of the storage facility to make way for upgrades to the ventilation system. While doing so, we’ve uncovered quite a few things, including the image below.

Oneonta Fire Company, ca. 1847-1855

Having more or less grown up at the firehouse at which my father volunteered, I’m not a stranger to old fire apparatuses. I used to pull an early hose cart in my hometown parades and even got in trouble one day when I pumped the siren control on the old Mack fire engine and it came screaming to life, much to everyone’s shock and surprise (the siren hadn’t worked on the truck in years and somehow I figured out how to make it work).

For the 2007 season, Fenimore Art Museum had an exhibit titled Folk Art on Fire, which exhibited early fire fighting and fire-related folk art. It was a fascinating exhibit and one that I truly enjoyed. It was at that time that I was able to get my first good look at the fire pumper, Neptune, which our sister museum, The Farmers’ Museum, has in its collection. Dating between 1820 and 1830, this pumper, seen below, was the third pumper used by the Cooperstown fire department, which acquired it around 1841 after a devastating fire in the village. It remained faithfully in service until 1901.

Old Neptune No. 3

You’ve probably seen old fire apparatuses in parades, rusting away quietly in a field, or in museums, but it’s nice to know that photographs of the men that used that old equipment survive today and show, in some pretty striking detail, what was used before today’s technologically advanced fire trucks.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Posh Room of Requirement

By Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

There is one room at Fenimore Art Museum whose entrance is limited to only some of our visitors. It’s large, by most standards. In fact, larger than some Manhattan apartments I have lived in. It houses the most innovative early 20th century technology seen in the entire museum and one of its features is a constant delight to those who experience it. Yes, the magical place I am describing is the ladies’ lounge on the second floor.

Before Stephen C. Clark offered the property as a museum for the New York State Historical Association, the 1930s neo-Georgian house served as a home. The bathroom on the second floor had all the most modern conveniences, reflecting the sanitation movement of the early 20th century. The shower, which became popular for its healthful effects, is a great example of that trend. Rather than sit in a bath using stagnant water to cleanse oneself, people were urged to engage in showering for its “stimulating action on the skin and internal organs.” Multi-head showers, like the one in our ladies’ room, were very much in fashion for their health promoting benefits. Multiple showerheads could provide a therapeutic needle spray or shower spray directed at the back, legs or kidneys.

The shower stall is a source of great interest to our female visitors, but it does not provide the same level of delight as does the scale. Is it the historic nature of the apparatus that draws praise and attention? Could it be the tasteful way it is nestled into the floor of the room, between massage table and shower stall? No, it is the pleasure visitors derive from stepping on the scale and finding they have magically shed 15 lbs. simply by walking into the ladies’ room! Our miss-adjusted scale is a great morale booster and I strongly urge you give it a go while visiting.

I feel a little guilty flaunting all this glory in front of our gentlemen visitors. I have quietly taken an after-hours look into the second floor men’s room and can find little to recommend it. Our posh room of requirement is available to ladies only and gents will have to make do with this virtual peek at the inner sanctum.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Haida Totem Pole, One Year Later

By Stephen Loughman, Preparator

When Fenimore Art Museum received its magnificent Haida Totem Pole last year, one of the first questions that many asked was, "What will it look like next year?"

This morning I snapped a few photos of what the Totem Pole looks like today. The very top of the pole has turned to a pale, weathered look, and as you work your way down the piece it changes from light to dark. This color change highlights all the detail work that went into the carving of the pole - features such as the beaver’s tail and the eyes of each character. Nature has really made the work come alive, and the Totem Pole has become a piece of art that is changing from day to day, which is very cool indeed.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Otsego: A Meeting Place update

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

Otsego: A Meeting Place officially opened on July 2nd. I have blogged a few times about this new outdoor site at Fenimore Art Museum, so I thought a follow up with some pictures of the site and of the activities that takes place there would be in order.

This sign greats visitors just as they are about to enter the site:

Mike Tarbell, educator at the Iroquois Indian Museum is here and talking to some of our visitors. Mike is Mohawk and a terrific teacher sharing his experiences and knowledge of the Iroquois culture.

There is lots to see in the log house. On one wall a finger-woven sash that is in the process of completion and beaded bags and splint basketry on the shelves help to tell the stories of the people that called a dwelling such as this one home. An interpreter is in the house and ready to talk about objects and art.

Outside one of the summer interns is chopping wood for the fire where he later will be cooking beans.

The garden is still in its infancy since the first plating was eaten by crows, but hopefully there will be something to harvest this fall.

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