Travels with Dave Higgins/ The Arkell Museum

May 15, 2012
The Arkell Museum

The Arkell Museum

My favorite “weird little museum” has to be the Arkell Museum in Canajoharie (NY), which was founded by the Beech-Nut foods company (remember them?) before it withered and bailed out. Canajoharie is another in a belt of blighted, struggling Mohawk River towns; it’s not quite as sad as Rome or Utica, but it had the misfortune to get clobbered in the 2006 flood. The Museum itself is basically a glorified library that has grown in fits and starts, and it’s really obvious that no management consultants or marketing subcommittees were ever brought in to ruin its organic charm.  There are plenty of odd and obscure works, with a surprising amount of real gems sprinkled in—several Winslow Homers [ Note: The Museum has 21 pieces by Homer], a Childe Hassam, a  Robert Henri, even a Sargent!  They also have a portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, one of what he called his “one-hundred dollar bills,” because whenever his gambling debts caught up with him, he’d whip out another duplicate for some ready cash.

But the real tour-de-force was a life-size copy of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, painted by a fairly accomplished (though forgotten) artist on-site at the Rijksmuseum in some time in the early 1900’s. Ever since my first Art History class in 1980, I’ve known intellectually that The Night Watch is an unqualified masterpiece, but darned if I could see why, because the ink reproductions I’ve seen in textbooks were so crappy. And let’s face it, this was as close as I’ll ever get to the Rijksmuseum until I learn to stop betting on the Cleveland Cavaliers. That said, I was astonished at the huge scale of the thing and the magnificent interplay of light as it wends its way through an emphatically convincing 3-D space writhing with busy figures. To coin a phrase, it really “came alive.” It’s one of my top-five all-time mesmerizing art experiences; it blew me away!——  Dave Higgins

The Arkell isn’t worth a trip by itself unless you’re a connoisseur of the weird and spooky… but speaking of weird, the shrine of Kateri Tekakwitha (the first Native American saint) and the Shrine of the North American Martyrs are not far away. I’ll tell you about them next time. – David Higgins


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