CANAJOHARIE -- It was a family reunion unlike most. The traditional game of kickball was replaced with tours of the Arkell Museum and the Canajoharie Falls Cemetery.
For the first time in recent history, the Arkell family gathered for a family reunion at the Arkell Museum on Monday. More than 40 members explored the town of Canajoharie, had lunch at the museum and meandered through the galleries, learning more about their family history.
“Three generations are represented here,” said Suzan Friedlander, the executive director and chief curator of the museum.
Among the first generation are people like Henry Price, the great-grandson of Bartlett Arkell, the museum’s founder. Price has served on the museum’s advisory board and is perhaps the most familiar with the museum.
Among the next generation is Josh Lamour, Price’s nephew, who organized the event. Lamour first contacted Friedlander about holding the family reunion at the museum late last year.
He’d started to follow the museum on social media because he was curious to learn about his family history and where it all started. Living out in California, he’d never had the chance to take a trip to the museum.
Like Lamour, many of the family members live across the country, Price in Pennsylvania, Chloe Cornforth (who is a part of the youngest generation) lives in Hawaii. Thus, most of the family has learned about the Arkell legacy through candy.
“My grandmother always used to have Life Savers. I remember I said ‘Why do you always have a Life Saver?’ She said, ‘Well, we used to own Beech-Nut,’” Lamour said.
He has Beech-Nut memorabilia around his home, but he wanted to learn more.
“[Bartlett] was a pretty generous person and we’re all thankful to be part of the family,” Lamour said.
The Arkells have a long history in Canajoharie. According to the Schenectady County Historical archive, the family came from England and settled in the area around 1840.
For most, the family name rings a bell because of the museum and the Beech-Nut Packaging Company.
Bartlett Arkell, the first president of the Beech-Nut Packaging Company, founded the museum in 1927, just two years after the library. He originally called them the Canajoharie Library and Art Gallery.
“My theory was that Bartlett Arkell lent about 12 of his own paintings to put on the walls of the new library and I think he stood back and said, ‘That’s not nearly enough,’ ” Friedlander said.
Arkell was not only a keen businessman but a collector. He had an eye for everything from portraiture to landscapes, echoing local and not so local landscapes, including works from the Ashcan School and American Impressionism. Artists like George Bellows, Robert Henri, George Luks, Winslow Homer and others, are in the museum’s permanent collection, which has more than 400 works in its art collection.
The museum has changed quite a bit since it was founded. Its name changed to Arkell Museum in 2007, according to the Wall Street Journal. That was shortly after the museum underwent a major expansion, which added exhibition and event space. There have also been a few new acquisitions over the years, the latest including portraits of Andrew Hamilton Calhoun and Maria Yates Calhoun, attributed to the American School, as well as a Fritz Vogt drawing.
Thus, it looks a lot different from when Price first visited.
“In 1946, I came here and went to the Arkell Hall, which was Bartlett’s home,” Price said.
He’s visited several times since and has previously served on the advisory board, Price said. Lately, he’s been trying to spread the word about the museum wherever he travels to. Having the family reunion at the museum will be another way for the younger generations in the family to see the value in the establishment and to support it in any way they can.
“Our children and grandchildren are having a connection with it. Otherwise, they won’t know. A lot of us are from Pennsylvania, Baltimore, different places. Our children now are getting together and hopefully, they’ll take an interest in the museum and the library. I don’t mean just financially. I hope they are stewards of it because people can give what they can, but I’ve been encouraging people to make it a priority to give the museum and library something each year. Because we’re too far away to serve on a board,” Price said.
For Hervey Stockman Jr. who is Sarah Arkell’s son, the family reunion was an opportunity to see his family’s legacy.
“I think I was here as a boy, but I don’t remember,” Stockman said. He’s been back once or twice with his wife, Dyson and son Robert.
While they don’t call themselves art collectors, they’ve inherited artwork from both sides of their family.
“We inherited several paintings from [Dyson’s] parents. . . Then we inherited several paintings from my parents,” Stockman said, adding, “We were lucky enough to develop a little appreciation for art.”
Throughout Monday afternoon, the family toured “Portraits and Landscapes” and “Marketing the Mohawk Valley.” The latter includes a lot of Beech-Nut advertisements, objects and memorabilia.
“I thought they only made gum,” said Dillen Price, one of the youngest visiting family members, as she went through the exhibit.
Other family members shared the sentiment, swapping stories about Beech-Nut that were passed down to them, making connections not only with one another but with their family history.