From Baby Food to Art Appreciation

Monday, June 9, 2014
I will be the first to admit that I am not a connoisseur of art.  I've never been one to frequent art museums, so when our recent bus trip to Sharon Springs included a stop at the Arkell Museum in Canojoharie, I wasn't exactly doing back flips.  I expected I'd just sit on a bench while those "artsy type" enjoy whatever "art" might be housed in a museum in the little town of "Canojoharie".  Boy was I mistaken!  If, like me, you've never heard of the Arkell Museum, let me tell you a little about it.

In 1899, Bartlett Arkell rescued the financially strapped Imperial Packing Company which he was part owner of and becomes founder and president of what he now names Beech-Nut Packing Company.   You probably associate Beech-Nut with baby food, but Beech-Nut produced much more than baby food.  Beech-Nut's first success came from the development of vacuum-packed jars of sliced bacon!   But by the 1920's, Beech-Nut was manufacturing everything from peanut butter, baked beans, jam, coffee, fish bait, candy, gum and much more.  Many of these offerings, such as the ginger ale, spaghetti, and fish bait, had a limited appeal and were quickly dropped, but the peanut butter, tomato products, coffee, and candy had more enduring success.  It was Beech-Nut chewing gum, however, that would prove the company's second major product breakthrough.  (taken from Funding Universe)

Aside from being a successful businessman, Bartlett Arkell was a caring man and employer.  Mr. Arkell made sure his employees were treated well and took steps to assure that.  One example of this......he had salons in the factory so women could be pampered.   Mr. Arkell was a lover of art and a collector of art.  He displayed his art in the Beechnut factory,  His intent, according to museum curator, Diane Forsberg, was to create a refuge "filled with inspirational art that his Beech-Nut workers and all Canajoharie residents would view as their own." Much of Arkell's collection features scenes from the Mohawk Valley and beyond.   According to their website, "Almost all of the paintings in the permanent collection were purchased by Bartlett Arkell for the people of Canajoharie." The American painting collection includes 21 works by Winslow Homer, and significant paintings by many distinguished artists, including George Inness, William M. Chase, Childe Hassam, Mary Cassatt, Georgia O’Keeffe, Robert Henri, and other members of The Eight. Permanent and changing exhibitions also feature selections from the museum’s Mohawk Valley History collection as well as the Beech-Nut archives of early twentieth-century advertising material."  In 1925, Arkell presented the people of Canajoharie with a library.  The original gallery was built in 1927 in that library,  The design was based on galleries Arkell had seen during his travels to Europe.  In 2007 an addition was added to add space for additional exhibits and programs. Arkell "did not use his collection to bolster his position in society," according to Ms. Forsberg, and didn't want his name on the gallery. (That happened after a 2007 expansion, 61 years after his death.)  (taken from Wall Street Journal article, 2012)
Barltett Arkell - photo taken from the internet

One of my favorite pieces was a gorgeous panoramic oil by Walter Hatke titled, "Of Time and The River" also knows as Rexford's Crossing.  It's an autumn scene overlooking the Rexford Bridge looking west, and is simply breathtaking.  If art is your thing, now might be a good time to visit.  Starting June 6 - August 24,  you can see the exhibit, "A View from the Shore: Winslow Homer's Impressions of the Coast."  This exhibition highlights Homer’s fascination with coastal and nautical scenes as an illustrator and special correspondent for the American pictorial press.

 Photos were prohibited in the museum, as you'd expect.   But I was able to get one (with permission).  You are probably curious about why there would be a stone wall inside of the museum... so here's the explanation.

Rather than tear the wall down, it was left in place and now sits between the museum and the adjoining library and the original Canojoharie Gallery built onto the library in 1927.

The Arkell Museum is open everyday but Monday.  Admission is $7 for adults ($6 for seniors) and children under 11 are free with an adult.   (See links below for more information.)  Even the non-art loving folks will enjoy spending an hour or two in this museum filled with local history and familiar countryside.  This is truly yet another treasure right here in Upstate NY!   The Arkell is located just three blocks from Exit 29 of the NYS Thruway in Canajoharie, an easy ride, about an hour from Albany.  Check it out, I know you'll love it.


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