In today’s weekly report, “Morning Headlines,” on WAMC/Northeast Public Radio, Jim Kevlin, editor/publisher of www.AllOTSEGO.com (and Hometown Oneonta & the Freeman’s Journal), discusses Gene Thaw’s contribution of 1,000 Native American art pieces The Fenimore Art Museum.
HAPPENIN’ OTSEGO for WEDNESDAY, JUNE 21
BASEBALL AUTHOR – 1 p.m. Stephen Wong, author of “Game Worn: Baseball Treasures from the Game’s Greatest Heroes and Moments,” comes to the Baseball Hall of Fame to discuss the book and take questions from the audience, followed by a book signing in the atrium. Bullpen Theater, Baseball Hall of Fame. Info, baseballhall.org/events/author-series-stephen-wong?date=0
ART DISCUSSION – 12:30-2:30 p.m. Join President and CEO Paul D’Ambrosio for this weeks Food for Thought discussion “Spirit of the Ice: The Art of Figure Skating Through the Ages” exploring the new Dick Button exhibit. Registration required. Cost, $25 members, $30 non-members. The Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown. www.fenimoreartmuseum.org/fenimore/programs/special_events or call (607) 547-1461
In today’s weekly report, “Morning Headlines,” on WAMC/Northeast Public Radio, Jim Kevlin, editor/publisher of www.AllOTSEGO.com (and Hometown Oneonta & the Freeman’s Journal), previews Dick Button’s “The Art of Figure Skating Through the Ages,” which opens Saturday for the season at Cooperstown’s Fenimore Art Museum.
250 Alumni, Spouses Due At 50th Fete
By JIM KEVLIN • The Freeman’s Journal
Edition of Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014
Louis C. Jones was on a Guggenheim in the Virgin Islands when Stephen C. Clark invited him to Cooperstown for “a chat.”
According to one story, the Joneses hadn’t brought a can opener and were unable to find one in the Caribbean, and Louie off-handedly told wife Aggie this would be a chance to pick up one up.
Interviewed on The Otesaga’s veranda, the future NYSHA director and founder of the Cooperstown Graduate Program told Clark he didn’t like rich people, wasn’t a Republican (some remember him as a follower of Norman Thomas, the socialist), disliked the country club scene – on and on. Not much of a hard sell.
But, it turned out – as current NYSHA President Paul D’Ambrosio recounted a few days before this weekend’s CGP 50th anniversary celebration – that was just the temperament Clark wanted for the task at hand. “Stephen Clark was such a unique individual, in his humanity and respect for every person,” said D’Ambrosio. “He believed ordinary men and women built this country and their story needed to be told.”
And so, in 1947, Louis Jones began his quarter-century tenure as NYSHA’s top executive, overseeing evolution of “The Fenimore House,” additions to The Farmers’ Museum (including the centerpiece Cornwallville Church) and, in 1964, CGP’s creation, a collaboration then and now between NYSHA and SUNY Oneonta. (SUNY Oneonta President Nancy
Kleniewski often calls CGP “the jewel in the crown” of the college’s graduate programs.)
As Wendell Tripp, longtime editor of New York History, NYSHA’s scholarly journal, and still a CGP adjunct, tells it,
Jones found a capable – and similarly independent – management cadre in place: Janet MacFarlane and Mary Cunningham, who ran the place during WWII, only to be supplanted when the men returned, and George Campbell, a farmer and one-time member of the village crew who had parlayed his knowledge of vintage farm implements into the position of curator.
“Louie Jones was a highly intelligent person – as a lot of people are,” said Tripp. “But he had a marvelous humanistic sensitivity so that he could lead, encourage and stimulate very creative people, without being domineering or subservient.” He was also a “marvelous raconteur” consulted in cultural matters by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and other of Albany’s leading lights. And so the NYSHA entities thrived.
Louie Jones was, first, an educator (with a lifelong interest in murders and ghost stories), coming to Cooperstown from the future SUNY Albany. “He knew there was no place in the country training young people in history museums,” said Gretchen Sorin, CGP’s current director. “A lot of museums had no professional staff.”
He was also intrigued with creating a program “on the campus of the museums” – that still sets apart the CGP today. And so, in the fall of 1964, the CGP welcomed its first class at “The White House,” that building to the north of The Fenimore.
Jones was its first director, for a while ceding general NYSHA responsibilities to Fred Rath, who became “acting” director, (though Jones kept a hand in it.)
The curriculum at the outset was heavily influenced by the Foxfire Movement, a 1960s an oral history and DIY (do it yourself) initiative that sought to preserve the legends, farming practices, recipes and other cornerstones of life in the Appalachian Region (Otsego County is at its north end.)
That impetus was very much alive when Sorin arrived on campus in the mid 1970s, (as it happened, CGP’s first black student.) The curriculum included in its museum management, folklore and art conservation classes, such activities as hog butchering (at The Farmers’ Museum) and a knowledge of maple syruping, moonshining and the like.
By the time D’Ambrosio arrived – an English major undergrad, he became intrigued with museum work during an internship helping conservators stabilize a collection of 19th century cartoonist Eugene Zimmerman at the Horseheads Historical Society – the folklore track had lapsed and art conservation had moved to Buffalo, where students could work on art more modern than NYSHA’s 19th century collection.
Today’s museum studies curriculum is guided by what Sorin refers to as the New Social History, still including the oral histories and studying “pre-industrial technology, but all focused on “ordinary people and everyday life.”
When all three programs were functioning, enrollment peaked in the 60 range, but today’s classes are 20 or so, meaning there are 35-40 students going through the two-year curriculum at any one time. They study, not just exhibits and collections, but administration, finance, fundraising and development and “cultural entrepreneurship.”
Responding to trends in the industry, students can also learn about science museums. The latest addition to the five-person faculty is Carlyn S. Buckler, a molecular biologist by training. There are another five part-time faculty members, including D’Ambrosio. (He and wife Anna, director of Munson Williams Proctor Art Institue in Utica, are one of a dozen “CGP couples.”)
A “big ideas” course – reflecting trends like diversity and evironmentalism – seeks to put museum studies in a larger context. “We want (our students) to be on the cutting-edge of scholarship,” said Professor Will Walker, who teaches that course, as well as overseeing oral history.
In the 1970s, the program had moved into a cinderblock building north of The Fenimore complex, a bit of a bunker, which it shared with SUNY Oneonta’s Biological Field Station. However, a $6 million redo three years ago gutted the building and replaced it with an airy modern structure, a glass wall looking out on James Fenimore Cooper’s Glimmerglass. It includes a gallery to give students hands-on experience, as well as a digital lab.
For years, the CGP and Winterthur, the University of Delaware’s museum-studies program, were seen as competing, but that’s past, Sorin believes, as the latter focused on decorative arts and the former on the real world.
“People love coming here,” Sorin said of the students she’s seen over 19 years. “They love this place. They love becoming part of the community.”
Of the 1,000-some graduates, many populate the heights of museum administration and scholarship. Hunt and peck through the CGP Alumni Directory, and a star emerges on every page, from Jane Spillman, “the queen of American glass” who recently retired from the Corning Museum of Glass, to Greg Harris, president of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
“Our program … gives SUNY Oneonta a national impact on how culture is preserved and presented to the public,” said Kleniewski, reflecting on the half-century record. “You’ll find our graduates everywhere from the California African American Museum in Los Angeles to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.”