Gilbert Stuart was an extremely gifted artist, but not always a good businessman.
In 1793, however, when the Irish threatened to throw him in debtor's prison, he made a sound financial decision by heading back to the U.S., where, he told a friend, "There I expect to make a fortune by Washington alone. I calculate upon making a plurality of his portraits."
He ended up making more than 70, and one of those copies, the image used for the U.S. one dollar bill, is on display at the Arkell Museum in Canajoharie.
"He told a friend he was going to go back to America and make a lot of money painting Washington, and that's just what he did," said Jenna Peterson Reilly, Curator of Education and Public Engagement at the Arkell. "The painting is one of my favorites in our whole collection. Washington's portrait was one of the dozen paintings on the wall when they opened the library in 1924 and it's been on display here off and on since then."
Stuart's work went up most recently in October of 2018, and when the museum opens up for the 2019 season on Saturday, Washington's image will remain on the wall as part of the "Portrait and Landscapes" exhibit.
"We're showing off our permanent collection of the Mohawk Valley, and there are so many beloved paintings that we decided to keep them up," said Peterson Reilly. "Edward Gay of Albany was another artist whose work is on display, and he painted these wonderful images of rural farming scenes around Canajoharie and the Mohawk Valley."
Also on the wall when the Arkell opens up Saturday will be "Marketing the Mohawk Valley," which like "Portraits and Landscapes" went up in the fall of 2018.
"We're happy to reopen both of these exhibits because they really champion not only the beautiful landscape and history of the Mohawk Valley, but also the collection of our founder, Bartett Arkell," said Sue Friedlander, Executive Director of the Arkell Museum and Library. "He was a Canajoharie native and the first president of the Beech-Nut Company. He had a keen interest in the area and its history, and he did a lot for the community. That includes building our library, which is now our reading room, and establish the art gallery. He was an avid collector, but he did it with Canajoharie and the Mohawk Valley in mind."
Also on display at the Arkell beginning this weekend will be work done by the Oakroom Artists. Formed in 1956, the group's name derives from its original location, a room at what was the Van Curler Hotel in Schenectady and what is now SUNY Schenectady County Community College.
Peg Foley is one of 18 Oakroom Artists whose work will be on display, along with the likes of Stuart, Gay and John Singer Sargent, one of the top portrait painters of the late 19th and early 20th century.
"One of my favorite painters is John Singer Sargent," said Foley, an Oswego native and Schenectady resident. "To have the opportunity to show at the Arkell, a museum that exhibits his work and that of many great American artists is always an honor."
WHERE: 2 Erie Boulevard, Canajoharie
WHEN: Opens for the season on Saturday, March 9 at noon; hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
HOW MUCH: $9 for adults, $6.50 for seniors and students, free for children under 11
MORE INFO: Visit www.arkellmuseum.org, or call (518) 673-2314