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Cooperstown, NY (August 13, 2008) - The Fenimore Art Museum presents Through the Eyes of Others: African Americans and Identity in American Art.  This exhibition, curated by Gretchen Sullivan Sorin, Director and Distinguished Professor of the Cooperstown Graduate Program, utilizes a multitude of visual images and artifacts collected by 19th-century collector Stephen C. Clark and The New York State Historical Association.  The selections help us understand the role that race played in American culture in the past and the legacy that attitudes about race bring to bear on the present day. This distinct exhibition opens Saturday, August 23rd and runs through December 31st.   

The art of the New York State Historical Association—largely a nineteenth-century collection—includes images of African Americans that fit within two categories. Most of the images show us artists’ views of black people that were acceptable to the American mainstream. They illustrate how the nation perceived their black countrymen—seen, as W.E.B. DuBois, African American writer and intellectual, put it—“through the eyes of others.”  The portraits commissioned by black sitters or works of art produced by black artists offer viewers an alternative perspective. These self-presentations, some of which are anonymous, show individual voices and distinct personalities. The exhibition juxtaposes these nineteenth-century views of American life with contemporary interpretations by prominent African American artists to examine how we, as Americans, have constructed and interpreted race.  

Sorin states, "Since our perceptions of one another are grounded in that which we see, this exhibition - a new look at the collections of the New York State Historical Association, in concert with the work of a wide variety of African American artists - is designed as an exploration of visual culture to start the conversation anew. Conversations about race are uncomfortable and often avoided or denounced as no longer necessary. But such conversations are the tools that we Americans use to collectively and continuously expand our democracy." 

Through the Eyes of Others: African Americans and Identity in American Art  contains paintings by celebrated artists such as William Sidney Mount, Thomas Cole and African American artists including Romare Bearden, Kyra Hicks and Betye Saar - as well as a multitude of other works including drawings, photographs, woodcuts, art objects, books and ephemera.

Upon closing, the exhibition will embark on a national tour.

 Gretchen Sullivan Sorin is Director and Distinguished Professor of the Cooperstown Graduate Program. She has worked for more than 200 museums as an historian, exhibition curator, strategic and interpretive planner and writes about African American history and art. Major exhibitions include In the Spirit of Martin: The Living Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King for the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, Bridges and Boundaries: African Americans and American Jews for the Jewish Museum in New York City, and Freedoms’ Journals for the New York Public Library. Sorin is the author of Touring Historic Harlem: Four Walks in Northern Manhattan with Andrew Dolkart and In the Spirit of Martin: The Living Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  

This exhibition is funded in part through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.  


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 American folk and fine art include seminal works by Grandma Moses, Gilbert Stuart, Thomas Cole, William Sidney Mount, and Benjamin West. 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.; 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 Shop offers 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 31; closed January through March, except for special events and school groups. For museum hours or general information, please call 1-888-547-1450 or visit


For more information or images, please contact:
Todd Kenyon, Public Relations
New York State Historical Association
Fenimore Art Museum/The Farmers’ Museum
Phone: (607) 547-1472 / E-mail:

Press Release Category: 
Exhibition Press Releases
Publication Date: 
August 2008