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Rockwell Museum: 'West in the East'


Sometimes you remember a museum because of a deep and rich collection, sometimes for an unusual building, sometimes for its history, and just occasionally because of one picture that can leave you with new and even disturbing questions.

Back to that in a minute.


The Rockwell Museum, in Corning, New York, certainly has a memorable building, the more so because of the bison bursting through its facade. Built in 1893 as a City Hall, fire and police station, it was heavily damaged in the 1972 flood and was saved from demolition when Corning Glass money turned it into a home for the art collection of a local department store owner, Robert Rockwell, who started collecting Western art in the 1960s.


Western art as in "Old West," complete with cowboy paintings, guns and Indian artifacts. That's a Frederick Remington above, painted in monotones as an illustration for a magazine article by Theodore Roosevelt. No color there!


Along the way, the collection, and the museum which once advertised itself as "the best of the West in the East," began turning a somewhat less romantic eye on its subject, and began to pay more attention to Native Americans who weren't in the west, but were actually Native New Yorkers. The two images above are work, both historic and recent, by Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, artists.


And that brings me to the work that sticks with me. The museum has given the three pieces a wall of their own. Their separation as well as the differences in size are an immediate warning not to assume this is one picture, although it is clear that none of the panels truly stands on its own. The artist's words both explain, and question. Explain the circumstance she has painted, but leave us with the question: Why do we live with such lines between us? The answer is not a simple one!

P1080118The museum has, of course, a gift shop in the lobby; it also has an extensive program of education programs, including in-school programs, and as a Smithsonian Affiliate, it hosts numbers of special exhibitions; when we were there, it had Kara Walker's exhibit on the Civil War, re-imagining illustrations from Harper's Weekly from an African-American point of view.


Around the corner and down the block on Market Street, with an Art Deco storefront, is the Rockwell Kids Art Lab, where many of the children-and-family programs take place.


artemusOh, yes. the bison.

Named 'Artemus' by a second-grader who won a contest with the entry, the bison has been there sine 1999, although he had a recent leave of absence for repairs.

The anti-virus mask he's been wearing lately is not his first textile adventure; in the past, local knitters made him a 2' x 25' winter scarf to keep him warm.


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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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