Browse Exhibits (18 total)

Perry Knitting Co.

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The Perry Knitting Company was formed in 1881, began operations in 1883, and closed its doors in 1969. During much of that period it was the town's largest firm, directly employing perhaps a third of the community and indirectly accounting for many more livelihoods. For the first half of its history the company produced underwear sold to wholesale brokers called "jobbers"; after World War II, its "Nitey Nite" line of children's sleepwear was nationally known for its quality. The PK, as it was called informally in Perry, had an outsized economic, political, and social influence. This exhibit begins to assess those legacies, the better to understand how deindustrialization affected small rural communities and to explore bioregional responses going forward.

Unfortunately any archival record of the company's past has unspooled. Two fires during the 1970s--one of them a case of arson--destroyed buildings that may have contained important documents. Others ended up in the landfill. And in any case a knitting mill simply trying to survive amidst a competitive market probably had little inclination to preserve records for posterity. Any attempt at an oral history has been stymied in this year of 2020 by a coronavirus pandemic, and the reality that most employees of the mill no longer are living. The exhibit here therefore makes use of three collections from the Perry Public Library that give us partial, indirect glimpses into the PK: selected documents presevered by Henry Page, a local historian; digitized copies of the Perry Herald newspaper; and more than 7,000 images from the Clark Rice Photography Collection. Where the archival record gives out, we sometimes make use of speculative nonfiction. As described by Robin Hemley and Leila Philip it's a mode of writing that, instead of seeking after the narrowly factual or informative, "concerns itself with the figurative over the literal, ambiguity over knowing, meditation over reportage."

Seth Green: Home Waters

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This exhibit profiles one of the Genesee Valley’s most famous residents, Seth Green, against a backdrop of modern food systems and their sustainable alternatives. Born in 1817, Green grew up in Rochester and at an early age showed a talent for fishing—so much so that beginning in his twenties he was able to earn a livelihood on the lower Genesee River and eventually open a lucrative fish market on Front Street.  The scale of this latter enterprise, which removed anywhere from a thousand pounds to three tons of fish from nearby lakes and streams on a daily basis, may have imparted an urgency to the experimental spawning techniques for which he became renowned at his fish hatchery along Caledonia Creek.

The emphasis here is to “re-localize” Green, particularly his vision of a sustainably managed network of creeks and rivers that would give people access to healthy local foods—a far cry from today’s globalized fish farms with genetically modified species. He was particularly interested in the role of local farmers, whose “homes are among the lakes and streams, and the lands which they cultivate border on them...[T]hese bodies of water are natural fish farms, capable of producing more food, acre for acre, than the land, besides not requiring the attention and labor necessary to prepare the soil for a future crop.” The essays contained here revisit Green’s unusual synthesis of sport angling, regional food systems, and conservation; they offer a series of related explorations on his life to better understand the prospects for contemporary pisciculture.

Under the Bronze Bear: A Geneseo Water Map

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At the corner of Main and Center Streets, in the village of Geneseo NY, stands one of its iconic landmarks: the Emmeline Austin Wadsworth Fountain. Better known as the “Bronze Bear,” it was installed in 1888 and over the years has been the subject of innumerable photographs, late-night dips, apocryphal stories, and acts of vandalism. The rise of automotive culture was not kind to the fountain; it fell into disrepair and was surrounded by traffic signs that created drive-by glances at village history. Beginning in 2008, a group of residents called the Association for the Preservation of Geneseo undertook a restoration of the fountain and its idiosyncratic sculpture to their original state.

This exhibit begins at the Bronze Bear fountain and traces another, literally underground history of its water supply—where did it come from, anyway? Using historic maps and documents, along with modern geographical information services (GIS), it traces fountain water to its source in two different ways: spatially, to the various locations Geneseo has extracted (and disposed of) its water supply; and historically, back to a series of ecological problems created by the village’s growing population. It is presented as a series of interactive webmaps, which are viewed in their best resolution by clicking here.

Underground Atlas of the Genesee

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This collection of twelve maps upon the Genesee Valley begins with a photograph: a small portion of the operations at American Rock Salt’s mine in Mount Morris, NY. Every day at the nation’s largest salt mine, anywhere between 10,000 and 18,000 tons of crushed minerals emerge from underground and travel via rail throughout the northeast for the task of melting ice upon roads and sidewalks. To think about this local landmark not simply as a commercial enterprise but also as a place—is it at, in,or under Mount Morris?—recalled to us what Rebecca Solnit has written about the complexity of that premise: “What we call places are stable locations with unstable converging forces that cannot be delineated by fences on the ground or borders in the imagination—or by the perimeter of the map. Something is always coming from elsewhere, whether it’s wind, water, immigrants, trade goods, or ideas.” Inspired by Solnit’s observation, primarily horizontal in its orientation, we wondered about the relation between aboveground places in the Genesee Valley and any number of elsewheres located underground.

