Rare photos reveal the private gardens of the Pruyn family

Driving up Warren Street in Glens Falls, it’s impossible not to admire Hyde House. The Neo-Italian R
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Driving up Warren Street in Glens Falls, it’s impossible not to admire Hyde House. The Neo-Italian Renaissance villa is not only unusual architecture in upstate New York, it’s the heart of the Hyde Collection, an esteemed art museum and crown jewel of the city.

But the roadside view was quite different in the 1920s and 1930s, when the Pruyn sisters lived on the seven-acre property and their three handsome gray stucco homes were embraced by one of the grandest gardens of the Adirondacks.

“You could barely see Hyde House,” says Erin B. Coe, the Hyde’s chief curator and creator of the current “A Landscape Revealed: Photographs of the Pruyn Sisters’ Gardens,” one half of the new exhibit “A Glens Falls Legacy: The Pruyn Family.”

The splendors of this private paradise unfold in the Charles R. Wood Gallery, where Coe begins a tour with the landscape plan from 1910 to 1942, a panel that was re-created and enhanced for the exhibit.

‘A Glens Falls Legacy: The Pruyn Family’

WHERE: The Hyde Collection, 161 Warren St., Glens Falls

WHEN: Through Sunday, Aug. 24. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.

HOW MUCH: Free

MORE INFO: www.hydecollection.org or 762-1761

Related events: The Hyde Collection has scheduled several programs related to the exhibit. For information, reservations or a $35 Legacy Series Pass, phone 762-1761.

Thursday — “Creating Cottage Gardens in our Area,” a 3 p.m. talk and slide show by Kerry Mendez of Perennially Yours in Ballston Spa, $8. Call for reservations.

Saturday, July 19 — “Chalk Walk,” a family program from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., decorating walkways on museum grounds with colored chalk. $6 per square. Call for reservations.

Sunday, July 20 — “The Pierce Arrow and Other Cars of the Vintage Era,” a 2 p.m. talk by Alan Edstrom, director of programs and events at the Saratoga Automobile Museum. Visitors may bring their vintage cars to the Hyde. $8, call for reservations.

Thursday, July 24 — Marcella Sembrich Opera Museum presents the Davydov/Fanning Duo on cello and piano in an all-Chopin concert at 7:30 p.m., followed by a reception. $8. For tickets, phone 644-2431. click here for related story

Sunday, July 27 — “Discovery Day,” a family program from 1 to 3 p.m. with children’s tour of exhibits, followed by craft project, making an old-fashioned optic illusion toy. Free.

Sunday, Aug. 3 — “Logging and Glens Falls,” a 2 p.m. talk by Dick Merrill, author of “Log Marks on the Hudson,” followed by a book signing. $8.

Sunday, Aug. 24 — “Legacy Exhibition Lecture,” 2 p.m. talk by chief curator Erin B. Coe, followed by a wine and cheese reception. $15.

Designed by Brett and Hall of Boston, the gardens were resplendent with Lombardy poplars and white birches, arborvitae and elms, lilac bushes and catalpa trees. The Long Walk, a 570-foot garden path, was decked with sunflowers, peonies and delphiniums.

By the 1960s, as the sisters aged and passed away, the gardens faded and then vanished. But the three women left behind an impressive archive of landscape photographs, commissioned by the finest garden photographers of their day.

“Because of photography, these are the only records we have today of this golden age of American gardens,” says Coe.

Two-part exhibition

This summer, the Hyde is celebrating the city’s 2008 centennial with “A Glens Falls Legacy: The Pruyn Family,” a two-part exhibit that is the museum’s first in-depth look at the lives and contributions of its founder, Charlotte Hyde and her parents, husband, siblings and descendants.

In one side of the gallery, Coe unearths 30 never-before-seen photographs of the property at the height of its botanical glory. On the other side, also curated by Coe, there’s “A Shared Life: Selections from the Pruyn Family Collection,” an intimate look at this close-knit crew that includes their clothing, travel diaries, silver, china and a sampling of the paintings, furniture and decorative arts for which the Hyde is renowned.

A typical well-heeled American Renaissance family, the Pruyns traveled by ship to Europe, hobnobbed with artists and architects, kept an apartment in New York and a cottage on Lake George. They were cosmopolitan yet community-minded, sharing their knowledge of the world with their hometown at the edge of the wilderness.

“A Glens Falls Legacy” is “an opportunity to rediscover the Hyde’s connection to the city and re-discover how important the Hyde is to the community,” says executive director David Setford, who came to the Hyde five months ago from the Naples Museum of Art in Florida.

