Thursday, October 27, 2011

That's SOME quilt!

By Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

Quilt lovers have been flocking to our new Unfolding Stories: Culture and Tradition in American Quilts exhibition here at Fenimore. In addition to the raves about the expertise of the piecing, stitching or the creativity of our quilts many folks are dazzled by the sheer size of our “Star of Bethlehem” quilt. It was most likely created by either Providence or Henrietta Hildebrand Owens sometime around 1830. At a whopping 115” x 123” it is one big quilt.

As you can imagine, all of us –docents, visitors and staff– have spent some time trying to figure out why this terrific quilt is so darn big! Time to consult an expert! Jacquie Atkins, our guest curator, gave this response to my queries: “Quilts were functional objects in the 1820s, and although this may have been admired and used only for "best," it would not have been anywhere but on a bed…Keep in mind that many beds were higher in those days … so if the bed were five feet or so wide, that would have meant roughly a 2 1/2 foot drop on each side. Add a thick mattress (10-12" in well-off families) to an 18" high bed, and this does not seem so large after all.”

We can also say that in addition to its size, the quilt is a radiant example of the quilter’s skill and most likely created in a household that could afford the amount and expense of the fine fabrics.

Will the conversation and questions end there? We are wondering if this quilt was used to tuck multiple siblings into one bed on Christmas Eve. Time for a little more research…

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

One Stitch at a Time

By Stephen Loughman, Preparator

The gems of our quilt collection are currently on display in our exhibition Unfolding Stories: Culture and Tradition in American Quilts. Many of our quilts have previously been on display and were consequently already prepared for installation. However, one of our more important quilts, Trade and Commerce, had just returned from conservation (made possible with a grant from the Greater Hudson Heritage Network) and needed to be prepared for exhibition. All of our quilts have new acid-free fabric attached to the back of the quilt to protect it while on display, and to which we can affix hanging mechanisms. Our quilts in Unfolding Stories are hung with Velcro, which is attached at the top of this backing fabric so that there is no harm to the quilt from the Velcro.

Trade and Commerce also hangs on a very large slant, 8 feet by 9 feet to be exact, in order to reduce the pull of gravity on its fragile threads. The slant was built in two sections since I needed to be able to move it from my office on the 3rd floor of Fenimore down the stairs to the Clark Gallery. Once downstairs the two sections were attached and the whole slant was covered in felt fabric. The felt gives “tooth,” providing yet another layer of gravity resistance. The quilt looks fantastic in its new home, and I think its safe to say that visitors to the museum have been thrilled to see our masterpiece quilt on display once again!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Night at Our Museum returns!

By Amanda Cohen, Cooperstown Graduate Program student

There’s a mystery at the Fenimore Art Museum, and we need your help in order to solve it. What is this mystery? It’ll have to remain a secret until Saturday, November 5. From 6:00 to 8:30 PM that night, the Fenimore Art Museum will open its doors to families, budding detectives, art lovers, and visitors of all ages to participate in Night at our Museum. Night at our Museum is an opportunity for families to share art experiences in unique ways. One of the highlights of the evening is a participatory tour of the museum, set around a mystery. Visitors will have the chance to interact with pieces of art come to life, finding clues that will help solve the mystery. The evening will also feature live music, food, and more.

As second-year students at the Cooperstown Graduate Program, a few of my classmates and I have the opportunity to help plan this special event. Our primary task is to make this mystery play happen, taking it from script to the galleries. As I work on this project, I’ve found that it’s a lot like producing a play. We must cast the actors, identify and secure costumes and props, make rehearsal arrangements, block scenes, and conduct rehearsals. Night at our Museum is a great way for us to hone our project management skills and gain valuable experience in implementing educational programs. Also, in working with museum staff on this event, we have the opportunity to collaborate with people outside of our usual cohort of classmates.

What are we up to right now? We’re casting the actors—they’ll be playing the artworks that come to life. We’re also picking out some great costumes, using resources from The Farmers’ Museum and thrift shops so our actors can dress like the characters in the art that they’re portraying. We’re very much looking forward to our first rehearsal.

Even though the subject of our mystery will remain under lock and key until November 5, I thought I’d give you a few hints as to which exhibits will provide the clues, witnesses, and crime scenes. This should give you a chance to sharpen your detective skills before Night at our Museum.

• We might keep you warm in the winter, but if you unfold us, we’ll tell you stories about the past.
• There’s definitely buzz about our art, but you won’t find any bees in our gallery; instead, you’ll find pieces picked by you.
• You’ll find a lot of genres in this room, but our paintings have nothing to do with rock, pop, jazz, or classical music.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Back Stage

By Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

Or should I say, below the stage?

One of the things I love about my job is going where mere mortals usually don’t get to go. Let’s face it, we all like to have the restricted access door opened for us, or the velvet rope pulled aside for our entrance into some institution’s inner sanctum. Viewing a museum’s inner workings or collections is a real treat.

So you can imagine my enthusiasm when coworker Michelle Murdock and I got a behind the scenes peek at the Metropolitan Opera archives. The Fenimore Art Museum and the Glimmerglass Festival are enjoying creative collaborations, with our museum launching exhibits that are in tune (pardon the pun) with Glimmerglass’s repertoire. On that note, the Metropolitan Opera has kindly opened its considerable collections to us for possible display next year.

If you are an opera fan a visit to the Met Opera archives is a plunge into sensory overload. Walls are covered with images of famous singers and conductors while the storage area is neatly packed with costumes sporting the Met Opera label and familiar names such as Price, Ponselle and Domingo. Music from the dress rehearsals, going on overhead, is piped into the archives. Heady stuff, and a wonderful way for us to shape up an exhibit for next year!
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