Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Arthur Dove

By Alice Askins,  Site Manager of Rose Hill Mansion

Arthur Garfield Dove (
1880 – 1946) was a pioneer in American abstract painting.

Dove was born in Canandaigua, New York, but his family moved to Geneva when he was two.  He grew up on North Main Street, then South Main.  His neighbor Newton Weatherly was a naturalist and landscape painter who introduced Arthur to painting.  Dove’s father was a successful contractor and brick manufacturer who built Belhurst Castle, several College buildings, and the rear part of Trinity Church.  He expected his son to become wealthy in some conventional profession.  

Dove attended Hobart College for two years, then studied law and art at Cornell, graduating in 1903.  He became a well-known commercial illustrator in New York City, working for such magazines as Harper’s and The Saturday Evening Post.  Dove's parents were dubious about this, wanting him to become an attorney, but they accepted his choice when he showed that he could support himself through illustration.  They were upset when he left full-time commercial art for fine art, though his brother Paul tells us they continued to help him financially (oral history in the GHS archives.)   

In 1907, Dove and his first wife (a South Main neighbor) moved to Paris.  He saw new painting styles, and exhibited at the Salon in 1908 and 1909  (the Salon’s exhibition was the great art event of the Western world).   When Dove returned to New York, he found commercial illustration increasingly unsatisfying.  “It’s like being a factory,” he said.  He left the city for Connecticut, then Long Island.  He continued to do a little illustration, plus jobs like egg farming and lobstering, and managed to scrape out a living with assistance from his family and a patron – Duncan Phillips - who believed in his art.  Money was always a problem.

In 1909, Dove met Alfred Stieglitz, a photographer and gallery owner who promoted modern art in America.  With Stieglitz’s encouragement, Dove produced the first purely abstract American paintings.  His paintings were based on natural forms, but he explained them as “extractions” of the essential forms of a scene.  Stieglitz gave Dove his first one-man show in 1912.  It was the first public exhibition of abstract art by an American.  From 1912 to 1946 Dove showed his work annually at Stieglitz’s galleries.     

Dove and his second wife “Reds” (also an artist) lived on Long Island from 1924 until 1933, when he came to Geneva to settle his mother’s estate.  While here, they lived in family-owned farm houses on Lyons Road, and then on the top floor of the Dove Block, built by Arthur’s father.  (The Dove Block still stands on the corner of Castle and Exchange Streets.)  Dove disliked the family home on South Main, and would not live there.  Dove Block had been an auditorium, the National Guard drill hall, and a skating rink.  Dove set up “rooms” around the edges of the big space – kitchen, bedroom, and so on, without walls – and roller skated in the open center.  Arthur and Reds missed Long Island, and moved back there into a tiny house in 1938.  Soon afterward, Dove developed heart disease and kidney trouble.  He lived quietly, devoting himself to painting, until he died in 1946. 

Dove talks about his work

. . . One day I made a drawing of a hillside. The wind was blowing.  I chose three forms from the planes of the sides of the trees, and three colors, and black and white. From these was made a rhythmic painting which expressed the spirit of the whole thing." 

"I would like to make something that is real in itself that does not remind anyone of any other things, and that does not have to be explained . . . " 

“I am trying to get oil paint beautiful in itself without any further wish.” 

 “Feeling that the ‘first flash’ of an idea gives its most vivid sensation, I am . . . trying to put down the spirit of the idea as it comes out.  . . . It is the form that the idea takes in the imagination rather than the form as it exists outside.” 

Critics and artists admired Dove’s work, but few others understood his abstractions - or bought his paintings.  One who did was Margaret Hutchins, granddaughter of Robert and Margaret Swan of Rose Hill.  Margaret, like her mother Agnes, loved to paint.  In Gentle Enthusiasts, Warren Hunting Smith tells us that Margaret sometimes went to see Dove’s paintings on exhibit when she was in New York City.   During one trip she bough a bought a little painting of Seneca Lake by Dove and her mother’s response to the purchase”I’ve always said that a fool and her money are soon parted.”  Agnes may have changed her mind about Dove, though, because Margaret once told Smith that the Museum of Modern Art had no Doves – much to her mother’s distress.   Today, MoMA’s  website lists five Doves.  The largest collection of Dove’s works is in the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC.  GHS owns eleven of his illustrations, a watercolor, and a tempera painting.Arthur Garfield Dove (1880 – 1946) was a pioneer in American abstract painting.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Town and Gown at the Geneva Historical Society

