Fenimore Art Museum Present Stunning Display of Antique Firefighting Memorabilia

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COOPERSTOWN, NY, March 26, 2007Folk Art on Fire celebrates the camaraderie and bravery of 19th century American firefighters through a stunning display of folk art of the time. Fire companies were eager to celebrate their value to their communities by embellishing their everyday gear and ceremonial dress, and by commissioning noble portraits of firefighting heroes. In this exhibit, drawn from the collections of Robert and Katharine Booth, the Bucks County Historical Society, and Fenimore Art Museum, viewers will see more than 70 objects including elaborately decorated hats, buckets, banners and clothing as well as paintings and firefighting equipment. The exhibition will be on view through December 30, 2007.

In the pre-photographic era, many painted images documented and commented upon fires and firemen of the time. Many have become familiar icons and images that remind us of both the horror of fire and the heroism of its combatants. They are symbols of another era, rendered with varying proportions of artistic naturalism and license by both accomplished and untutored hands. They enriched everyday utilitarian objects, such as hats, buckets, oilcloth capes, trade signs and engines or fire pumpers. They have an element of whimsy and individuality that relieves the seriousness of their common theme.

Choice of symbol or theme spoke volumes about the volunteer fire company and resonated loudly in the minds of their observers. Images of well-known and secular heroes celebrated the duality of artisan and gentleman that characterized many of the individual firemen. Greek legends and classical imagery created a visual link to heroic citizens and civilizations of the past. The Liberty figure was common and represented the triumph of our new democracy and our civic freedoms.

The most lavish and imaginative decorations were reserved for the fire engines, whose condenser sides were slotted to receive oil-on-board painted panels. These were often applied for parades and removed for work.

Whatever the ultimate place of these firefighting artifacts in the spectrum of American folk art, it is important to remember that legions of our ancestors paraded proudly beneath these hats and truly treasured their buckets. That some survive to this day should remind us of the unselfish courage and personal valor of our firefighters, then and now.

David Lewis, Curator of the Aurora Regional Fire Museum in Aurora, Illinois, is the guest-scriptwriter for the exhibition.

The exhibition is sponsored in part by Robert and Katharine Booth and New York Central Mutual.

About the Fenimore Art Museum
One of the nation’s premier art institutions, the Fenimore Art Museum is home to an exceptionally rich collection of American folk art and American Indian art as well as important holdings in American decorative arts, photography, and twentieth-century art. Founded in 1945 in Cooperstown, New York, the museum is part of the New York State Historical Association (NYSHA), founded in 1899. The museum’s renowned Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection, housed in the American Indian Wing, is a masterpiece collection of more than 800 art objects, representing a broad scope of North American cultures. The collections of folk and American art include seminal works by Grandma Moses, Gilbert Stuart, Thomas Cole, William Sidney Mount, Benjamin West, and John H. I. Browere. The museum offers a range of interactive educational programming for children, families, and adults, including lectures and workshops for museum visitors and distance learning instruction for classrooms nationwide. The museum further explores and examines our cultural history by organizing and hosting nationally touring art and history exhibitions, including Grandma Moses: Grandmother to the Nation; Treasures from Olana: The Landscapes of Frederic Edwin Church; A Deaf Artist in Early America: The Worlds of John Brewster, Jr.; Winslow Homer: Masterworks from the Adirondacks; and Ralph Fasanella’s America.

The Fenimore Art Museum is located on 5798 State Hwy. 80, Lake Road, in Cooperstown. The museum’s Fenimore Café, overlooking beautiful Otsego Lake, features wonderful views and a tranquil setting amid the terraced gardens. The Museum Shops offer fine jewelry, art reproductions, and a wide selection of publications on folk art, history, and Native American art. Museum admission is $11 for adults, $9.50 for visitors age 65 and over, and $5 for children age 7 to 12; children 6 and under and NYSHA members are admitted free. Reduced price combination admission tickets that include The Farmers’ Museum and The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum are also available. The museum is open from April 1 through December 30. For museum hours or general information, please call 1-888-547-1450 or visit www.fenimoreartmuseum.org.


For more information and images, please contact:
Christine Liggio/Public Relations Office
Fenimore Art Museum/ New York State Historical Association
Phone: (607) 547-1472/E-mail: c.liggio@nysha.org

Press Release Category: 
Exhibition Press Releases
Publication Date: 
March 2007