Preserving • Engaging • Educating
Fenimore Art Museum is dedicated to welcoming and connecting people to our shared cultural heritage through exhibitions and programs that engage, delight, and inspire.
Fenimore Art Museum originated as the New York State Historical Association, founded in 1899 by New Yorkers who were interested in promoting greater knowledge of the early history of the state. They hoped to encourage original research, to educate general audiences by means of lectures and publications, to mark places of historic interest with tablets or signs, and to start a library and museum to hold manuscripts, paintings, and objects associated with the history of the state.
In 1939, Stephen Carlton Clark offered the organization a new home in the village of Cooperstown. Clark, an avid collector, took an active interest in expanding the holdings of the Association and in 1944 donated Fenimore House, one of his family's properties, to be used as a new 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.
Fenimore House was large enough to have both extensive exhibition galleries as well as office and library space. The collections and programs continued to expand and a separate library building was constructed in 1968. In 1995, a new 18,000 square foot wing was added to Fenimore House to accommodate the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection which is one of the nation's premier collections of American Indian Art. In 1999, in recognition of our world-class collections, we renamed the Fenimore House to Fenimore Art Museum.
Fenimore Art Museum is closely affiliated with its sister organization, The Farmers' Museum.
The artistic vision of Fenimore Art Museum is to provide broad public access to the highest quality artistic works in American and Native American culture. Over the more than 70 years that the museum has been in existence it has played a special role in expanding the boundaries of the established artistic canon; first with 19th-century American art (not appreciated in the 1930s and 1940s), then with American folk art (not really widely known until the 1970s) and most recently with Native American art (which began to be seen as art in the 1980s and 1990s). Our concentration is in 19th-century New York State, owing to our location and institutional history, but as Fenimore Art Museum has grown in prominence and importance it has evolved. Today we strive to provide a dynamic program of changing exhibitions and programs on topics that go well beyond New York’s borders in order to provide a more comprehensive cultural experience for our underserved region of the state. To accomplish this goal we partner with other cultural organizations such as The Glimmerglass Festival, and are currently expanding our repertoire of programs to include performing arts and year-round programming.
Fenimore Art Museum will be best served in the next several years by improving and strengthening our programs, operations, and financial position; further developing our marketing effectiveness and fund raising capacity; and looking closely at its longer-term ambitions. We must position ourselves to tackle selective capital needs and more ambitious projects by building a strong foundation, quantifying and prioritizing our needs, and developing the case for support.