CANAJOHARIE – The Arkell Museum reopened earlier this month with a handful of exhibits, ranging from key works by Winslow Homer to political cartoons dating back to the late 19th century.
In the former exhibit, titled “Arkell’s Inspiration: Art for the People,” seven Homer paintings stretch out across one wall of the museum’s original art gallery. It’s the first time in several years that they’ve been featured at the museum together.
“We’ve got all seven of them back and we really wanted to show them off,” said Suzan Friedlander, the executive director and chief curator.
The first to catch one’s eye is a striking work with a bleak color palette, portraying a wave crashing against rocks and towering over three figures in the foreground. Called “Watching the Breakers – A High Sea,” it’s often listed as one of the artist’s most notable works, inspired by the views from his home studio in Prout’s Neck, Maine.
The exhibit also includes a work from an earlier chapter in the artist’s life, including “In Front of the Guard-House (Punishment for Intoxication),” which he painted while documenting the lives of Civil War soldiers. In it, a Union army soldier stands atop a box, balancing a heavy log on his shoulder. There’s a barrel off to the lefthand side, perhaps a nod to the reason for the title.
There are a handful of more pastoral paintings from Homer in the exhibit, including “Feeding the Chickens” and “The Rooster.” The latter is a detailed depiction of a rooster and while the content wasn’t unusual for Homer, the shape of the canvas was. It’s composed on a nearly square canvas and some believe that the artist planned to use the composition to create a ceramic tile, which ties into the next part in the exhibit: The Tile Club. Formed by Homer, William Merritt Chase, Julian Alden Weir and others, the group came together in 1877 to exchange ideas and paint ceramic tiles.
“This also was the opportunity to really promote the different artists’ groups that are represented in this collection that were important to Arkell,” Friedlander said.
The other half of the exhibit features works from the Arkell collection by members of The Ten, another group of American artists, who came together to have annual exhibits where each artist was given the same amount of wall space, and each painting was hung with a decent amount of space surrounding it, so viewers could focus in on the select featured works. Some members of the group were also members of the Tile Club.
Albert Bierstadt’s “El Capitan,” an impressively detailed landscape that captures the looming magnificence of a mountain set against a rugged wilderness, is a stand-out work in the exhibit. Nearby is an impressionistic landscape of Provincetown, painted by Childe Hassam, another member of The Ten. It offers a birdseye view of where the city meets the shore, using a palette of muted greens and pastel blues and pinks.
Beyond the landscapes, there are several portraits in the exhibit, including “The Bar’s Rest (Reverie)” by Irving R. Wiles. A woman is seen at the center, her gaze looking straight out at the viewer and her hands resting on the head of a guitar. She’s seen in a richly decorated room, featuring what looks like a fan and an image of a crane just behind her. These decorations are seen in opulent detail, perhaps signaling that the interior of the room is as rich as the woman’s reverie.
Elsewhere at the Arkell, viewers get a bit of peace and politics, two words not often seen or heard together.
In an exhibit titled “Judge Magazine: Presidents, Politics & Political Cartoons,” covers and illustrations from the weekly 19th-century magazine line the walls of the gallery space. Judge Magazine was purchased by William Arkell (Barlett’s brother) with the intent to poke fun at the Democratic Party and bolster Republican views. Another local connection is seen in a cartoon portrait of Willet F. Cook, a Canajoharie resident who founded the Canajoharie Courier but worked as the advertising manager for Judge Magazine. Close by to the portrait, which was drawn by Eugene “Zim” Zimmerman, are photos of Cook and his family members.
Just a gallery over is a tranquil exhibit called “Color, Light & Atmosphere,” featuring luminous landscapes and vibrant portraits. One of the most arresting is “Canajoharie, about 1780,” by Edward Buyck. The sweeping landscape puts viewers above buildings like the Frey House and Van Alstyne House (both of which are still around today), allowing one to see far into a vast background of rolling, tree-covered hills.
Another peaceful work is seen just across the room. In George Inness’s “A Passing Shower,” a rainbow is pouring forth from the cloudy sky and falling onto the landscape, which is dotted with sheep and a few people working in the fields, as well as one colorfully-dressed figure resting in the middle ground.
The variety of exhibits at the Arkell is a good note to start the, albeit strange, year off on. There are occupancy limitations in each gallery space, however, with the way that the spaces are configured, it’s easy to step into another gallery if another is at the limit.
“We’re not so big and busy as the Met, where you might feel a little crowded or pressed for time. There’s also ample space if you’ve got kids; there’s the Great Hall to stretch your legs, there’s the garden and the great lawn in nice weather and it’s a very manageable place to come visit either by yourself, with a multigenerational group. So many people meet here and it seems to be in-between for a lot of travelers,” Friedlander said.
The Arkell Museum is located at 2 Erie Boulevard, Canajoharie and is open from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more information visit arkellmuseum.org.