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greater oneonta historical society

Homemade Cards Capture Christmas

Homemade Cards

Capture Christmas

Mullen in his studio at Good Shepherd Village, Endicott, where he retired. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special To AllOTSEGO.com

This year’s coveted Mullen Christmas card, the Star-Rose.

There’s something special, James Mullen believes, about a Christmas card.

“Because there’s an exchange at the same time of the year, they’re a lot of fun to receive as well as to give,” he said.

And Mullen would know – the former dean of SUNY Oneonta’s Fine Arts Department, he has been making cards for 64 years. “I made 200 this year,” he said. “It’s the most I’ve ever sent!”

His cards are in the Archives of American Art in the Collections at the Smithsonian, including several in their book “Handmade Holiday Cards From 20th Century Artists,” and the subject of a recent show at SUNY’s Martin-Mullen Gallery that ended this week.

A Penn State graduate, he made his first card in 1955 as an assignment. “We had to use a Wrico Pen, which you filled with India ink and used it to draw freehand,” he said. “I did a stylized Mother and Child,” he said.

The pens were used for plastic lettering stencils, to allow duplicating in the day before Xeroxes.
And when he arrived at SUNY Oneonta in 1963, card-making was all the rage in the art department.

“Artists are unique to exchange with because they are sending something they consider to be so personal,” he said. “That exchange is always very special to me.”

He’s made cards with letterpress and etchings on zinc, relief prints and, most recently, in Adobe Illustrator. This year’s card, “Star-Rose,” was a lithograph carved in limestone and pressed at the Corridor Press Studio in Otego, then reproduced and printed at his home studio at Good Shepherd Village in Endicott.

Martin-Mullen Gallery Director Tim Sheesley reached out to him in June, and asked him to think about announcement cards. “I was making a lot of birthday cards, and rose is the birthday flower for June, so that motif became this year’s card,” Mullen said.

Fifty of the cards included an original lithograph of the Star Rose. “Last year I created a Santa Claus card, but I got so into the process that I created more than one card!”

He collects cards as well, including many from former students. One is Elaine Downey, who participates in the Artisans’ Guild and also studied with Art Professor Emerita Nancy Callahan, sent him a card.

“When I opened it, it was sublime,” he said. “Another student sent me one that’s a letterpress printing on rice paper. That’s the fun part of it. You never know what you’re going to get.”

Mullen’s late wife, Sally, is credited for the revival of what is now the Greater Oneonta Historical Society, and many of his cards are in the GOHS archives.

“A lot of people received Jim’s cards,” said GOHS Executive Director Bob Brzozowski. “And a lot of people, myself included, still do!”

GOHS also has more than a decade’s worth of former SUNY Art Department Dean Minnie Martin’s cards. “Minnie was my chair,” said Mullen. “She had experience in almost every kind of art – ceramics, jewelry, printmaking, and she made beautiful cards.”

In addition to the Mullen and Martin cards, GOHS has cards that Ronald Rowley, the former city judge, and wife Marjorie sent to friends, made from images of Otsego County winter life that the husband painted over the years.

“Christmas cards are true ephemera,” said Brzozowski. “People keep Christmas cards, and we still send them. It’s a very personal way of sending greetings at the holidays.”

4 Bresee Elves Return To Oneonta

4 Bresee Elves

Return To Oneonta

Present at the installation of Bresee’s Christmas figurines in the Oneonta History Center’s windows are, clockwise from front, St. James Manor Superintendent of Building and Grounds Tim Hornbeck, St. James Executive Director Kathy Clarkson, Breck Tarbell from the St. James maintenance staff, GOHS Executive Director Bob Brzozowski and John Pontius, who is on both the GOHS and St. James boards and organized the loan. How quaint! The doe is ironing. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)

By JIM KEVLIN • Special To AllOTSEGO.com

Joining the ironing doe is the seamstress doe, mending Santa’s cap.

ONEONTA — A quarter-century after Otsego County’s department store closed, the Magic of Christmas is still the Magic of Bresee’s.

Four of Bresee’s automatic elves plus two does – one ironing, the other mending Santa’s cap – are on display behind the Oneonta History Center’s plate-glass windows through Monday, Dec. 9, and “it’s been great,” said Bob Brzozowski, Greater Oneonta Historical Society executive director.

“You see people stopping, or doing a double-take,” said Brzozowski.

Bresee’s magic is wrapped up in community and family, said Marc Bresee, who worked in the store during its final days.

Bresee’s was open late one night a week – Thursday, he said – and the Christmas display was installed only a week or two before The Big Day, so Yuletide Thursdays would be particularly brisk, he said, with 700 meals served.

Four of Bresee’s original elves are in the Oneonta History Center window through Dec. 9

After supper, everybody – young and old alike – would trek upstairs to visit Santa Claus, surrounded by his mechanical entourage.