Some of the GIS maps in this atlas grapple with that relation in a geographic, even geological manner; others depict more figurative underworlds, terrains that are mythical, psychological, social, or historical. Regardless of the subject matter, however, belowground places and their aboveground cultural meanings are reckoned to be realms that form a single, connected ecology. In addition to a Story Map collecting the Underground Atlas, the exhibit here on OpenValley contains sections for each of its dozen maps--featuring in-depth background and galleries of documents not shown in the atlas. For the best screen resolution, it's recommended that you view the story map by clicking on this link.

Wadsworth Family Papers: Farm to Table

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A lot of things happen to foods on their way from farm to table: they are harvested, packed, shipped, processed, distributed, purchased, cooked, and consumed—which is why Wendell Berry writes that “eating is an agricultural act.” Many eaters either don’t know, or don’t want to know, about that provenance.  By contrast, the growing popularity of farm-to-table restaurants and farm markets arises from a belief that local, seasonal, organic foods are healthier and more environmentally sustainable. Yet for those eaters who value a recovered connection to what is on their plate, the imaginary dimensions of farm-to-table remain mostly unconscious—for example, a type of organic food narrative that Michael Pollan has called “supermarket pastoral.”

This exhibit, while recognizing the agricultural issues involved, focuses upon a cultural imagination of food that has filled the void as Americans gradually lost touch with the everyday experience of farming during the 19th and 20th centuries. Harvey Levenstein writes that by 1900 food processing accounted for a quarter of the nation’s manufacturing, and the Genesee Valley—a predominantly agricultural region throughout the 1800s—was transformed by the industrial logic of raw foods becoming consumer brands for the global market. The essays begin with a consideration of how (and why) non-native foods gained a foothold at the Wadsworth family table, then utilizes archival material to show the changing relation between farmers and eaters.

Wadsworth Family Papers: Food Miles


During the 1990s, advocates for sustainable agriculture began using the term food miles to visualize a meal’s environmental impact. The meat and produce in our grocery stores has traveled hundreds, often thousands of miles for many reasons. We desire foods not indigenous to our area, or at a time when they are not in season. We expect to purchase foods at the cheapest possible price, incentivizing imports from locations where labor costs are low and environmental regulations lax. We eat food from around the world because sophisticated transportation networks and a “cold chain” of refrigerated storage allows us to. All of this travel, perhaps invisible to us, comes at an environmental cost.

The calculation of food miles has become more complex in the years since then—is it better to transport tomatoes via railroads from the South instead of growing them in fossil-fueled New York greenhouses?—and so environmentalists sometimes prefer the term “lifecycle analysis” for a deeper accounting.  Still, there remains something very intuitive and powerful about eating within one’s own foodshed.  A recent study by Andrew Zumkehr and J. Elliott Campbell calculated that 90% of Americans still could be fed entirely by food grown within a 100-mile radius (and even smaller than that by changing to a vegetarian diet).  In other words, local food needn’t be an occasional luxury. This exhibit looks back upon a region whose “Genesee Wheat” traveled around the world thanks to the Erie Canal, both to explore the consequences of food miles but also the potential relocalization of its farming infrastructure.

Wadsworth Family Papers: Mills of Conesus Creek

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This spatially defined exhibit has at its one end the town of Lakeville, located near the outlet of Consesus Lake, and a point less than ten miles distant where Consesus Creek flows into the Genesee River just downstream from the Glen Avon Mills site. Its historical significance derives largely from the meandering creek’s 250-foot drop in elevation over that distance, hinted at via a series of names: Triphammer Road, Papermill Road, Mill Road.  In this regard, many other communities in the Genesee Valley bear similar linguistic clues as to their early water-milling history—until the later 19th century, a primary source of mechanical work.  The Wadsworths owned and managed more than 30,000 acres of farmland, but its productivity depended greatly upon the ability to add value to food (like turning wheat into flour) and then shipping it to markets beyond the Genesee Valley.  As such, the location of mills, canals, and railroads was important; Wadsworth investments in all three types of infrastructure testify to their importance.  We begin by focusing upon that mill at the Glen Avon site and then expanding its significance through a series of linked exhibits.


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This exhibit borrows an idea from New York State's Department of Conservation (DEC), created a map organizing terrain into seventeen major areas, each with information about its acreage, major streams and lakes, and water quality. The exhibit here follows that spatial organization, but emphasizes instead material of interest from an historical perspective. What sorts of literature and art have foregrounded "watershed culture"? Are there descriptions from the past that would surprise us today, help to reactivate awareness of a region? The different pages follow a roughly parallel organization: there are descriptions from 19th-century gazetteers, a short poem or other literary text, and a work of visual art of interest from the standpoint of watersheds.