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Making museum history

New director, exhibit at Caroga Museum

June 27, 2010
By RODNEY MINOR, The Leader-Herald

CAROGA - The Caroga Historical Museum has a new exhibit and a new director.

Both the director, Alice Smith Duncan, and the artist featured in the exhibit, Rufus Grider, have a connection to Canajoharie.

Doug Smith, a trustee at the museum, said he expects having an exhibit about someone as well known as Grider from Montgomery County, will bring visitors who otherwise might not stop at the museum.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Rodney Minor

Alec?Reid points to a picture of Rufus Grider at the Caroga Historical Museum on Wednesday. Reid put
together the exhibit, about the work the artist did while at nearby Canada Lake, for the museum.

"We try to come up with one or two new exhibits every year," he said. "We try to keep updating [exhibits] so people will come back every year."

When the museum - operated by the Caroga Historical Association - opens Thursday, visitors will get to see the exhibit, titled "Rufus Grider's 19th-Century View of Canada Lake."

Smith said the idea for the exhibit came about a year ago when a friend mentioned that there was a book in existence showing artwork Grider made while in Canada Lake.

Smith said when he brought it up with the other trustees, they agreed it could be the basis for a nice exhibit.


According to information in the exhibit, Grider was born in 1817 in Lititz, Pa., a village north of Lancaster. A self-taught artist, in 1883, he moved to Canajoharie to teach art in the Canajoharie Union Free School.

While teaching at the school, he created watercolors, pencil sketches and pen-and-ink sketches of historic scenes and objects in the Mohawk Valley area - most related to the Revolutionary War.

While Grider did most of his work in the Mohawk Valley, Schoharie Valley and Cherry Valley, he also produced work in the Adirondacks and New England.

In August 1896, Grider was in Canada Lake painting and sketching. At that time, Canada Lake was a summertime tourist attraction. The lake had two large hotels - the Auskerada House and J.Y. Fulton's Canada Lake House. There also were privately owned camps around the lake's shores. Most of the shoreline was covered with trees, the information said.

Later that year, Grider took some of the paintings from Canada Lake and created a book titled, "Souvenir of Canada Lake N.Y."

"This book is an artist's impression of what Canada Lake looked like in 1896," information in the exhibit said.

The four display cases that comprise the exhibit contain photographic reproductions of the more than 20 watercolor paintings in the book, along with its cover.

"[The exhibit] shows and explains what the book is about," Alec Reid said.

Reid actually put the display together for the museum. He worked on it over the winter, after getting a CD from the Arkell Foundation in Canajoharie that contained the images.

While the photographs - technically on loan from the Arkell Foundation - are mainly black and white, some do have color. He noted at least one has some color in what is an otherwise black-and-white drawing and suspects that originally they all had color in them.

Grider, who died in 1900, produced more than 2,000 works in his lifetime.

"He's not a Michaelangelo," Reid said. "But 2,000 is not too bad."

Smith said the exhibit keeps with the museum's practice of having a strong art presence every year. As in previous years, there will be plenty of art workshops this summer. A variety of arts will be represented, from painting to basket weaving.

Tied in with the Grider exhibit, Joseph Santangelo, the executive director of the Arkell Foundation, will speak about Grider's work at 7 p.m. July 8 at the museum.

Smith said it was just coincidence that at the same time the display was coming together, the museum also needed to find a director.

Doug Purcell, a trustee with the museum, said the search for a new director started in late October.

The director who had been at the museum for several years, Inger McDaniel, had decided to retire, he said.

Purcell said the trustees wanted a director in place before the winter came because many people involved with the museum leave the area for winter.

The group quickly formed a committee, ran advertisements and got in touch with other museums to let people know a director was needed, he said.

Duncan said she heard about the job opening from a friend. The fact the museum had an exhibit about Grider planned piqued her curiosity, she said.

"I love talking about Grider," she said with a laugh.

Duncan will be the guest curator for a major exhibit about Grider and Fritz Vogt, a folk artist who also lived in Canajoharie, at the Arkell Museum next year. She also is the publisher, editor and webhost of the Rufus Grider Publishing project, which is a ten-volume series about the work of the artist.

Purcell said Duncan had a very strong resume. He was familiar with the Cooperstown Graduate Program, and saw that Duncan had graduated from it as a big positive.

According to its website - - the program is " the premier program for the training of museum professionals in the United States." It is one of only two programs in the country on a museum campus rather than a university campus, the web site said, so students can interact regularly with professional staff, objects and exhibitions.

Duncan said the benefit of being in the program was she learned how everything that goes on in a museum - from setting up exhibits to fundraising - is connected.

Purcell said the committee also learned she had moved to the area years ago, but wanted to learn more about the Adirondacks.

"This was a way for her to learn and put her ability's to good use," he said.

Duncan moved from Manhattan to Canajoharie in 1993 after her husband got a job at Union?College in?Schenectady.

She said the area has a rich history that is complemented by its natural beauty. She said the only problem is that not enough people are aware of it.

"Anything I can do to bring attention to it is a good thing," Duncan said.

Purcell said soon after the interview, she was offered the job and accepted.

In addition to learning what the museum offers, such as exhibits and workshops, Duncan also is busy learning how the group functions, Purcell said.

"All organizations have their idiosyncracies," he said.

Duncan said the museum and the organization behind it have done a brilliant job.

"They are doing everything right," she said.

For more information about the museum, visit or call 835-4400.



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