The department store, which opened in 1899, closed in 1994, although Marc Bresee continued to sell furniture in part of the building. The building changed hands in 2003, and on Dec. 11 of that year the contents, including the Santa paraphernalia, were auctioned off at Lettis’ Auction on the city’s east end.
It was the first auction after Kevin Herrick bought the business, and since it was such a significant – even historic – local event, auctioneer Jim Lettis, a former Oneonta mayor, wielded the gavel with the new owner’s concurrence.

Most notable, Herrick remembers, were the mechanical horse – feed it with a nickel, and get a ride; same thing with mechanical Rudolph. The giant Crayola crayon – sold! – and giant dice.

Of the total, 14-some mechanical elves and figurines were sold to a couple in the Town of Davenport, and in 2010 they donated their collection to St. James Manor, Executive Director Kathy Clarkson recalled the other day, as she helped a crew of five put up the History Center installation.

Later, Marc’s wife Elaine donated additional elves that had been in their garage. “I thought I would put them on the porch at Christmas,” the husband said. “But we never did.”

Another member of the crew was John Pontius, who happens to be both a St. James board member and GOHS incoming president, (succeeding Corinne Bresee Smith, Marc’s daughter.)

“It came to my mind lots of people would like to see them,” Pontius said, adding he had been introduced to the Bresee’s Christmas legacy when he and wife Andrea moved their family here from Waterloo in the early 1980s. Clarkson was raised in the Town of Davenport, and Bresee’s was part of her family’s holiday routine.

While the figures were being installed, who showed up but Kelly Rogers, a one-time intern at St. James, now with Catholic Charities, who had darned the elves costumes when she was there. She and Clarkson examined the figurines, which are wood frames enhanced with papier mache limbs.

The limbs are powered by electric gear motors, Model F, manufactured by Bevel, and are tough to find, said St. James Building & Grounds Superintendent Tom Hornbeck, who said they date from the 1930s or ’40s, when the Bresee’s display was put together.

To keep the little motors from overheating, Brzozowski said, they are only being run about 10 minutes per hour. “We want to make sure they will be around for other people to enjoy in years to come,” he said.

The conversation during the installation turned to where all the pieces might have ended up.

The History Center has the mechanical Santa, which was installed at 183 Main St. over the weekend, as well as the mailbox where kids would post their letters to the North Pole. They were brought out over the weekend to join the St. James’ group.

Carla Balnis has a mechanical skating rink.

For years, the popular Rudolph was in the hands of Greg Noonan, Cherry Valley, who said he sold it to a local Rudolph enthusiast who is building it a new saddle, and has added a cape.

Marc Bresee reflected that the department store installation, in these days of sophisticated video games, may not be as appealing to the young as the young at heart.

“It’s the older generation that remember them from the windows at Bresee’s,” he said.

See them while you can. The History Center display will be in place during the city’s Santa Parade at 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, followed by the community tree-lighting at 5:30 p.m. in Mueller Plaza.

The following Monday, the does and elves will be returned to St. James for residents there to enjoy through the rest of the season, and replaced by winners of the city’s annual gingerbread contest.

HAPPENIN’ OTSEGO for SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2019
HAPPENIN’ OTSEGO for SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 23

Wintertime Sports Of Otsego County

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ANGEL TREE PROGRAM – Give the Gift of Christmas this holiday season. Adopt a family in need. Visit www.allotsego.com/angel-tree-program/ to learn how.

EXHIBIT OPENING – 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Discover new winter exhibit “Otsego On Ice: Histories of Wintertime Sport” featuring Fenimore’s outstanding collection of ice skates, snow shoes, sleds, more. Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown. 607-547-1400 or visit www.fenimoreartmuseum.org

Treasures Abound At GOHS Auction

Treasures Abound

At 13th GOHS Auction

Hand-sewn quilts, sterling silver tea sets, maps, furniture and more were all up on the auction block at the 13th annual GOHS Auction held at the Quality Inn Friday evening. Above, Marcella Drago, left, and daughter-in-law Kathy Drago look over a Bible from 1847 that was part of the silent auction. At right, Grace Smith and Claire Smith show off some Hitchcock chairs to the crowd after the main auction got under way. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

 

Philo Vance Film Series Concludes With Lecture From Mystery Novelist

LIBBY CUDMORE SHARES INSIGHTS

Mystery-Writing Editor

Places ‘Oneonta-Born’

