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Ansel Adams and More at the Fenimore Art Museum

Friday August 12, 2016                                                                 Most Recent Posts:
Glimmerglass State Park                                                                The Historic Village at Cooperstown

Cooperstown, New York                                                                 More Than a Farmer’s Museum




The Fenimore Art Museum is the showcase of the New York State Historical Association.  On the porch,  hang the banners of the two highlighted temporary exhibits on Ansel Adams and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec

I didn’t talk much about the importance of the Clark family to Cooperstown in my previous two posts but it was at the Village in the Pharmacy that I learned how much the city owes to  Stephen Carlton Clark. 

He was almost single handedly responsible for the revitalization of Cooperstown during and after the Great Depression.   He was heir to the Singer Manufacturing Company, his grandfather having been Singer’s business partner.  He worked with Major League Baseball to found the Baseball Hall of Fame here in 1939 and enticed the New York Historic society to locate here in the same year by offering his late brother Edward’s home as a new Historical Assocation headquarters and museum. The impressive neo-Georgian structure was built in the 1930s on the site of James Fenimore Cooper's early 19th century farmhouse on the shore of Otsego Lake, Cooper's Glimmerglass from the Leatherstocking Tales.  The museum relocated here in 1945.

Clark was a founding board member of the Museum of Modern Art and served on the Board of the Metropolitian Museum of Art.  Apparently, he was quite an adventurous collector owning works by Matisse, Monet, Rembrandt, Picasso and Cezanne as well as a collection of paintings by American artists incuding Edward Hopper, Thomas Eakins and Winslow Homer.    Once the historical society moved here he began collecting 19th Century American genre paintings, landscapes and portraits.  Selections of his works are in the museum including particular scenes of life in rural villages.  It was these collections that led him to the creation of the Living History Museum. 

In 1943 he transformed his brother’s stone barn and farmland into the Farmer’s Museum across Route 80 from the Art Museum.  I spent a wonderful day at the Farmer’s Museum yesterday and did two posts on it. You can read them using the links above. The first is the purple link, the blue is the most recent.



The house is very impressive and I am just amazed that this huge museum was once a single family’s home.  I am able to park along the circular drive that curves by the front door.  I arrive at 10am when it opens so I have my pick of spots.  I take one in the shade rather than right in front.

There are at least two temporary exhibits and one permanent exhibit that I know of that I want to see.

The totem pole on the front lawn looks rather out of place in front of the mansion but I love totem poles so I’m happy to see it.  More on that in a separate post.

I took 758 pictures of items and information but I’m only posting a few pictures from each installation. That won’t begin to give the huge scope of this art museum. Just imagine many times more than what you see.

The first thing I want to see and the main reason I came here, is the Ansel Adams (1902-1984) exhibit.  It is on the lower level at the bottom and back of this beautiful staircase.



These are Adams early works and are shown at the foot of each staircase arm and in the alcove behind it.  I learn a lot about Adams from this exhibit.  I knew he was a giant in the field of landscape photography but I did not know that in much of his early adulthood he was torn between a career as a concert pianist and one in photography. 



I apologize for the reflections in many of these photographs.  The lights in art museums are designed to illuminate the works and often reflect badly in photographs if they even allow you to take them.

This piece is entitled “From Wawona Tunnel, Winter in Yosemite 1935”.  Sure looks cold to be out hiking around taking photogrpahs.


I am mostly familiar with Adam’s high contrast prints on high gloss paper that were everywhere it seemed in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  I learn that this was due to the emergence of the first retail galleries devoted to photogrpahy.

This exhibit focuses on the small scale prints made by Adams from the 1920’s into the 1950’s.  This is new to me.



Adams made frequent pilgrimages to Yosemite from his home in San Franciso beginning in 1916 when he was 13 years old and using a Brownie Box Camera.  In 1937 he and his wife Virginia moved to Yosemite and took over her father’s photographic studio for a decade.  Interesting that he married a woman whose father had a photographic studio in his very favorite place.  Seems all this would have made his vocational decision for him.   Or was it total serendipity?














While other notable photogrphers were documenting the Great Depression and world War II, Adams, IMG_6411_thumbin 1944, set out to document life in the Manzanar War Relocation Camp, a notorious internment camp for Japanese Americans.  The resulting book is a collector’s item today but the installation information claims it is undistinguished.  He was close friends with Dorthea Lange but his gift was not in social documentary but in landscapes.  This photograph entitled Mount Williamson from Manzanar was one of his favorites.   He later wrote:

I believe that the setting of this camp, no matter how desolate the immediate desert surround, was strengthening inspiration to the people.  The enormous backdrop of the Sierra Nevada to the west and the high desert ranges to the east gave the nature-loving Japanese-Americans a certain respite from their mood of isolation and concern for the future.



