Friday, April 30, 2021

The Fenimore Museum and more!

(The Fenimore Art Museum with pots of daffodils)


What a treat to go on a cultural outing to the Fenimore Museum in Cooperstown! The last museum Bill and I visited was in 2019, also to the Fenimore and with friends no less.  This time we went on our own, reveled in the rural scenery along route 20, and anticipated a pleasant day trip.

When I saw in the newspaper that the Fenimore was featuring an exhibit of Jan Brett paintings from her beautifully illustrated children's books, I was determined to go.  I had discovered Jan Brett in the public library when my own children were small. 

(Our family's collection of Jan Brett's books)

During my 13 years working in the children's department of Barnes & Noble, I became enamored of Jan Brett's written and illustrated books.  I bought a few for my children and for gifts.  Occasionally, I had them signed when Jan came to Barnes & Noble for booksignings.

We all appreciated the authenticity of the paintings.  At that time, most of Jan's books took place in the deep snow of Ukraine and Scandinavia.  That she traveled to these countries so that her depictions of the scenery, characters, and customs were accurate seemed exotic to us. 

(Lots of holiday baked goods in The Gingerbread Friends)

The exhibit at the Fenimore showcased her newer books from the 2010s.  Jan's illustrations still have her trademark fine watercolor detail, and the charming border drawings that tell an additional story. 

How Jan Brett has branched out over the years while I have not been watching!  There are now books on Noah's Ark, China, Africa, space, and even the bottom of the sea. Short of going to outerspace, Jan has visited each country she illustrates, claiming that being a writer/illustrator has made for a fascinating life.

(The Turnip)


I took my time finding all the details in the pictures, but I gravitated to a simple story published in 2015, The Turnip.  The turnip grows to be so huge that no one can get it out of the ground, until...!  The story and illustrations are fun, and perfect for very young children.  I thought of my little grandchildren.

(A rainforest scene in The Umbrella)


I was particularly taken with her rainforest book, The Umbrella, so different from the stories with which my children had been familiar.  Educators had requested that she write a tropical version of The Mitten, her classic story based on the Ukrainian folk tale.  To learn about the landscape and animals of the rainforest, Jan traveled to Costa Rica.  She said, "I bought every color of green paint I could, and then I mixed even more greens."

(A young boy peers into the distance as birds and animals create a story in the border paintings)

Although Jan Brett's paintings had drawn Bill and me to the Fenimore, we were also intrigued by another temporary exhibit, Ansel Adams's photographs of the Manzanar War Relocation Center.  Adams created a visual documentary of life in the Japanese internment camps in California during World War II.  While he portrayed the faces and character of the people who lived in the camps, the majority of his pictures show the evacuees, as they were called, doing everyday things -- going to school, reading the newspaper, farming.

(This exhibit features some original magazine covers and artifacts as well as Adams's photos)

More than twenty years later, in 1965, after Adams published the photographs, he said, "The purpose of my work was to show how these people, suffering under a great injustice, and loss of property, businesses and professions, had overcome the sense of defeat and despair by building for themselves a vital community in an arid (but magnificent) environment." 

(Adams titled his book of photographs Born Free and Equal)

My custom when I go to a museum is to read all of the descriptions and study the pictures.  Once I've seen the entire exhibit, I walk back through to find the pictures that I either like the best or that I find most thought provoking.   

I found the above picture fascinating. Adams's Manzanar photographs had their first showing in 1944 to people of Japanese descent.  I wonder how the viewers perceived these photos of their contemporaries and how different their thoughts were from our impressions of the same pictures today.


These two attractive young people were anticipating their return to life outside the camp.  The young woman is quoted as saying in 1944, "I have come to realize the false sense of security I enjoyed prior to the war."  Ansel Adams's response to this comment was, "Perhaps this sense of security will be re-established as she discovers her place in American life."  One can only wonder how her sense of self as a Japanese-American may have resolved itself.


The Fenimore always has an area showcasing the work of a contemporary or local painter.  This picture, entitled 2020 was painted in 2020 by Mary Nolan, who is inspired by water both at Otsego Lake and at tidal locations.  I found the picture intriguing with its stark trees, low water exposing the island's rock, all beneath a stormy but bright sky that lights the water.  I wonder what the artist thought the viewer might take from 2020.

(Otsego Lake)

After a cup of tea at the Fenimore Cafe and a perusal of the gift shop, Bill and I walked behind the museum to the shoreline of Otsego Lake.  The calm gray day was reflected in the water with the hills, a couple of waterfront houses, and a farm field beyond.  An allee of old maple trees interspersed with younger replacements created its own natural artistry on this beautiful property.  


(The allee leads to Otsego Lake and other paths)

We had had a great day at the Fenimore but now we were hungry.  Where to go?  Not surprisingly, we ended up at Brooks' Bar-B-Q, a local classic for sure.  Brooks is still going strong, open for take-out or curbside during Covid.  We carried our barbecued chicken dinners to Brooks's attractive picnic area.

(We even parked right under the sign)

A side note:  While perfecting their recipe, the Brookses trained in Prattsville on Bill's family farm,  known for its huge flock of fine chickens.  The Brookses began catering in 1951 using the original recipe created at Cornell University.  And the rest of this story about the Brooks family, that continues to cook 3000 to 4000 chickens a week for churches and fundraisers (pre-Covid) and more at their restaurant, is history!


(Bill often barbecues chicken using the recipe from this early Cornell pamphlet.)



  1. What a great day trip! Art, food, and views! I have fond memories of the Jan Brett books, it would be interesting to check out these new ones, you make them sound very intriguing! And I can almost taste the Brooks Barbecue... Jealous!

  2. Wonderful experience! I'm now introduced to a children's book author/illustrator that I will happily seek out for my (hopefully) future grandchildren. The Ansel Adams exhibit is haunting-wasn't familiar with this line of his work. I've admired his photographs for a long time now. I hope to be able to return to this fabulous museum soon. Thanks for sharing!