Art and History Help Cure Cabin Fever
By Christine A. Smyczynski
Winter is not quite over, yet the weather is finally getting nice enough to consider taking a drive somewhere, anywhere, just to get away from the same old routine. But where’s a good place to go? It’s usually too wet to do anything outdoors and many of the area’s seasonal attractions don’t open for another month or two. Fortunately, western New York has plenty of art galleries and history museums that offer interesting, fun and educational indoor activities that are perfect for this time of year. This article highlights three areas of our region that have a number of attractions to choose from.
Rochester and vicinity
Rochester, about an hour drive down the Thruway from Buffalo, offers plenty of sites to while away a mid-winter day. Probably one of the best-known museums in Rochester is the Strong Museum, the first museum in the country devoted to the study of play. It is considered one of the nation’s top children’s museums and it is in the final stages of a $33 million expansion, which includes the addition of a glass-enclosed butterfly garden. When work is completed this July, the Strong Museum will be the largest cultural attraction in Rochester and the second largest children’s museum in the country.
If you have kids you’ll want to bring them to this museum to explore its many interactive exhibits; you can easily spend the entire day here! But, even if you don’t have children, you can still spend hours perusing the extensive collection of dolls, toys and household items that were amassed by museum founder, the late Margaret Woodbury Strong. The museum is also home to the National Toy Hall of Fame, honoring classic toys that have been played with for generations.
Another family-friendly museum in Rochester is the Rochester Museum and Science Center , which features three floors of science, regional and Native American history and interactive exhibits. Current exhibits include Under the Wings of the White Eagle, which explores Rochester’s Polish American Heritage, Motion Commotion, a hands-on exhibit on how we perceive motion, and Glaciers and Giants, which focuses on the Ice Age.
The museum’s Strasenburgh Planetarium features star shows and giant screen feature films on Saturdays. Viewing the night sky through their telescope resumes Saturday evening April 15th.
Of course, no visit to Rochester would be complete without a stop at the George Eastman House , one of two National Historic Landmarks in the City of Rochester. This 12-acre estate was the home of George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak and the inventor of the Kodak camera. The 37 room mansion, the largest single family residence ever built in Monroe County, now houses the International Museum of Photography and Film. Millions of photos and artifacts chronicle the history of photography. The museum even has a children’s discovery room with hands-on exhibits.
Current exhibits include Envision Eden and Paradise, which runs through June 18. The exhibit features 133 contemporary photos by 37 artists in six countries. Also exhibited is Paris: Photos by Eugene Alget and Christopher Rauschenberg, which runs through April 9. This exhibit features photos of the City of Paris through the eyes of two photographers who worked nearly 100 years apart. Alget worked in the early 20th Century, while Rauschenberg shot his photos in the later part of the century.
The other National Historic Landmark in the city is the Susan B. Anthony House. Anthony, known for her work in the Women’s Suffrage Movement, lived in this home from 1866 until her death in 1906. Today the home is a museum filled with memorabilia and displays on Women’s Suffrage.
Art lovers will want to check out Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery , operated by the University of Rochester; one of the few university art galleries in the country that also serves as the community art museum. The museum’s permanent collection has over 10,000 objects that highlight 5,000 years of art, including works by some of the great masters, including Monet and Matisse. The museum’s collection is considered to be the most balanced in the state outside of New York City. A gourmet restaurant and gift shop round out the museum’s offerings.
Current exhibits include Love and Concern for the Human Condition: The Photography of David Heath from the 1960’s (runs through April 16) and Extreme Materials, which features non-traditional substances, such as bones, beetle shells, tires, garden hoses and more, used by contemporary artists in their work. (Runs through April 9).
Contemporary art aficionados may want to check out Rochester Contemporary , a gallery which has been promoting contemporary art in the region for over 25 years. The gallery has a number of permanent and changing exhibits. One of their more unique displays is the RoCo Art-o-mat, a former cigarette vending machine reformatted to vend cigarette-pack sized artwork by various local artists.
Other places to purchase locally created artwork includes Craft Company No. 6 , which is located in a former Victorian-era firehouse. This eight room gallery, considered one of the top craft galleries in the country, features a variety of handcrafted items, including furniture, pottery, blown glass and garden art. Another Rochester gallery, Artisan Works, has over 5,000 diverse works of art displayed in 45,000 square feet, along with on-site artist studios.
There are two other area museums you may want to check out either before or after visiting Rochester. The Holland Land Office Museum in Batavia is a great place to learn about western New York history. This National Historic Landmark structure served as the offices for the Holland land Company, a Dutch banking firm that played a major role in the development of the region. It was from here that the sale of land to settlers was handled.
The museum’s exhibits focus mainly on Genesee County history, Seneca Indian history, Civil War memorabilia and pioneer items. Rotating exhibits are changed several times a year. Admission to the museum is free.
East of Batavia, in the Village of LeRoy, you’ll find the Jell-O Museum , which highlights the history of “America’s Favorite Dessert,” which was invented here. The museum has a variety of Jell-O memorabilia and several hands-on exhibits. The adjacent Leroy House, operated by the local historical society, has displays on area history.