There are two pieces titled “Aspens Northern New Mexico 1958” taken in the Sangre de Cristo mountains above Santa Fe.  As with his other prints, the medium is listed as vintage gelatin silver print but these look different to me.  For Adams clearly trees are “not simply trees, they are lacework, they are stencils, they are calligraphy.” 



In addition to the Ansel Adams exhibit, the other highlighted exhibit is also on the ground floor.   The Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit is in the Clark Gallery named in honor of the donor of the museum.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) is most famous for his posters depicting the night life of Paris. 



In 1891, Toulouse-Lautrec produced a color poster for the Moulin Rouge caberet which made him famous over night. His work promoting cafes and performers was displayed in the streets and galleries of Paris.




The artist also did posters for other things such as the one in the middle below done in 1894 to advertise a book by Victor Joze.  It is described as a rare and impressive poster.  The book apparently portrays the habits and customs of Berliners in a derogatory way.  Because of past military actions, Germany was considered a threat by many Parisians.  Victor Joze’s book caused a diplomatic incident with Germany and as a result, the poster was never used.




Another very interesting poster was the “Divan Japonais” done in 1893.  The subjects are two of the artist’s favorite performers but what is so amazing about this poster is that it was stored for 105 years unfolded until discovered in an attic in 2007.  Thus the poster is in excellent condition with all of its colors as bright and fresh as Toulouse-Lautrec would have seen them off the press.



There is one permanent exhibit on the ground floor but I’m going to skip it for now and go up to the main floor.


The Cooper Gallery is of course dedicated to the famous one time owner of this property James Fenimore Cooper.  There are belongings of his including a suit on display as well as a very interesting map of the area surrounding Ostego Lake showing some of the sites of scenes from The Leatherstocking Tales.




And of course a portrait of the famous man himself.



Also on the main floor is the American Painting Gallery.  This is most likely a place for rotating pieces of Stephen Clark’s collection.   He must have known I was coming, look who is here to greet me.


This bust of a fellow Charlottesvillian, Thomas Jefferson was done by John Henri Issac Browere in 1825 at Jefferson’s home, Monticello, when Jefferson was 82 years old. It was part of Browere’s quest between 1817 and 1835 to take life masks of America’s leading citizens in hopes of creating a portrait gallery of national heroes. I learn that the New York Historical society owns almost all of Browere’s surviving sculptures so I am smiling that this is the one on display today.

These busts made from life masks present these Americans just as they looked in life.




This painting by Thomas Cole, one of the founders of the Hudson River School of Landscape painting, from 1827 is of a scene from Chapter 12 of James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans painted less than a year after the novel’s publication.




Cole’s detail is just amazing.



I also enjoy the detail in this 1945 oil painting called Sugaring Off by Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma Moses”. 




Certainly not the amazing realism of Thomas Cole but the shear number of people and things going on here is fabulous.





I am a bit surprised though that Grandma Moses has made it into the serious American Art Gallery and is not in the Folk Art Area where I am used to seeing her. 

The star there is an amazing Shoe Shine Stand ca 1930 by Giovanni Indelicato who was a boot black in New York.

He did not use this stand but one of his customers had seen it and brought it to the attention of the director of the Museum of Modern Art who agreed to display it in the lobby during the Christmas Season.  The artist said he would not sell the set for a millioin dollars.  It was long presumed lost until it showed up at an auction in 2014, was bought by a dealer who then sold it to the Fenimore Museum. 

Indelicato had ornamented the shoe shine box, stool, customer’s chair and two footrests by afixing and hanging on them a multihued array of plastic beads, glass costume jewelry, metal bulbs and studs, ceramic figurines, and other items.  He painted the wood with floral motifs and upholstered the seats with patterned material.   It really is amazing.








What would a good folk art collection be without a cigar store Indian?  This one is a maiden carved by Thomas V Brooks in 1870. 


I was surprised to see an artist I just got to know this last winter in Key West,Mario Sanchez (1908-2005).  His work documents a style of urban life that existed between 1890 and 1910 in the area around Olivia Street in Key West where he grew up.   This was the cigar making community.  This is painted wood bas-relief.  The raised texture of it is what I really love.




With that, I head up the stairs to the top floor and the final galleries.  In the East Gallery is a group of of oil paintings of rural country landscapes of New York by contemporary artist Robert Schneider. 







This one is titled “Moonlight Madness, An Evening on Ostego Lake”.  I wonder at which cottage on the lake the artist was painting.  As I saw on my lake paddle the other morning, there are a lot of them.





Next door is the Perfection of Harmony exhibit of the work of James McNeill Whistler


I found his signature an intersting story although I don’t really see his initials in it.  The exhibit had  a great deal of biographical information on Whistler who apparently was quite a self promoter and egosit.  His oil paintings alone numbered over 500 in addition to pastels, watercolors, drawings and what are described as “exceptional prints”.




