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Historic Paintings Unwrapped

Wednesday, November 4, 2009 to Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Our records inform us that The History Center has over 200 paintings in its collection. Most have not been seen in a very, very long time and are stored in crates and other containers, so we thought it was time to see what we have! In October 2009, we began the process, bringing the crates, a few at a time, into the gallery, to open them up and exhibit the pictures for all to see. Each painting will be on display for about a month, so come often to see them all by the end of April 2010. As we hang each piece, we will assess them for condition, retention, future storage, and improved record-keeping. We are also taking this opportunity to condense some items in deep-storage in the first floor locked storage area so that the paintings can be repacked and moved into the empty space. This will make room in our archives for more heavily used documents and photographs.

Part I, November: Alison Mason Kingsbury Bishop (1898 – 1988)

Alison Mason Kingsbury Bishop was born in Durham, NH, but she made Ithaca her home in 1927. She was an accomplished artist and produced a great oeuvre of work documenting Tompkins County’s dramatic landscapes and, later, Ithaca’s cityscapes. The artist also did a number of book illustrations, the most notable to the local community perhaps being the 1962 “History of Cornell” by her husband, Cornell Romance Language professor, Morris Bishop.

Alison Mason Kingsbury Bishop was an enthusiastic supporter of the DeWitt Historical Society, now known as The History Center in Tompkins County.  The artist generously donated a number of pieces to the Society. This is the first of a series of rotating exhibitions as The History Center unveils its art holdings in its Historic Paintings Unwrapped show.

Part II, December: Henry Walton (1804 - 1865) & Jefferson Beardsley (1833 – 1895)

The second month of our Historic Paintings Unwrapped features the work of local artists Henry Walton, Jefferson Beardsley, and others. Walton, who lived in the Finger Lakes region for part of his life, painted exquisite watercolor views of Ithaca in the 1830s and 1840s. Beardsley was an innovative photographer as well as a painter in Ithaca during the mid and late 19th century. He often worked with Cornell faculty and students as his subjects.

Part III, January / February: Walter Glenn Norris (1895 – 1969)

Walter Glenn Norris was a lifelong Ithacan whose paintings have contributed to our understanding of local history. He was appointed as the first Tompkins County Historian in 1944, a position he held for 25 years.

As both a historian and an artist, Norris is known for his meticulous research in preparation for his paintings.  Often using primary sources from the collection of the DeWitt Historical Society, now The History Center, he produced detailed and accurate watercolor paintings and maps depicting both important and lesser-known events, colorful characters, and early landscapes.  He served as president, and then librarian, for the society, continuing in that role and as the county historian until his death in 1969.

Part IV, March: Portraits with a Touch of Landscape

The History Center's painting collection is dominated by portraits bequeathed to the organization by a variety of Ithacans who, at one point or another, were well heeled enough to commission an artist to render their likeness. This month's chapter of the Historic Paintings Unwrapped rotating exhibition features a selection of these portrait paintings. All are composed in oils and follow similar conventions in form with sitters vertically framed from the midsection up. Their clothing varies in degrees of formality, as do their expressions – from half-smiles to aloof countenances. The selection surveys almost 150 years with a variety of subjects and artists represented. Despite notable commonalities, the differences between each portrait are striking and can be quite telling of both the sitter and their time.

Part V, April: Edward Mack Curtis Hawkins (1877 – 1948)

Edward Mack Curtis Hawkins was an impressionistic landscape painter based in Ithaca from 1896 to 1935. With his wife May Palmer, a painter in her own right, Hawkins worked out of The Loft Studio at 120 East State Street. After moving on from Ithaca, he worked in New York City and Baltimore before he and his wife finally settled in Newburgh, NY.

As a young painter in Ithaca, Hawkins was a student of Jefferson Beardsley, an accomplished local portrait painter and photographer. Hawkins' own oeuvre was dominated by landscapes that were viewed by the press of the time as remarkable for their use of color and atmosphere.

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