December 5, 2010

Glens Falls museum boasts extensive works


---- — Thanksgiving usually brings me back to my hometown of Glens Falls.

Like many natives, I only belatedly appreciated many of the jewels that surrounded me during my formative years. The Hyde Collection is one of those.

During my teenage years, I visited art museums primarily when dragged by my parents or participating in class trips. Yet even then, I found myself impressed that my small local gallery included works by the likes of Rembrandt, Picasso and Leonardo da Vinci. Seeing a preliminary sketch for the "Mona Lisa" certainly left an imprint.

I've matured since then, and so has the Hyde. The Education Wing, added in 1989, provides space for special shows and traveling exhibitions. Classroom and lecture space has allowed expanded programming. Still, it's the original Hyde home that most attracts me.


A new orientation gallery provides background on the family responsible for the museum. Samuel Pruyn owned one of 60 area logging companies in the mid 1800s; he also prospered in mining and canal commerce. In 1904, with partner Jeremiah Finch, he expanded into the pulp and paper industry, building a firm that remained in family hands until only a few years ago.

Charlotte, one of Pruyn's three daughters, traveled to Boston for her education. There she met and eventually married Harvard Law School student Louis Fiske Hyde. Though Hyde's Boston practice prospered, Samuel Pruyn wanted all three of his offspring closer to home. So he offered Hyde vice-presidency of the firm if the couple would relocate to Glens Falls.

Pruyn gave six acres along Warren Street overlooking his factory to his daughters, then hired Boston architects to design three houses. The Hyde home was constructed 1910-1912 in Florentine Renaissance style, using wood, stucco and locally quarried black marble. Photos and diagrams give a sense of the gardens and walkways that once filled the adjoining landscape.

The Hydes traveled widely and became interested in art during trips to Europe. In Boston, they had admired the home museum created by Isabella Stewart Gardner. As they accumulated painting and sculptures, they began displaying the work much as Mrs. Gardner had.

Upon her husband's death in 1934, Charlotte Pruyn Hyde hired curators to help her select additional acquisitions. She brought no preconceived notions to her purchasing. Rather, she chose what she liked and sometimes simply what would fit in her home. More importantly, she decided to leave her home and art collection for public enjoyment and enrichment. Mrs. Hyde died in 1962 at the age of 96. The following year, the Hyde Collection opened its doors to the public.


We browsed on our own for a hour, then joined a docent tour led by Terry Graves. From him, we learned that only about 15 percent of the 3,300 objects in the collection are on display at any one time. His observations furthered our appreciation of the Hyde.

I'm as fascinated by the architecture as by the artwork. A skylighted indoor courtyard and loggia dominate the first story. Typical of Italian design four centuries ago, the space would then have been the "nerve center" (Terry's words) for both family and business affairs. Here we found the oldest item in the home, a Greek sculpture dating to 350 BC.

The dining room seems small for a house of this size. Mr. and Mrs. Hyde were not lavish entertainers and thus felt no need to accommodate more than a small dinner party in the intimate space. Small octagonal tiles comprise the floor. The hooded fireplace is distinctive. Seventeenth-century furnishings decorate the room.

On the other side of the courtyard stands the library, my favorite room in the house. It's rectangular with wood paneling, vaulted ceiling and another hooded fireplace. Bookshelves line the two longer walls, a reflection of Mr. Hyde's passion for reading. Volumes on the shelves include first editions of "The Last of the Mohicans" and "Peter Pan," and a local history authored by Mr. Hyde.

Two especially notable paintings hang here, Rembrandt's "Christ With Folded Arms" and "Man in Armor" by Peter Paul Rubens. There are also canvases by Van Dyck and Tintoretto.

A light and airy downstairs guest bedroom features two works by Winslow Homer ("Adirondack Guide" and "Forebodings") and the distinctive Albert Bierstadt painting "Yosemite Valley."

Upstairs, a music room offers the ambience of an English country house. Paintings fill the skylighted space, among them Rubens's "Head of a Negro" and the El Greco portrait "St. James the Less." Fifteenth- and 16th-century tapestries grace the walls. From one side, there's a commanding view over the courtyard.

Adjacent bedrooms are small and simply designed. Walls are painted in subdued colors and are complemented by tasteful draperies. Beds strike one as being small. Couples tended to sleep in separate chambers, and many people slept in semi-sitting positions.


Each room has it own delights.

A bright pink and red painting by Pierre Renoir of his son Coco highlights the Green Guest Room. Mrs. Hyde's bedroom includes Picasso's "Boy Holding a Blue Vase," another Renoir entitled "Estelle in a Red Hat," and two works by James McNeil Whistler. An example of Georges Seurat's pointillism graces the East Guest Room.

In general, trustees adhere to Mrs. Hyde's stipulation of using only pieces she and her husband had collected for display in the home. However, one landing on the second floor boasts a notable new acquisition. It's a bold painting of Finch Pruyn paper-mill workers created by Glens Falls artist Douglas Crockwell in 1934. It replicates a similar scene commissioned during the New Deal by the Works Progress Administration and now hangs in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

On past visits, we've enjoyed major exhibitions on the Roycrofters and artistic representations of Lake George, both of which have been featured in this column. Until early January 2011, "Artists of the Mohawk-Hudson Region," a juried show held annually since 1936, fills the Charles R. Wood and Hoopes Galleries.

The two-panel fiber work "Flight of the Honey Bee" by Lori Lupe Pelish of Niskayuna and an evocative oil painting of a rural landscape by Troy's Joel Griffith entitled "House on West Kerley's Corners" especially appealed to us. "Homework" by Gina Occhiogrosso of Troy was unique; it's a refurbished dollhouse with video footage in the inside rooms. Acrylic work, sculpture and photography are also represented.

In a 1961 letter on display, a student visitor wrote: "when I first came to the Hyde Museum, I thought it was a palace." One can understand the sentiment. We're fortunate for the legacy that allows the public to enjoy it.

The Hyde Collection, 161 Warren Street, Glens Falls. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. 792-1761.