by Ken Lund
Nestled on the western shore of Otsego Lake – James Fenimore Cooper’s “Glimmerglass Lake” – in historic Cooperstown NY, the Fenimore Art Museum presents a perspective on the heritage and history of America through art. The beauty of the museum setting and the museum’s expansive galleries are matched by the quality of the collections it houses, including some of the nation’s finest examples of folk art; landscape, history, portrait, and genre paintings by some of the best known American artists; more than 125,000 historical photographs; and the renowned Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of Native American art.
The Fenimore Art Museum is that rare art museum where one can see diverse collections of American art in rich and eclectic exhibitions. William Sidney Mount, Thomas Cole, Gilbert Stuart, Benjamin West, E.L. Henry, Eastman Johnson, Thomas Waterman, John Wesley Jarvis, Grandma Moses and Ralph Fasanella are all represented in the museum’s holdings.
Comprising nearly 850 art objects, the Native American art collection is widely recognized as one of the nation’s premier collections of American Indian art. Representing a broad geographic range of North American Indian cultures, including Northwest Coast, Woodlands, Prairie, Plateau, Plains, Southwest, California, The Great Basin, Arctic and Subarctic, The New York Times described it as “a collection any museum in the world should envy.”
The exhibition explores the extraordinarily diverse forms of visual expression in Native American heritage. Organized by geographic culture areas, the objects were chosen both for their high artistic quality and to provide insight into the complex cultural, aesthetic and spiritual meanings embedded in the art. The objects span 20 centuries dating from pre-history to today, and celebrate the continuing vitality of Native American art.
Fenimore’s folk art collection is one of the nation’s largest and finest. Begun with extensive gifts from Stephen C. Clark, the collection includes a variety of paintings, ship figureheads, quilts, weathervanes, trade signs, cigar-store figures, carvings, and decorated stoneware, all created by American folk artists. The oldest piece in the collection, a seven-foot-long panel on which Hudson River Valley painter John Heaton depicted the Martin Van Bergen farmstead in 1733, is considered to be the earliest scene of everyday life ever painted in this country.
The fine art collection contains some of the best examples of American landscape, history, and genre painting. The works of Hudson River School painters are well represented and include Thomas Cole’s Last of the Mohicans and Asher B. Durand’s Hudson River Looking Toward the Catskills. Historical portraits include Gilbert Stuart’s Joseph Brant, Ralph Earl’s Baron Von Steuben, and Benjamin West’s Robert Fulton.
In addition to the permanent collections, the Fenimore Art Museum has won critical acclaim in recent years for its exhibitions showcasing American masters such as Winslow Homer, Frederic Remington, Grandma Moses, and John Singer Sargent. The museum’s traveling exhibitions program has reached hundreds of thousands of people across the country.
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