There are a few different ways to look at the latest exhibit to open at the Albany Institute of History & Art.
In “A Sense of Time: The Historical Art of L. F. Tantillo” one could focus on the visual interpretations of local history. Or one could wonder at the majestic skylines or the way Tantillo captures light rippling across an ocean.
Either way, there’s a lot to see. The exhibition features more than 90 of Tantillo’s works, from his historical paintings to his Plein air works. The Hudson Valley-based artist has a background in architectural design, though the bulk of his career has focused on historical paintings. He is a member of the American Society of Marine Artists and does extensive research for each historical piece.
“History is what we all share, like water and air. It joins us together whether we like it or not, admit it or not,” Tantillo writes in an artist’s statement. “That’s probably the single most important reason why I’ve dedicated my career to picturing it. My focus was never on the most prominent human events of all time. The building of the pyramids or the lives of kings and queens. That stuff is already well documented. Instead, what fascinated me was what shaped this part of the globe. The part I stand on. The part under my feet. Under our feet. Who lived here? How was their time and place different than ours? How was it the same? What a great adventure it’s been to explore, vicariously experience, and put on canvas what I’ve learned. Hopefully, I got some of it right.”
In one work, he details what Schenectady might have looked like in 1690. It’s a peaceful-looking work, snow covering a smattering of buildings on a winter’s night. The work, which is part in the Schenectady County Historical Society’s collection, was difficult to research, and, as Tantillo notes, required interpretation of written accounts from that era.
Not too far away is a depiction of the Mabee Farm in the eighteenth century. Members of the Mabee family are seen working in the distant background, while an enslaved man is front and center. According to Tantillo, his name was Cato and he was purchased by the Mabee family in 1800 for 85 pounds. He is seen plowing one of the farm’s many crop fields, using a Dutch plow, which Tantillo based off of a plow that was discovered nearby to the Mabee farm and is now in the collection of the Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown.
In another work, Tantillo depicts The Normal School Fire of 1906. With eerily realistic lighting, fire is seen tearing through the New Paltz-based school, with only a skeleton of the structure left on the top, perhaps on the precipice of falling into the blaze below. Outside, one small volunteer fire department is clustered around it, using a steam engine to power the water pumps. Crews battled the blaze through the night, but the building was lost to the fire, leading to the loss of a vast library. It was eventually rebuilt and became a part of the state university system.
Throughout the exhibit, there are plenty of marine works that draw viewers in with incredible lighting and intricate details.
Take “Hudson River Nocturne,” which includes a Dutch vessel used in the early- to mid-1600s in New England. The vessel is glowing, awash in bright light from an unseen source (according to the artist, it’s an oil lantern), while the background is a preternatural shade of turquoise.
Close by is a sweeping view of Manhattan circa 1660, with clouds enveloping the sky, and sunrise just barely visible in the background. Below it is a “key” identifying landmarks like the Dutch Reformed Church of St. Nicholas and “The Great House,” which was the home of Governor Peter Stuyvesant.
Each of these works comes with an art and history lesson, offering viewers a glimpse into what the past may have looked like through intricately imagined landscapes.
“It is my hope, and the intention of this work, to take viewers back in time. And even in that briefest of moments when I hope you are there in your imagination that you will come to know, as I have, how history joins us together,” Tantillo wrote.
“A Sense of Time” will be up through July 25. For more information visit albanyinstitute.org.
On Saturday, the Institute will host a virtual presentation on “Black Swan Records & Motown Records: African American Independent Music Companies” with Donald “The Soul Man” Hyman.
The Albany resident and musician will discuss how two African American independent music companies changed the music scene for Black performers.
During the Harlem Renaissance, Harry Pace Jr. started Black Swan Records, whose impact on the music industry opened the door for Black performers. During the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, Motown Records, started by Berry Gordy, would dominate the popular music industry and the Top 40 charts with groups like the Supremes, who have 12 No. 1 records.
The presentation, which will be held on Zoom, starts at 2 p.m. and there is a suggested donation of $10. Registration is required. To register and for more information visit albanyinstitute.org.