Bartlett Arkell’s penchant for realism is strikingly apparent in The Arkell Museum’s two newest exhibitions, “Of Time and the Mohawk River,” and “Ogden Pleissner,” both of which feature works from the museum’s permanent collection.
Through June 1, visitors can take in views of the Mohawk Valley area by a variety of artists over nearly two centuries as well as Pleissner’s depictions of places he traveled.
A panoramic view of the Rexford Bridge looking west draws viewers into the first gallery. Walter Hatke’s 2003 oil painting, “Of Time and the River” is a recent museum acquisition. It was 28 years ago when he first moved to the area that this view struck Hatke, a Schenectady resident and professor of visual arts at Union College. He and his family used to take driving tours of the area to familiarize themselves with their new home. After he drove across the bridge, he turned right and stopped the car on a stretch of road that afforded him a sweeping view of the bridge and both sides of the river. “I thought that would make a nice painting someday,” said Hatke, who went back periodically to make sketches and take notes.
He visited at different times of the year and day to look at the view and then think about it. Eventually, he began drawing and brought the drawings together in the painting that is on display.
Of Time and the Mohawk River and Ogden Pleissner
WHERE: The Arkell Museum, 2 Erie Blvd., Canajoharie
WHEN: Through June 1. Museum hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Friday; noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
HOW MUCH: $8, $6 for seniors and students, children under 11 are free.
MORE INFO: 673-2314, www.arkellmuseum.org
Carefully observers can ascertain the time of year he chose to paint, in the late fall, just before the cold weather set in, as evidenced by the empty boat slips in the foreground. He left the boats out intentionally. “I thought it would detract from the other very profound impression that the landscape makes on the viewer,” he said.
While Hatke’s painting does depict a specific bridge, he gave the painting a less definite name, borrowing the title from the Thomas Wolfe novel, “Of Time and The River,” in order to afford his viewers a sense of universality. “In all of my work, I prefer taking a sort of transcendentalist stance,” he said. “Anyone can look at the images and make their own association through their own memories and experience so that it become personal to the viewer in their own way.”
Also included in the show is a pencil drawing, “Erie Lock #7, 1992” that Hatke did as a preliminary study for a painting.
Hatke is just one of a long line of artists inspired by the area. “Our permanent collection is just really rich in views of the Mohawk River Valley,” said museum curator Diane Forsberg.
On exhibit is William Wall’s 1862 oil painting “New York and the Erie Canal,” which from a distance looks like a pastoral landscape, but a closer view shows people going about their daily activities — a woman with a basket, a man on horseback, a man on a boat in the river, and people walking along a path.
There is also Alfred Thompson’s “Life on the Towpath” (1881), an oil painting depicting a farmer with two horses walking on the path next to the canal. He created this work after a riding a barge from New York City to Rochester on a trip for the Artists’ Funds Society.
Included is a set of engravings showing Little Falls by William Henry Bartlett. These were produced as part of a commission from a British publisher to capture American scenery in the 1830’s.
The Canajoharie Library commissioned Edward P. Buyck’s vibrant “Clinton’s Brigade at Canajoharie," (1929) to celebrate the village’s sesquicentennial. It hangs alongside a lithograph of the painting.
Geoffrey Biggs portrayed the bustling economy of the region in his colorful tempera painting “A View of Canajoharie” (1950) which includes the Beech-Nut plant in the distance and the artist’s own house in the foreground.
These are just a few of artists’ depictions of the Mohawk Valley that Forsberg included in the exhibition. “I think that it’s always fascinating to look at the place you live,” she said. “You can go in and immediately say, ‘Look how it’s changed.’ It’s very exciting to rediscover.” She hopes that people will look at the landscape with new eyes after they see the exhibition.
To encourage school groups to come, the museum has partnered with The Erie Canalway Heritage Fund to provide funding for bus transportation and admission to the museum. Information on how to apply is on the museum’s website.
Bartlett Arkell collected several of the oil and watercolor works of realist painter, Ogden Pleissner, which are also on exhibit. The show affords visitors an opportunity to see some of the watercolor paintings that aren’t exhibited as often as the oil paintings, in an effort to preserve them.
Pleissner traveled extensively in the United States, and these paintings reflect those journeys. The artist liked to hunt and fish, and to combine those trips with painting and sketching.
Included is “Cold Day in January,” a 1939 watercolor depicting an African-American family outside a ramshackle house in the American South. A fire is burning, heating an old-fashioned kettle.
There’s also the watercolor “Picnic Over Pinto Lake” (1940), showing cowboys having a picnic against a rocky backdrop. This painting reflects the artist’s summer visits to Wyoming over nearly two decades. Another Wyoming painting is the oil work, “Circus Comes to Rawlings, Wyoming,” (1939), which shows a view from outside the big top, namely a row of elephants’ backsides.
The watercolor, “Fighter Returns from Kiska” (1943) speaks to Pleissner’s work as a captain in the Army Air Forces painting the service’s activities.
“The watercolors are remarkable,” Forsberg said. “Pleissner really withstands scrutiny as a watercolor artist.”