Chautauqua Lake area
If your search for art and history takes your south of Buffalo, head to Chautauqua County, where a wide variety of museums await. After exiting the Thruway in Westfield, stop at the McClurg Museum. This sixteen room mansion, built by James McClurg between 1818-20, is filled with items from the collection of the Chautauqua County Historical Society. Diagonally across the street from the museum, you’ll find the charming Lincoln Bedell statues, which depict the 1861 meeting between 12-year old Westfield resident, Grace Bedell and Abraham Lincoln. It was Miss Bedell who suggested that Lincoln grow a beard to improve his appearance.
Heading to Jamestown, on the east end of Chautauqua Lake, you’ll find several museums of interest. The Fenton History Center was the home of Reuben Fenton, governor of New York from 1865-1869. The 1863 Italian villa-style mansion, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, houses exhibits on Jamestown area history.
Nearby, the Robert H. Jackson Center, features exhibits on Robert H. Jackson, chief American prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trails of Nazi war criminals. Mr. Jackson grew up in Frewsburg and had his law practice in Jamestown.
Of course, no visit to Jamestown would be complete without a visit to the Lucy-Desi Museum, which celebrates the life of Lucille Ball, who grew up in nearby Celoron. The museum features photos, costumes and other memorabilia from “I Love Lucy” and “Life with Lucy.” The adjacent gift shop has hundreds of items that will delight Lucy fans.
Visitors to Jamestown may also want to check out the art displayed at the James Prendergast Library. The library features a permanent collection of late 19th and early 20th Century paintings, as well as a gallery of changing exhibits featuring local artists.
If you’re looking for a museum that combines art as well as history, look no further than the Corning Museum of Glass , one of the most popular attractions in the state, located only two and a half hours from Buffalo. The museum houses the most renowned collection of glass in the world, with over 30,000 objects representing 3,500 years of glassmaking. There are also many hands-on exhibits on glass science and technology, along with the very popular Hot Glass Show glass blowing demonstration.
Visitors can even try glass blowing or other glass related crafts at one of the museum’s workshops. Sign up early in the day, as these fill up quickly. The museum has a huge gift shop filled with glass items for every budget, as well as an extensive collection of books. The current exhibit, Decades in Glass: the ‘60’s, which runs through April 2, focuses on glassmaking in the 1960’s; the early years of the American studio glass movement.
The Rockwell Museum , also located in Corning, has the most comprehensive collection of western art in the United States. The museum, founded in 1976 by the Robert Rockwell family, has works by Frederick Remington and many other artists who portrayed scenes from the western frontier. One of the current exhibits, Cultural Reflections of Inuit Art, on display through May 29, is on loan from the collection of the Dennos Museum Center. This exhibit features contemporary sculptures, prints and drawings by Inuit artists from Canada’s Arctic region.
While in Corning, be sure to take a stroll down Market Street, a historic four-block area lined with boutiques, restaurants and small art galleries, including several shops that feature handmade glass items.
If You Go
Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau (585-546-3070) 45 East Avenue, Rochester.
Strong Museum (585-263-2700) One Manhattan Square, Rochester.
Rochester Museum and Science Center (585-271-4320) 657 East Avenue, Rochester.
George Eastman House (585-271-3361) 900 East Avenue, Rochester. (Closed Monday)
Susan B. Anthony House (585-235-6124) 17 Madison St. Rochester. (Open Wed.-Sunday)
Memorial Art Gallery (585-473-7720) 500 University Avenue, Rochester. (Open Wed-Sunday)
Rochester Contemporary (585-461-2222) 137 East Avenue, Rochester. (Open Wed.-Sunday)
Craft Company No. 6 (585-473-3413) 785 University Avenue, Rochester.
Artisan Works (585-288-7171) 565 Blossom Rd., Suite L, Rochester.
Holland Land Office Museum (585-343-4727) 131 West Main St., Batavia. (closed Sunday and Monday)
Jell-O Museum (585-768-7433) 23 East Main St., LeRoy. (Open Monday-Friday)
Chautauqua County Tourism (716-357-4569) Chautauqua Institute Main Gate (NY 394) Chautauqua.
McClurg Museum (716-326-2977) NY 20 and 394, Westfield. (Open Tues.-Sat.)
Fenton History Center (716-664-6256) 67 Washington St., Jamestown. (Closed Sunday)
Robert H. Jackson Center (716-483-6646) 305 East Fourth St., Jamestown. (Open Monday-Friday 8:30-1:30)
Lucy-Desi Museum (716-484-0800) 212 Pine St. Jamestown.
James Prendergast Library (716-484-7135) 509 Cherry St., Jamestown.
Corning Information Center (607-962-8997) 1 Baron Steuben Place, Corning.
Corning Gaffer District Festivals (607-974-6436)
Corning Museum of Glass (607-937-5371) exit 46 off I-86, Corning.
Rockwell Museum (607-937-5386) 111 Cedar Street, Corning