In two rooms on the opposite side of the top floor I really  enjoyed the work of contemporary artist Scott McKowen.  Like Toulouse-Lautrec, McKowen does posters for plays.   McKowen’s posters are all for Shakespearean Plays. I had never heard of him before but he is apparently very famous and I loved seeing his works  displayed in two lovely rooms which I suppose at one time were bedrooms.







This poster illustration was done in 2013 for The Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey production of “As You Like It”.  The information tells me that the poster “was inspired by the play’s themes of man learning from nature.  The butterfly and its life cycle mirror the 7 Stages of Man speech from the play.”  The illustration features a youthful Shakespeare, I assume McKowen’s imagination, and became the season poster and brochure for that year initiating an ongoing series of Shakespeare portraits for this theater.  I would love to have seen a few more to see where the artist took this.

His pencil sketches are amazing in their detail.



The working sketches for several of the posters were on a table in the middle of the second room with artist tools displayed around them.  This one is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.  The set for this production in Montreal included giant cobwebs and strings of hanging light bulbs.



The half human fire fly is wonderful



This poster for the inaugural production of a small Toronto theater company this past winter has Queen Hermoine rendered to look like the marble statue that comes to life in the play’s final scene.  The actress who played the part in the production posed for the illustration.







And finally, this poster is for a production of the current season at The Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey.  It was inspired by the real King Richard the II’s remains having been found buried under a car park in Leicester, England and confirmed by radio carbon dating and DNA tests matching two direct decendents of his sister Anne of York.  I don’t follow the news regularly, too much violence, but I did hear about this and wondered how a king could be buried in a place and forgotten about.  But I love the poster.


I’ve done it again, it’s within 10 minutes of closing time.  I’ve been here all day and have had a wonderful time.  I head down the lovely staircase and out the doors knowing that if I lived in this area, I would revisit this wonderful art museum many times.




The largest exhibit in the museum is on the ground floor in the central space between the two highlighted exhibits on Adams and Toulouse-Lautrec.  It really is magnificent but I have mixed feelings about it.  I’ll explain in the next post.


  1. I remember some years ago when I was young and single and in my Toulouse-Latrec stage. I had prints on just about every wall in my house. I'm sure outta that by now!

  2. Oh boy, my favorite, Ansel Adams! I got the honor of meeting him at a book signing of one of his last books 'Yosemite and the Range of Light'. He lived in Carmel and had a studio there. What a fantastic man. Thanks for bringing back good memories!

  3. Adams is one of my heroes. I was very lucky to take a class he held at Kodak when I was in my 20's. He was an amazing man!

  4. I'm sure I would have been told the place was closing after getting there at the opening of the day. I love Adam's works and so many other fine artists on display in this magnificent mansion

  5. This is a beautiful museum, the rooms as wonderful as the pieces displayed in them. The crown molding alone is a work of art. To see both Adams and Toulouse-Latrec is such a treat! Mom had several of the latter in her home for years. The Jefferson bust and Schneider's moonlight are two of my favorites. I've seen the poster firefly poster in L.A. and it's wonderful to see more of his drawings and final works here. There was a large room full of Grandma Moses' originals in Shelburne, but no photography was allowed. She definitely packed a lot of characters in her scenes. Another wonderful day!!

  6. This was in a time when people of wealth gave to the community. How inspiring to see the work of both Adams and Toulouse-Latrec, and such a contrast of style. Plus all the marvelous art collected and now available for us to see. That decorated shoe-shine is a kick. I so enjoy your museum tours.

  7. Truly an amazing and inspiring art museum. I'm shocked you only took 758 pictures... :cD

  8. I would happily accompany you on a day of leisurely browsing in an art museum. :-) The Fenimore looks fabulous! We saw a very small collection of Ansel Adams photography on San Juan Island recently—the accompanying video of Adams talking about his life and his work was absolutely delightful. How cool that there was a piece by Mario Sanchez in the Folk Art collection! I saw his work in Key West last winter, too, and loved it. You would be a wonderful museum docent, Sherry.

  9. I am so glad you were inspired and able to go see this wonderful museum. I haven't the stamina or patience to go all day looking at so much art. I was surprised to learn what a fabulous collection they have and enjoyed learning more about it!

  10. What beautiful art and architecture. The Adams exhibit really appeals to me- I've always loved his work.

  11. What a comprehensive collection and blog post. Fascinating. Thanks


  12. Ever since you arrived in NY, you have become a museum rat, and a really good one at that! I appreciate your taking the time and detailing your day at the museum.
    Having visited Manzanar in CA Ansel Adams described the location perfectly.

  13. What a wonderful museum with excellent exhibits. So much talent there. 758 pictures-that reflects how inspiring the place and art was :)

  14. What a beautiful building that is! The museum is stunning- all that wood and the beautiful chandeliers and so much space. My favorites are the shoe shine stand that has spots for the polish, the aspens by Ansel Adams and I absolutely love the half human firefly- so cool! Looks like you had a fantastic day!

  15. Those Shakespeare posters were gorgeous, what a unique display.


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