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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.

APPRECIATED ART

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.

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