John Marks, Curator of Collections

Our collaboration with Hobart & William Smith Colleges has slowly developed over the past 12 years. The occasional intern has grown into classes visiting the exhibits, students researching in the archives, and staff guest-lecturing on campus for classes and alumni events. I think there are several factors:

  • Leadership. President Mark Gearan is committed to community service, which begins with students understanding where they live. This has flowed down to the course level.
  • Turnover. New professors bring new ideas, among them an emphasis on using the community as a teaching resource.
  • The “reformed sinner” ethos. At least one instructor with whom I work attended William Smith and knew no more about Geneva at graduation than when she had arrived. When she returned to teach, she vowed to make her students learn about the city around their campus.
  • Word-of-mouth. As we work with professors, they may be telling others about their positive experience.

A common refrain among older people is, “Young people don’t care about history.” It’s fun to test this theory as I work with HWS students. Generally speaking, their interest and attitude corresponds to the reason they’ve come to the museum. First-year students coming to Geneva’s Changing Landscapes for orientation tend to talk amongst themselves rather than actually look at the exhibit. When a visit or lecture is somewhat related to the class, students pay a little more attention. The most engaged groups are research methodology classes in anthropology, women’s studies, and English. Learning to do archival research is the reason they took the class, rather than an assignment beyond their control. They like looking at primary sources – letters, journals, photographs, maps, etc. – and they’re often researching for a final project.

My new favorite anecdote comes from an anthropology research class that visited in February. I broke the class into small groups and gave each table a variety of resources related to a topic. Every group had questions for me, but the most excited students were looking through Sampson Naval Base/ World War II files. The four William Smith students found a love letter from a sailor stationed at Sampson to his sweetheart in Massachusetts. They needed to know “what happened next.” Did they get married? Did they settle in Geneva? How could the students find out? I had to explain why it was very unlikely we could answer those questions, but it was nice to see them become invested in the story so quickly.

Our HWS outreach extends to alumni and parents of students. The Colleges offer mini-college classes during Reunion in June and Parents’ Weekend in the fall, and I have presented local history lectures for several years. Most parents see Geneva twice a year for four years, and that may be limited to hotels, restaurants, and the campus. Alumni have little memory of Geneva beyond campus and the bars. The common denominator is that everyone who chooses my lecture wants to learn more. That’s the root of “caring about history”, regardless of age; one needs to have a question and the desire to look for an answer.

John Marks presents "You Are Where? An HWS Guide to Geneva History"

Monday, April 8, 2013

So, what does an Archivist really do? (Or Spelunking in the Basement of Doom)

By Karen Osburn, Archivist and City of Geneva Historian

Tip of the ice burg!

I love it when people ask me what an archivist does.  I tell them it is like being a Time Traveler, a Detective and a Treasure Hunter every day.  When I arrive for work, I never know which hat I will have to put on.  It depends on what our patrons research needs are that day.  If I tell people I take care of rare manuscripts, letters, and old photos and papers some folks think I am stuck in a moldy old basement with lots of dusty old files.  (Actually, it is like that some days, but more about that later.)  Really it is much more exciting. 

In my “Sherlock Holmes” role I had the opportunity to reunite a widower with the scrapbooks his beloved wife, now deceased, made early in their married life.  A good Samaritan found the books in an antique market in one of the southern states and felt they were too personal not to be reunited with a family member.  This generous soul purchased the books and brought them to her home in New England and called me to help her find the family of the scrapbooks creator.  I put on my detective hat and began searching for a relative.  I had several volunteers working on the “hunt” with me.  Eventually we located the surviving spouse who was very excited and happy to get the books back.  He had no idea how they got to the Carolinas, but he stated he had missed his wife every day since she had died and he was delighted to get this wonderful reminder of her.  The woman who had rescued the scrapbooks, sent them to him at the senior living facility where he resided.  I had the warm feeling of having made two people very satisfied.

In my role as “Time Traveler” I get to explore old letters and documents that take me back in time and place me on steamships or trains, in parlors and kitchens, at weddings and funerals, in theaters or in stores.  I sit in meetings with Village Trustees when I read the minutes of the discussions held in 1812.  I watch the soldiers enlist and march off with their units in the Civil War.  I once had the privilege of “sitting on the deck of a Seneca Lake steamship in 1849” as a man wrote to his wife about seeing a woman working on a cadaver at the Geneva Medical College who could only have been Elizabeth Blackwell.  Wow! 

