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April 27, 2013

Romantic times at Fenimore

Museum exhibits draw on 19th century movement

By Shirley O'Shea
The Daily Star

---- — When one thinks of the romantic, usually one ponders wistfully the early days of a courtship and marriage. 

Then there is the Romantic, a period in European and American art, literature and music that flourished gloriously in the 19th century. This is the Romantic that is being featured at Cooperstown’s Fenimore Art Museum as well as Hyde Hall and the Glimmerglass Festival during the multidisciplinary “Festival of the American Romantics,” with a variety of exhibits and programming.

Press materials from the Fenimore describe the Romantic movement as an artistic celebration of the individual and subjectivity (that is, one’s personal, and often emotional, view of the world) and artistic inspiration arising from the individual’s unique feelings, often about the natural environment. Romanticism, as it is often called, began in Europe and influenced the work of composers such as Wagner, writers such as Keats, and painters such as J.M.W. Turner. 

When the Romantic movement came to the United States, it influenced some of American’s most well-known figures in the arts. The painters Frederic Church and Thomas Cole, and writers such as New England’s Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau, as well as local legend James Fenimore Cooper, are considered leaders of the Romantic period. 

As the Fenimore’s website says, the Festival of the American Romantics enables visitors to the participating institutions to experience Romantic visual, literary and musical works of art in the kind of setting — in some cases, the same location — in which these works were created. 

Hyde Hall, the Glimmerglass Festival and Frederic Church historic home on the Hudson River, will participate in the Festival of American Romantics, Kenyon said. 

“We’re promoting each other’s programming for the summer,” Kenyon said. 

Hyde Hall will offer readings from American Romantic literature in July, and the Glimmerglass will present Wagner’s opera, “The Flying Dutchman, which, according to museum literature, uses the American wilderness as its setting, in July and August.

This spring, the Fenimore is attempting to present a “well-rounded schedule,” according to Todd Kenyon, the museum’s director of marketing and communications. 

The Fenimore’s exhibit “American Masters: Thomas Cole to Grandma Moses,” will run until June 2. Kenyon said that “American Masters” will feature objects and paintings from the museum’s permanent collection. Another exhibit, “Places in Passing: Contemporary Landscapes by Susan Jones Kenyon,” will feature paintings by the Cooperstown resident of Lake Otsego and other places in the region. Kenyon’s dream-like paintings of living beings and presences in the natural world have are strongly reminiscent of the Romantics in their subject matter and palette. Kenyon’s exhibit will run until Dec. 29. 

The first human inhabitants of this region, the American Indians, were beloved of American Romantics and are featured in two Fenimore exhibits. “Splendidly Dressed: American Indian Robes and Regalia” will also run until Dec. 29. The exhibit draws from objects and garments in the museum’s Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art. 

“Native Roots: The 9th Contemporary Iroquois Art Biennial,” which will be on view until July 21, contains selections from contemporary art by New York State Iroquois, according to the museum’s website.

The Festival of the American Romantics at the Fenimore will culminate in two painting exhibits. “The Wyeths: A Family Legacy,” will open May 25 and run until Sept. 2. The Wyeth exhibit will include paintings by illustrator N.C. Wyeth; his son, Andrew Wyeth; Andrew’s son, James (Jamie) Wyeth; N.C.’s daughters, Carolyn and Henriette; and Henriette’s husband, Peter Hurd. 

“The Hudson River School: Nature and the American Vision,” an exhibit organized by the New-York Historical Society, will take place June 29 through Aug. 29.

“From what I’ve been told, none of these paintings have been upstate since they were created,” Kenyon said. “They’ve been at the New York State Historical Society; they bought the paintings.”

The show will feature works by such luminaries as Albert Bierstadt, Asher Durand, Frederic Church and Jasper F. Cropsey. The paintings depict “the landscape of the Hudson Valley and even this area at that time,” Kenyon said.

“It’s going to be a good show,” Kenyon said. “I think it will bring up people from the Hudson Valley.”

American Indian creative functionality will be on view with “Plain & Fancy: American Splint Baskets” from Aug. 10 through Dec. 29. In Eastern North America, indigenous peoples often used ash wood strips to create beautiful and useful baskets, according to the museum’s website. A number of them will be the focus of the exhibit.

Romanticism appeals to the soul, to the wildness of the heart as it is reflected in the natural world. Take advantage of this opportunity to experience the romance of art and nature this summer in Cooperstown, a home to Romanticism.