For the past three years, artist-curator Bibiana Huang Matheis invites the Hudson Valley regional artists to participate in the exhibit, “Meeting Past,” at the Akin Library and Museum. There are many unique qualities about this exhibit, beginning with the site – an elegant late Victorian stone structure sited on Pawling’s Quaker Hill. The building contains historical and natural history collections year round, and the invitation to 82 contemporary artists to install their artworks among these collections energizes the space with new meaning.
Entering the building, look up and see Amy Manso’s vessels created from recyclable papers and plastics floating above your head. Her sculptural pieces are normally mounted as sculptural wall pieces, and the curator decided to suspend them at the same height as the period chandeliers.
Directly ahead through double pocket doors, the library awaits – artworks are discretely displayed on the shelves next to the collection. On the wall, Dick Crenson’s “The First Heist,” an installation of copper wire reminiscent of a delicate line drawing, complete with Adam giving Eve a boost up to reach the apple. The library also has blue velvet tufted sofas: a felted fabric piece by Pawling resident, Pat Corrigan is displayed as a casual throw across the back of the sofa, just like at grandma’s house.
After exploring the main floor, head upstairs to the local history collections of the Historical Society Museum. Here we see photos of the people who lived here 100 years ago, alongside their treasured possessions, such as the engraved gold thimble from the Akin family. Look closely inside the glass vitrines, though, because you will be on the treasure hunt of your life as you explore the artifacts alongside the artist’s work; for instance, Jeep Johnson’s melted glass and iron sculptures fit compatibly aside the rusted rail road spikes and branding irons. Saddles on display from 1888 now have a backdrop of Joan Blazis Levitt’s luscious horse paintings, and Elisa Pritzker’s painted antlers sit side-by-side with China pieces owned by Harriet Taber Akin. Even the windows offer a view into the past, with Cindy Snow’s “Through Grandma’s Window” casually placed on the windowsill. As you move down to the lower floor, don’t miss Rosalind Schneider’s shimmering tree paintings placed in an alcove, appearing like an altar in a sacred space.
Head downstairs to the lower level, which houses the Olive Gunnison Natural History Museum. The overwhelming displays of minerals, vitrines with taxidermy animals, birds, butterflies and rocks now share space with specimen jars filled with meaningful items to Bibiana Huang Matheis, curator of this exhibit. The jars entitled the “Soul of an Artist” contain Chinese porcelain and Virgin Mary statuettes bound together with golden thread. Placement of the objects into a bell jar creates a sense of precious preservation, causing the observer to stop and ponder why this particular object holds meaning.
The opening reception had a one-time opportunity to see the performance piece presented by Jeff Johnson – an enormous bell jar with a live human woman folded neatly inside the glass. Her 10-minute performance stints during the evening stopped the crowds with a variety of comments, from brilliant to misogynistic. Ultimately, it may have been the horror of seeing another human relegated to the aging collections of unborn animals floating in brine, stuffed birds placed in glass cases that triggered the emotional response.
Look for the music room, also located in the lower level, and step inside to hear Riva Weinstein’s installation of sounds collected from local places as you inspect the anthropological assortment of musical instruments. This floor holds many beautiful pieces of art that speak with the objects that have been in this collection for decades, such as Leigh Williams’ honeycomb monoprints, and Liliana Washburn’s delicate paintings on Yupo Paper displayed behind glass, like much of the formerly living things now on display. While you are downstairs, don’t forget to visit the bathroom and see the “Three Mens” mini-gallery of bathroom photos featuring several decades of “Bathroom Photography” by Jeep Johnson, a sound installation by Dick Crenson, and featuring emerging documentary bathroom photographer, Scott Marston-Reid. During the opening, a camera was left in the bathroom for participants to take their own bathroom photograph – documenting their own creative vision of the bathroom.
The Akin Free Library and Museum is located at 378 Old Quaker Hill Road, Pawling. Hours: Friday, Saturday and Sunday – 1 to 4PM. The exhibit runs through October 27.