PLATTSBURGH — As a young boy, Clint Weber placed a collection of paintings his family had inherited from Weber’s great-great-aunt Wilhelmina Weber Furlong underneath his bed.
The youngster had no knowledge of the importance of those paintings, but he kept them — hidden and well-preserved — always with the belief that they would someday reveal the significance of Weber Furlong’s contribution to American art.
Now, Weber has written a biography of his great-great-aunt and is currently working on a documentary that will bring him to the North Country in search of information on the years Weber Furlong lived in Plattsburgh while her husband, Thomas Furlong, taught at Champlain College on U.S. Oval.
“This woman (Weber Furlong) holds a very significant place in art history,” Weber said recently from his home in Alpine, Texas. “This project originally started in 2003 when there was very little information (on Weber Furlong) at that time.
“I realized that history was about to be lost on one of the most significant women in the Modernist Movement,” he added. “There has since been a wealth of information (generated on Weber Furlong) and a huge amount of interest in this exciting story.”
The Furlongs lived in the Glens Falls area for decades during the first half of the 20th century. Weber Furlong continued to be a significant presence in the region’s art community following her husband’s death in 1952 while a member of the Champlain College faculty.
From 1946 to 1952, when they lived in Plattsburgh, the couple became especially close to George Barber, a student at Champlain College who was recently featured in a Press-Republican article about the 60th anniversary of the final graduating class at the college.
Learning of the article enhanced Weber’s interest in his upcoming visit to the North Country. He has already interviewed several people in New York City, where the Furlongs owned an art studio in the early 1900s, and continues to look for more contacts in Glens Falls and Plattsburgh.
“Thomas was a founding faculty member (at Champlain College),” Weber said. “He started their engineering curriculum and then was literally responsible for the college having an art program.
“George Barber was his favorite student and was a close friend when Furlong passed away,” he added. “He also remained close with Weber (Furlong) until her death (in 1962).”
Weber’s research in Glens Falls has helped the region receive financial support in recognizing Weber Furlong’s role in regional art history, and he hopes that continued research in the Plattsburgh area will also enhance recognition of Thomas and Wilhelmina Weber Furlong as well as Champlain College.
Weber Furlong’s paintings are on exhibit in several locations, including the Crandall Public Library and the Hyde Collection in Glens Falls and the Bolton Historical Society Museum.
“At this point, we’re trying to have a lasting, permanent home for her paintings,” Weber said.
Many of those paintings were protected in air-tight plastic containers and remained tucked beneath Weber’s bed as he grew into adulthood and began his career in computer programming. The collection even survived Hurricane Katrina when Weber’s home in New Orleans was inundated by flooding.
In fact, the only Weber Furlong painting that was destroyed by the hurricane was one Weber had hanging on a wall in the house.
“The Weber Furlong collection contains over 95 works of modernist art, some of which are the earliest works of modernism found in America, and they are by a woman,” Weber said of his great-great-aunt’s works. “In today’s light, she is a very important woman who represents a lost feminist history and an extensive body of work.”
Weber Furlong had raised Weber’s father, Bernard Weber III, who had spent a lot of his youth at the Furlong’s property, Golden Heart Farm. Weber visited the farm for the first time as part of his research and called the property “hallowed ground.”
Weber will be in the region through Friday, July 5, and has worked out an agreement to use the Clinton County Historical Association as a point of contact for anyone interested in sharing information about the Furlongs at Champlain College.
Champlain College was an emergency institution created for World War II veterans who returned home from war to take advantage of the GI Bill. The college closed in 1953 as the region prepared to welcome Plattsburgh Air Force Base to the property.
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Anyone interested in talking with documentary filmmaker Clint Weber about Wilhelmina Weber Furlong and her stay in Plattsburgh during the 1940s and 1950s can call the Clinton County Historical Association at 561-0340 to leave a message for Weber. He will be in the region through Friday, July 5.