Philo Vance In Context

Oneonta mystery writer Libby Cudmore assesses Philo Vance’s place in the golden age of detective fiction at this evening’s third installment of the Philo Vance Film Series at the Greater Oneonta Historical Society.  The talk preceded a screening of “The Dragon Murder Case,” based on one of the lesser beloved of S.S. Van Dine’s 12 novels featuring the detective that Van Dine (aka Willard Huntington Wright) created while living in his aunts’ home on River Street. At  left are GOHS Executive Director Bob Brzozowski and Father Ken Hunter, St. James Episcopal pastor and a mystery buff, who organized the film series.  Cudmore is also managing editor of Hometown Oneonta, The Freeman’s Journal and AllOTSEGO.com.  Her “The Big Rewind” was published by William Morrow in 2016. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
HAPPENIN’ OTSEGO for SATURDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2019
HAPPENIN’ OTSEGO for SATURDAY, OCTOBER 19

Prepare For The Holidays

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PRE-CHRISTMAS SALE – 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. Find gently used holiday decorations including lights, undecorated wreaths, ornaments, tableware, more. Also enjoy goodies at bake sale. Proceeds benefit mission programs of United Methodist Women. Cooperstown United Methodist Church, 66 Chestnut St., Cooperstown. 607-547-9515 or visit www.cooperstownumc.org

1st Detective ‘Talkie’ Begins Philo Film Series

1st Detective ‘Talkie’

Begins Philo Film Series

Fr. Kenneth Hunter welcomes viewers to the opening night of the Philo Vance film series at GOHS with a showing of “The Green Murder Case” from 1921. The film features William Powell (of ‘The Thin Man’ fame) during a turning point in his career, as Philo Vance. The film was also the first detective movie to feature audio dialogue as pictures moved away from the silent film era. Paul Jensen, right, a retired professor, was on hand to give a little background on Powell’s career before the start of the film. After reading an article in a Hometown Oneonta article about the local house owned by S.S. Van Dine, the creator of Philo Vance, Fr. Hunter felt inspired to create the film series to introduce more locals to this famous local author. The next film will be Tuesday, Oct 22, followed by third Oct 29.(Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

Volunteers Bruce, Wright & Smith Honored For Service To GOHS

GOHS Honors President Corinne Smith,

Volunteers Deb Bruce, Wayne Wright

The Greater Oneonta Historical Society honored three of its own this evening during the Annual Meeting & Awards Reception. Above, Executive Director Bob Brzozowski stands with honorees Corinne Smith, outgoing president, right, and Deb Bruce, who were awarded Eduard Hofbauer Outstanding Service Awards, and Wayne Wright, recipient of the Albert E. Morris Award for  contributions to local history. Smith has served two terms as president of the Board of Trustees, overseeing the near-completion of the Oneonta History Center in the former Laskaris store.  Bruce most recently served as the database coordinator, in addition to being a trustee, board member and on the Collections Committee over 15 years . Wright, a former trustee, has served as GOHS librarian,  compiled a topical index of Ed Moore’s volumes of “In Old Oneonta,” and worked with the  Cooperstown Graduate Program students as they learned to become museum professionals. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Historians Say Literary Mecca Out Of Danger
Philo Vance Home Safe For Now

Historians Say Literary

Mecca Out Of Danger

By LIBBY CUDMORE• Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

The novel couldn’t have been written in the cupola: There’s only 3 feet of headroom. (Ian Austin/HOMETOWN ONEONTA & The Freeman’s Journal)

The River Street birthplace of detective Philo Vance may still be saved.

On Monday, June 10, Bob Brzozowski, Greater Oneonta Historical Society executive director, went through the 31 River St. home where William Huntington Wright – aka S.S. Van Dyne – wrote parts of his debut novel, “A Man of Promise.” Later, while recovering from a cocaine addiction, is believed to have written his first detective novel, “The Benson Murder Case,” a best-seller and the first of a dozen novels featuring dandy detective Philo Vance.

The house, owned by his maiden aunts Bertha and Julia Wright, was sold to the Salvation Army earlier this spring for $90,000. The original intent was to demolish it for a parking lot and, eventually, a new building for expanded programming, including the food pantry.

But when word of the home’s literary history got to Brzozowski, he began researching ways to save it. He arranged a tour with the Salvation Army, who took him around the grounds and through the house.
“Right away, we noticed that the entire house was dry, even though the weekend had been very rainy,” said Brzozowski. “Though obviously, there are other issues.”

At some point, the residence was chopped into apartments, but strangely. “There are two kitchens right beside each other,” said Brzozowski. “There’s one living space on the first floor and two on the second.”

Though no furniture was left, Brzozowski did find some “knick-knacks,” including a 1966 newspaper, a WWII-era canvas pouch in a tin box in the basement and a couple of “really interesting lamps.”
“There could have been stuff there that belonged to the Wright family, but it would be hard to detect,” he said.

But perhaps the biggest revelation of all is that the cupola, where legend had it that Wright did all of his writing, wasn’t big enough to accommodate the writer – or anyone.

“It’s maybe three feet from floor to ceiling,” he said. “It’s not like a room. He couldn’t even sit in here.”

There is, however, a garret on the second floor south side of the house. “I could imagine a writer working in there.”

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