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Posts Tagged ‘James Fenimore Cooper’

I have mentioned here that my work will be the subject of an exhibition at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown , NY next year, running from August 17 through December 31, 2012.  I had not been at the museum for many, many years so last week Cheri and I decided to pay a visit to both see the space where the exhibit will be hung and to see the museum as a whole.

I haven’t been to Cooperrstown in quite a while but from the moment I enter this little gem of a village I remember how much I like the place.  I’ve used the word idyllic several times recently here but must use it again to describe the atmosphere of this village built around the southern end of Lake Otsego, the lake famously referred to as Glimmerglass by James Fenimore Cooper, a name that now graces the renowned seasonal operatic company that resides there, the Glimmerglass Opera.  It is just a lovely  place especially in the quieter days of late autumn when the tourist trade is a bit slower and the beauty of the place shines through. 

Turning by the grand Otesaga Hotel, you head north up the west side of Lake Otsego and come quickly to the museum, resting on a slight rise above the lake.  The museum was built on the former site of the James Fenimore Cooper farmhouse and across the road is the famed Farmer’s Museum with its beautiful stone barns and outbuildings. 

I can’t really tell you how impressed I was with the museum, from the moment I entered the front doors  until the moment we drove away.  It is a truly beautiful space that is maintained to the highest standards.  We met with with Paul D’Ambrosio who we have known for many years and who is the President of the museum.  He gave us a tour through the galleries, giving us an education on many of the pieces.  For instance, the piece shown to the right, Eel Spearing at Setauket from William Sidney Mount, is considered the painting which serves as the face of the Fenimore Collection.  We were told that the lady in the painting from 1845 still has family that lives near the site of this painting on Long Island and that they periodically make the pilgrimage to the museum to visit their now famous ancestor.

After seeing most of the collections, including the  fabulous Thaw Collection of American Indian Art, we finally made our way to the galleries on the second floor and came to the East Gallery, where next year’s exhibit will be held.  I was a bit nervous with anticipation, to tell the truth.  But finally seeing the space and visualizing my paintings in the space helped settle my nerves.  The space is neither small nor large but has a sense of intimacy that I think will serve my work well.  There is a fireplace at one end that I could see my work easily hanging above.  The anxiousness of the unknown faded away and the actual idea of how the show might look began to take its place.  I now had sometihing tangible on which  to build the show.  A different sort of anxiety set in but it is the kind I often have before any show so I view it as an old friend who will ultimately help me in my task.

We talked for a bit about wall colors for the show which I hadn’t even considered.  I began considering colors that will push the work forward off the walls and accentuate the color in my work.  As we were leaving, Paul told me that my show would ne hanging at a great time next year as the show  hanging at that time in the other upstairs gallery would be an exhibit of American Impressionism featuring Mary Cassatt.   They would have a Monet, as well, to show his influence on the American painters.  He said there would be great crowds in the late summer for that show and would be great exposure for my exhibit.

So, we departed and I drove through the rain of that day with new concepts of how the work in the exhibit would relate to the space and to each other.  I began to have second thoughts about some pieces that I had originally thought might be perfect and paintings that I had dismissed began to come back into play.  The visit and the tremendous quality of the space and the works there raised the bar for what I wanted from my own work.  The task now seemed larger than before and I knew that I would have to really focus in order to make it work as I know it can.

In short, it was a good visit.  Thanks for the wonderful tour, Paul!

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NC Wyeth The GiantIn an earlier post I talked about the great American painter Andrew Wyeth on the day after he died.  His father was NC Wyeth who was the preeminent illustrator of the early 20th century, illustrating some of the great books of the time.

Throughout his life, he wanted to be known not as an illustrator but as an easel painter, a fine artist.  There seemed to be this fine distinction that because an illustrator brought the scenes and ideas of others’ stories to life that they were somehow below the work of those who painted solely their own ideas.  I never understood that concept because it was still Wyeth who composed the paintings and created the colors and brushstrokes that distinguished the work.  Wasn’t this very much the same as many Renaissance artists who painted many of their great works for the Church?  Are they not considered fine artists?

NC Wyeth- Rip Van WinkleI’ve always been attracted to the work of NC Wyeth having seen it innumerable times in print.  There was a real dynamic quality, punch, in his paintings.  However, it wasn’t until I saw his work in person that I truly appreciated how beautiful his work truly was.

He treated many of his illustrations as fine paintings, with glorious paint appplication that created beautiful surfaces within the painting.  His colors were complex, hardly ever a pure single color.  His blues often had glazes of red, his whites tinged with yellows.  All of his colors had an  earthy base that gave them a dark edge and weight. His compositions were bold and inventive, highly contrasting and dramatic to best illustrate many of the adventure stories on which he worked.  In person, many of these paintings are even more stunning than on the printed page.

NC Wyeth Last of the MohicansHis non-illustrative work was much more mundane, less dramatic but well executed.  His real spark seemed to be from the stories he was bringing to life.  The Arthurian legends, the Leatherstocking tales of Cooper, the pirates of Robert Louis Stevenson–  all seemed fresh and new in his paintings.  Unlike many artists, I think being freed from having to create a narrative of his own actually gave him the opportunity to fully exploit all the knowledge of technique and composition he held.  As though having the decision of what to paint taken from his hands allowed that energy that would be expended to be used on making the painting stronger.  Whatever the case, whether you choose to call it fine art or illustration, the resulting work was memorable and deserves a nod.  It continues to inspire to this very day.

NC Wyeth Blind PewNC Wyeth

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