Browse Exhibits (18 total)

Caledonia 1892


This exhibit is based upon an 1892 bird's eye panorama created by Burleigh Litho of Troy, NY. From an overhead viewpoint of perhaps 1,500 feet—a location that wasn’t accessible in this era before airplanes—we look down upon a somewhat simplified and idealized portrait of Caledonia. Below the illustrated map, its legend provides us with a snapshot of the village recovering from a major fire in 1891. Forty-eight numbered points included railroad stations, churches, the public school, and even Seth Green’s fish hatchery in nearby Mumford. The majority of named locations, however, were commercial enterprises serving as a likely base of customers to purchase copies of the completed map: if you subscribed, your business became a location. This exhibit includes a section about the 1891 fire and its consequences; one upon panoramic maps, and the Burleigh Litho company in particular; a tour of the bird's eye map; a section offering more detailed information about most of the individual businesses; and a gallery of similar maps from western New York. Together, they show Caledonia rebuilding itself at the century’s turn using the swiftly evolving medium of advertising and its imagined worlds, an appropriate counterpart to this idealized village as seen from the clouds above.

Green New Deal

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This is the home page for a series of five digital exhibits entitled "The Green New Deal: Art During a Time of Environmental Emergency." They were created during the 2018-19 academic year as a partnership between OpenValley and the Genesee Valley Council on the Arts. The exhibit here begins by addressing the conditions of climate emergency that gave our project its title—during the 1930s and now our own times. It then introduces the Federal Art Project (FAP), a relief program of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) that sustained more than 10,000 artists during the Great Depression. Finally, we turn to the New Deal Gallery in Mt. Morris, NY, whose more than 200 paintings were re-photographed, researched, and catalogued by students in the OpenValley course. The gallery’s prior history as a tuberculosis sanatorium led to its being an “allocation” point for the art located there today.

Green New Deal: Allocations

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Under the Federal Arts program, the main goal was not only to fund artists who created paintings but also to allocate that art to public places such as government buildings, schools, or hospitals. The Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Mt. Morris was one such location where paintings from a variety of locations were allocated—to the best of our knowledge, originating in New York City and Woodstock, NY. This exhibit takes the additional step of looking at these paintings in terms of where they originated, and the importance of that social space during the 1930s. The New Deal Gallery paintings evoke stability and nostalgia (if only for a moment) but also a sometimes-ecological recognition of the land that America has to offer. That couldn't be taken for granted during the 1930s, and it's hard to see how we could ignore those lessons today. Update Jan. 2020: a portion of this exhibit was recognized by Esri as a finalist for the "2019 StoryMapper of the Year" contest.

Green New Deal: Biosurrealism

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Social surrealists based their work on "life in the real, physical world" while "retaining their focus on social problems." Drawing upon European Surrealism "enabled American artists to intensify the power of their social-political statements and thus to present familiar aspects of American life in a new perspective." This exhibit arranges the many aspects of Social Surrealism in the New Deal Gallery into five sections. After a brief history of surrealism in the 1930s, a redefined surrealism or bio-surrealism is recognized as the modern term for social surrealism, dealing with surreal images of climate change in our world today. As the effects of climate change becoming more evident, modern artists create surreal pieces to either highlight or juxtapose the commonly overlooked human disturbances. Social surrealism in the 1930s is more similar to surreal themes of today than one would think. This exhibit addresses those similarities and their contrasting nature.

Green New Deal: Conservation

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This exhibit uses the New Deal Gallery collection as a case study for at least three ways of thinking about conservation: as an issue concerning art museums and archives generally; as an urgent environmental issue, specifically during the 1930s; and as an ethical issue encompassing those first two discourses along with many others. What does our culture choose to conserve? What choices have led to conditions of neglect? The New Deal era offered blunt assessments of unsustainable practices because it had no other choice; it created innovative conservation practices we have forgotten and need to remember quickly. Caretaking ignores false categories, and the pages of this exhibit approach the New Deal Gallery itself as one such site of neglect and conservation.

Green New Deal: Open World

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This is an exhibit about two important Mt. Morris institutions, at most twenty miles in distance from each other: the New Deal Gallery and Letchworth State Park. Both were recipients of federal funding the Great Depression. “Open World” is an experiment in thinking about the two programs within a single framework, perhaps in ways not currently appreciated. Its title is borrowed from video games designed to be less linear in their narratives, more free-roaming; players build spaces and have experiences that are very immersive. At the New Deal Gallery, viewers of a landscape painting not only look at a canvas, but through it as a framed window and imagine themselves in a world. Meanwhile at Letchworth State Park, visitors navigate spaces constructed by more than 3,000 Civilian Conservation Corps workers, who built beautiful stone walls, trails, bridges, shelters, and viewpoints. The aesthetic questions raised here have ecological implications; the idea of nature as something untouched by humans is re-framed as a matter of the art we make.

