The Fenimore Art Museum Receives an Important Collection of Native American Art and Two New Acquisitions

Publication Date: 
September 2007
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COOPERSTOWN, N.Y., September 4, 2007—The Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, has received many notable gifts in recent months including a substantial Native American collection from the Barbar Conable family, a contemporary Native American work from Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw, and a historic musical instrument and landscape painting from Patricia B. Selch in memory of Eric Selch.

The Barbar Conable family’s Native American collection comprises eighty objects including several artifacts of Iroquois origin dating from the early 17th through the 20th century, which provide an excellent opportunity for the Fenimore Art Museum to tell a richer story of life in 18th- and 19th-century New York. Many of the objects will be used in a hands-on capacity in the museum’s Mohawk Bark House, a recreated 18th-century Iroquois hunting and fishing lodge, located on the shore of legendary Otsego Lake, while others will be on view in the museum’s galleries. Of particular note is a beautifully beaded finger woven sash from the late 18th century. This stunning object incorporates white beads, a valued trade item between the European settlers and the Native Americans. The collection also features a richly detailed 1790 carved powder horn, which is an excellent example of early life on the frontier. The Plains Indians are also represented in this collection through many quilled objects, including a hair ornament, moccasins, and a hide tobacco bag.

Barbar Conable (1922-2003) was born in Warsaw, New York, a small town in the northwestern part of the state. It was there that he discovered Indian arrowheads plowed up by local farmers, which piqued his interest in Native American artifacts and formed the genesis for his lifelong passion for collection. Conable served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1965-1985 and was appointed the seventh President of the World Bank Group from 1986-1991.

The Fenimore also received a new acquisition, “When We Were There” (2006), a collage by renowned contemporary Native American artist Arthur Amiotte (Lakota), from Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw for the Thaw Collection of American Indian Art. Amiotte incorporates specific elements of the past into his work, using not only his family’s history, but also Lakota history, putting all in the context of a general, historical past. In this collage, Amiotte illustrates the travels and adventures of his great-grandfather, Standing Bear, and other Lakota peoples throughout Europe with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West traveling shows. Amiotte’s work is widely exhibited and held in many private and public collections throughout the United States. Fenimore’s season exhibition, Myth and Reality: Art of the Great Plains, features a painting depicting the Battle of Little Big Horn by Amiotte’s great-grandfather Standing Bear. “When We Were There” is currently on view in the American Indian Wing.

The Selch Collection is one of the largest private collections of historic American musical materials in the United States, and we are pleased to announce that we received a donation of a reed organ, made by A.L. Swan of Cherry Valley, New York, and patented May 7, 1850, from Patricia B. Selch in memory of Eric Selch. Frederick Selch (1930-2002) is best known as a preeminent authority on American musical instruments and musical culture and his prolific collection of musical instruments, manuscripts, books and works of art relating to American musical culture. Before being acquired by the Selches, the melodeon was in the Deansboro Musical Museum, a private collection that was open to the public for many years. It was dispersed by auction in the late 1990s.

The Selches have also given a painting, Windham Valley in the Catskills, A Tollgate on the Susquehanna Turnpike, by Henry A. Duessell, ca. 1893. This painting depicts Windham, New York during the 19th century and includes an iron bridge, residential dwellings, and the ‘Old Bump Tavern,’ shown in its original location, which is now in The Farmers’ Museum’s historic village. Also visible in the painting is a tollbooth and sawmill, relating to an earlier use of the turnpike as a plank road. The painting is on view at the entryway into the Main Gallery on the first floor of the museum.

About 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 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 30. For museum hours or general information, please call 1-888-547-1450 or visit www.fenimoreartmuseum.org.

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