In “A Shared Life,” we see the first public image of Glens Falls, an early 1820s watercolor that depicts a simple wooden toll bridge over the rushing Hudson, flanked by tall pines.

The Pruyn saga begins with Samuel Pruyn, a gentleman from nearby Cambridge who married Eliza Jane Baldwin in 1860, and launched Finch, Pruyn & Co, a lumber and paper mill. In the early 20th century, it was the largest lumber business on the Hudson River, and the Pruyn sisters and their husbands built their Warren Street homes on a bluff overlooking the Feeder Canal and the family plant, which still operates today as Finch Paper.

Before he died at age 85 in 1908, the same year that Glens Falls was chartered, Pruyn had helped improve the city’s schools and housing, and campaigned for its first water system. In his obituary, Pruyn was remembered as “a quiet philanthropist on an extensive scale.”

On both sides of the gallery, visitors discover how the Pruyn daughters followed in their father’s footsteps.

Mary Hoopes, the youngest, not only was an avid gardener, she brought chamber music to Glens Falls and invited Polish soprano Marcella Sembrich to perform in the city.

In “A Landscape Revealed,” we see Mary’s journal, noting the arrival of each bird and flower, and the black-and-white photos of the gardens from 1906 to 1930, the heyday of landscape architecture, when wealthy families hired garden photographers and sent postcard images to their friends.

Schenectady native George Sauter and Harry W. Pangburn were two of the Pruyns’ photographers, but the most artistic images were shot by Henrietta Hudson, a pioneer in color photography who lived in Bolton Landing and New York.

Anyone interested in photography will marvel at the six color prints made from original autochromes from the 1920s and 1930s. Because the autochromes are too fragile to exhibit, the Hyde scanned them and made digital copies.

“Mary liked natural plantings,” says Coe, and so the gardens were inspired by English and Italian gardens but “less formal and more colorful.” The sisters referred to their homes as “villas,” because “they wanted that connection to nature,” she says.

Nell Cunningham, the middle child, was a ceramist, and Coe selected several pieces of the family’s rarely seen American Indian pottery for the exhibit. While all the sisters loved to travel, Nell’s diary, open to a page of Venezuelan landmarks, reveals that she was the most adventurous, with journeys to Mexico and South America.

“They began traveling as teenagers, before they married,” says Coe. “They went to schools in New York and Boston. They developed impeccable tastes.”

As founder of the museum, Charlotte Hyde is the best known sister. Charlotte and her husband, Louis, were devoted art patrons and collectors. In her later years, the widowed Charlotte opened her home to the community. There were art classes for young people in the Hyde House courtyard and concerts in her upstairs music room. On Sundays, the public was invited to view her paintings.

Community legacy

In 1952, at age 85, Mrs. Hyde bequeathed her home and its contents to the community, and in 1963, one year after her death, the Hyde Collection art museum opened its doors. There are nearly 3,000 objects in the collection, including paintings, sculpture, works on paper, furniture and decorative arts, and they date from the fourth century B.C. to the modern era of the 20th century.

Louis Hyde, a book collector, was president of Crandall Public Library and friends with Charles Adam Platt, a prominent American Renaissance architect who designed the library. The Hydes were also instrumental in the building of the First Presbyterian Church, the work of the American architect Ralph Adams Cram.

Through her connections with New York galleries, Charlotte arranged loans of paintings by American and European masters and mounted public art exhibits at the library.

“Girl in Pink/In the Garden,” a 1896 painting by Childe Hassam that’s in the show, was purchased by Mrs. Hyde in 1959, and her final acquisition in 50 years of collecting.

In “A Shared Life,” the exhibit of Pruyn family possessions, visitors get a glimpse what their daily life was like.

“They lived next door to each other,” says Cole. “They shared interests in travel, the arts — they shared an interest in giving back to the community.”

For the first time, the Hyde has pulled out pieces of clothing from its collection of 80 garments. Four of the dresses are ultra-modest Victorian style, black with long sleeves and high collars, but there’s also a pink chiffon flapper dress, a fur cape, snakeskin shoes and a pair of 1910 shearling boots that would be today’s high fashion if they stepped out of the museum.

In the children’s section, visitors see a fuzzy horse on wheels, a 1904 pull-toy made by Steiff, the famous German toy manufacturer. Made of blue velvet, tied with blue silk ribbon and topped with an ostrich plume, a girl’s bonnet is reminiscent of the chapeau worn by Rhett and Scarlett’s daughter in “Gone With The Wind.”

“Mrs. Hyde’s tea service dates from the 1820s. It was the finest silver ever created,” says Coe, standing next to ornate pitchers and cake servers. “It gives you a sense of how they lived at home.

Categories: Life and Arts

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