Green New Deal: Solastalgia

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The disastrous combination of industrialization and anthropogenic climate change that inspired the Green New Deal exhibits has transformed so many environments and homes to the point of unfamiliarity, eliciting a sense of sorrow and wistfulness at the negatively transformed space from the loss of one’s place of solace. This melancholy is similar to that of nostalgia but for a word rooted in the meaning “to return home,” it is not applicable for those who are already “home.” Thus, Glenn Albrecht aptly names this emotion “solastalgia,” based off the ideas of solace and desolation: “Solace has meanings connected to the alleviation of distress or to the provision of comfort or consolation in the face of distressing events. Desolation has meanings connected to abandonment and loneliness. The suffix -algia has connotations of pain or suffering...Solastalgia, simply put, is ‘the homesickness you have when you are still at home.’” 

Letchworth Viewpoints


Letchworth State Park, the “Grand Canyon of the East,” is known for its vistas of natural beauty seen by more than 650,000 visitors every year. Uncountable photographs have been created at overlooks along the gorge’s rim—Mt. Morris Highbanks, Hogsback, Gardeau, Big Bend, Inspiration Point—and at its three major waterfalls near Portageville. Sightseers also have paused to document viewpoints from other perspectives: from the gorge’s bottom, the park’s numerous trails, and even looking back into a past implied by the Seneca Council House and Mary Jemison monument. It seems appropriate, then, that in 1967 the Eastman Kodak Company (located forty miles downriver in Rochester) created a tourist map entitled “Picture-taking In Letchworth State Park.”

This exhibit adopts Kodak’s twenty so-called “Picture Spots” as a framework to explore how our conceptions of nature and the picturesque have changed over time at a single location. Individual sections, each focusing upon a representational medium, are arranged in roughly chronological order beginning with William Pryor Letchworth’s purchase of the Glen Iris tract in 1859. Taken together, the goal is to elicit new appreciation for the park as a dynamic place; its beauty was in part created by the actions of committed individuals and a growing environmental awareness.

Peabody Networks

Crowds walking to the Hemlock Fair, ca. 1900

July 26, 1902 was a day like many others for the 72-year-old Sheffield Peabody: he “drawed out” a load of hay from a field that had been mowed ten days before, and his son George L. went to church in Canadice that afternoon.  But his journal also records that “They have connected the telephone system with Springwater Central.  We can talk with the people in the valley.”  It may be hard for us to appreciate what a transformative moment this was; each time Sheffield wrote, as he often did, that he “went down to the valley,” the distance was four miles on dirt roads, with an elevation drop (or ascent) of more than 1,000 vertical feet, traveled by horse-drawn wagon or sleigh.  In 1885, having served as a juror for a murder trial held in Geneseo, Sheffield stayed at the home of Nelson Willis that night, traveled to Springwater the next morning, walked home from the Erie Railroad depot, then “commenced sowing barley” before finally pruning his orchard toward nightfall (11-12 May, 1885).  Telephones dramatically transformed all of these activities in a spatial but also a cultural sense.

This exhibit begins from an anachronous perspective—our own society whose informational, economic, and social networks are taken for granted.  Increasingly, we meet these needs without physical travel, through online or cloud technologies.  What did Sheffield’s networks look like?  How did he meet these needs?  Our premise is that a man for whom the term “went” is among the most common in his journals—“I went over to George Higgins’ today”; “I went to the valley”—enacted these networks in physical space, as we sometimes do but to a much lesser extent in the 21st century.  Through a combination of targeted questions and (word) mapping visualizations, Sheffield’s apparently simple life on a farm becomes much richer and socially complex.  The exploratory essays are organized under three broad headings: The Social Network, which maps Sheffield’s relations with various groups of people outside of his family; Circuits, which explores his farm as an economic node in relation to a circulation of mutual commerce & interdependency; and The Safety Net, focusing upon his later years and the need for medical, financial, and emotional support.

Peabody Winter Activities

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For 19th-century farmers, the end of a growing season meant a change in daily activities.  They still had to feed (and slaughter) livestock, thresh grains, deliver stored vegetables to market, harvest timber, and repair farm equipment--in other words, a lot of work!  A terse diary entry like "We tinkered around some.  We killed a calf today" (11 Nov. 1851) still testifies to ongoing, year-round labor.  Even so, farmers had more time to pursue interests not otherwise possible during the summer months.  This exhibit upon Sheffield Peabody's early years of keeping a diary explores some of his winter activities and, by extension, those of his surrounding community. 

Looking back upon his life from the 21st century, it is important to remember how much of our time during winter is spent in climate-controlled conditions.  We find Sheffield and his community acclimated to outdoor activities that sometimes leave us gazing out of the window at them.  Often, he will record a sub-zero temperature--and then go on to describe some outdoor enterprise--but more commonly such information never is mentioned.  It reminds us that the experience of cold is culturally and historically relative, and that a tremendous range of life took place during the winter season.