Enter the basement of doom at your peril!

The role of Treasure Hunter is really exciting.  Of course I am not talking about gold, silver or diamonds, but the “treasure” of information.  I was recently asked to put on my “Indiana Jones fedora” and go spelunking for artifacts in the basement of an old building.  Grabbing a flashlight I took my first hesitant steps into the dark cellar by walking on a plank (shades of Pirates of the Caribbean), then made my way down some stairs, holding a rickety railing, that ended at a hole in the floor.  Gingerly making my way around the hole I tiptoed carefully through the dust of ages (and crushed bricks) until I stood in a room peering at piles of dusty books.  The floor sparkled where mineral crystals had leached up from the ground.  I had made it safely without encountering rolling boulders, spikes in the floor or hordes of tarantulas!  These books were business ledgers and recorded the history, not only of one business, but many.  They held names and information from well over 100 years ago and many of them were in remarkably good condition.  For a researcher or an archivist this is comparable to finding a gold nugget when you stoop to pick up after your dog, a totally unexpected surprise. 
This is what being an archivist is like, each day is a surprise.  Who will be delighted with what you discover today? Will you thrill some small children, please your employer, reunite a researcher with memories, help a person find a lost sibling, solve a family mystery, answer the unanswerable question?  Perhaps you will find a photo for a publisher or locate the famous or infamous in the archive vertical files.   The possibilities are endless.  I have provided images for authors in England and Japan, photos for the sets of television shows, maps for surveying companies, house histories for home buyers, and recipes for grape ketchup to aspiring cooks.  Where else can a person get so much variety in just a couple of hours of work?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Mark Twain Comes to Geneva

By Kerry Lippincott, Executive Director

There is no use denying it any longer – I’m suffering from Twain withdrawal.   Before coming to the Geneva Historical Society, I worked at the Chemung County Historical Society in Elmira and Mark Twain is pretty popular guy in Elmira.  Twain’s connection to Elmira is due to his wife Livy Langdon, who was born and raised there.  The couple courted and were married in the Langdon family home on Church Street (which sadly is longer standing).  Three of the couple’s four children were born in ElmiraBetween 1870 and 1889 the family spent all but one summer in Elmira at Quarry Farm, the home of Livy’s sister.  It’s at Quarry Farm where Twain wrote most of Roughing It, first half of Adventures of Tom Sawyer, all but three chapters of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Prince and the Pauper, parts of A  Tramp Abroad, Life on the Mississippi, and portions of A Connecticut Yankee at Kings Arthur’s Court.  Twain and his family are also buried in the Langdon family plot at Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira.  It’s safe to say that I have spent so much time with Twain, Livy and their daughters that I feel as if I know them.

Since my move to Geneva I’ve been wondering, did Twain ever visit Geneva?    And the answer is, yes he did.

As part of a lecture tour, Twain made an appearance in Geneva on December 4, 1871 at Linden Hall.  In era before major mass media, like many celebrities in the mid and late 19th century Twain traveled the country making appearances through various lecture circuits.  During his lifetime Twain was almost as well-known as a public speaker as he was a writer.  In fact, lecture tours served as a major source of his income.

His stop in Geneva was part of his October 1871 to February 1872 tour.  Over the course of five months, Twain had 76 performances in over 15 states (from Maine to Illinois and the District of Columbia).    For his Geneva appearance the topic was Artemus Ward (pen name for American humorist Charles Farrar Browne).  After presenting a brief biography of Ward, Twain recited a medley of Ward’s stories.

Linden Hall

Throughout the tour crowds were typically large and enthusiastic, but newspaper reviews were mixed.  Here’s what the Geneva Gazette reported: “Mark Twain” was favored with a good house – good in numbers and appreciative character – on Monday evening last.  It was his first appearance before a Geneva audience and doubtless many had formed a higher estimate of his personal and oratorical characteristics than was borne out by the introduction and lecture itself.  Mr. Clemens is not an electric, high strung clown life George Francis Train, who amuses as much by his antics as by his language; but in action appears very – tired, some might denominate it even less complimentarily.”

In Twain’s defense, in 1871 he was just beginning to make a name for himself as a writer and lecturer.  At the time he had published several short stories and two books (The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Stories and Innocents Abroad).  The Adventures of Tom Sawyer would not be published until 1876 and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would follow eight years later.  He had yet to become the Mark Twain we know today.