Canajoharie has its challenges. In 2006, the Mohawk River flooded the village. Within the next two years, its massive Beech-Nut plant will be abandoned for a new facility in eastern Montgomery County.
But across the street from the Beech-Nut complex, the new Arkell Museum is a bright spot in town, attracting both Capital Region residents and tourists from afar after a $10 million expansion and renovation project transformed the old Canajoharie Library and Art Gallery.
‘Wyeth Family Paintings from the Farnsworth Art Museum’ and ‘Winslow Homer Watercolors’
WHERE: Arkell Museum at Canajoharie, 2 Erie Blvd., Canajoharie
WHEN: Wyeth exhibit closes this Sunday; Homer exhibit closes Sunday, Oct. 19. Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 12:30 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
HOW MUCH: $7, $5 for students and seniors, visitors under age 11 are free.
MORE INFO: 518 673-2314 or www.arkellmuseum.org
Since the grand opening in September last year, visitors are discovering and rediscovering the Arkell Collection, 300-plus American artworks from the late 19th and early 20th centuries that were acquired and donated to the village by Beech-Nut founder Bartlett Arkell. While Arkell’s renowned Winslow Homer paintings and other works have traveled the globe, before there was a museum, exhibits were small and limited. Now, in less than one year, the Arkell’s three-person staff has presented six exhibits, with two shows traveling to Canajoharie from other institutions.
Steady flow of visitors
During last fall’s debut, there was “Fragile Masterpieces,” works on paper from the collection by Hopper, O’Keeffe, Prendergast and other members of The Eight. In the winter, there was a portrait exhibit, and, in the spring, “Ethnic and Political Images,” a show from Michigan State about late-19th-century American immigration.
“People just love it,” says Diane Forsberg, deputy director and chief curator. “We have a pretty steady flow of visitors.”
While March was the slowest month, with about 850 visitors, in August the museum drew more than 3,000. The Arkell, which is open daily year-round, is also a community center for the arts, offering concerts, lectures, films, family activities and art workshops.
The current pair of exhibits, “Wyeth Family Paintings” from Maine’s Farnsworth Art Museum, and “Winslow Homer Watercolors,” from the museum’s collection of 21 Homers, actually have a strong connection, though it may not appear that way at first glance.
“The Wyeths admired the work of Homer,” says Forsberg.
The Wyeth exhibit and its 22 works — oil, watercolor and tempera — looks at three generations of Wyeth artists: the late N.C. Wyeth, an illustrator of books; 91-year-old Andrew, one of America’s best-known 20th-century painters; and Andrew’s 62-year-old son, James, a contemporary artist.
In 1937, when Andrew had his first exhibit at Macbeth Gallery in New York City, a critic wrote that “Mr. Wyeth has the breadth of view that is associated with the name of Homer, and he has a brave way of applying wash to the paper and he’s unafraid of color.”
“People were immediately thinking of Homer when they saw his work,” says Forsberg.
The Macbeth Gallery, the first to deal exclusively with American art, was also where Bartlett Arkell bought all his works during the early-mid 20th century.
In one section of the show, we see the Arkell’s own Wyeths: Andrew’s “Feb. 2, 1942,” a moody winter landscape, in which the highly detailed bark and bare twigs of a tree loom in the foreground; and N.C.’s “Fox in the Snow,” the original tempera landscape that illustrated the 1936 edition of Henry Thoreau’s “Men of Concord.”
There’s even a 1938 photograph of three dapper gentlemen — Andrew Wyeth, Winslow Homer’s nephew Charles and gallery owner Robert MacBeth — casually posed next to a cottage in Maine.
The Wyeth show is somewhat chronological, so first we see some of N.C.’s original paintings that illustrated adventure books, such as King Edward in medieval armor for the 1921 volume “Scottish Chiefs.” Some of the actual books are here, too, including the aforementioned “Men of Concord.”
There are 11 watercolors and two drawings by Andrew Wyeth, one of America’s most popular and controversial 20th-century artists, as he retained his representational style during the abstract era and is sometimes dismissed by critics.
The enigmatic 1941 painting “Friendship Road” is accompanied by two studies in graphite and charcoal, so we can see his thought process.
Growing up in a family of artists, Andrew’s son James loved the feel and smell of paint, and took art lessons from his aunt after leaving school in the seventh grade.
“Washtub,” painted when he was 13, hangs next to “Coast Guard Anchor,” which was created more than 20 years later but shows similar composition in its depiction of a common object set among rough Maine rocks and tall pines.
Forsberg also adds a fascinating Julia Dean photo of a handsome “Jamie” with tousled hair, laughing in his studio with his young neighbor and model Orca Bates.
The intimate gallery, with reduced, protective lighting, is where you’ll find “Winslow Homer Watercolors,” 16 works from the collection. This is where you may also encounter locals who are returning to see the Homer paintings they grew up with.
“I remember that from 20 years ago — I am so impressed,” a senior citizen in a baseball cap remarks to his friend, unaware that a reporter was in the room.
Many of the paintings were inspired by the fishermen and their families that Homer encountered during a year in England, in his home state of Massachusetts and near his home in Prouts Neck, Maine. The artist also traveled to the Bahamas, Florida, Cuba and the Adirondacks.
“Boy on Rocks,” was painted in 1873, the same year that 120 people were lost in a storm off the coast of Gloucester.
“On the Beach,” the show’s lone oil painting, was exhibited and scorned in 1869 because the ordinary women and children walking and playing along a beach were considered “too common a subject,” says Forsberg.
Two other paintings wouldn’t be recognized as Homer’s. “At Tampa,” an 1885 Florida scene of an egret and spoonbill, is not only an unusual subject for Homer, but the paint is more opaque and impressionistic, with gauzy Spanish moss hanging from the trees. And “On the Battenkill,” an 1870 landscape with an apparent link to our area, appears hazy and unfinished, more like a sketch than a painting.
Arkell didn’t pick these Homers for their subject matter; he purchased what was available, explains Forsberg.
“It’s curious, though, that we don’t have any Adirondack Homers.”