Museum Exhibits - Special Projects


Announcement Coincides with Acquisition of 1850s Portrait by Prominent American Artist

At a press conference held at the Onondaga Historical Association Museum in Syracuse on Monday, December 18 at 10 am, State Senator John DeFrancisco announced the award of a $20,000 New York State grant to the Association (OHA) for use in the planning and development of a major national exhibition on the work of 19th century portrait artist Charles Loring Elliott (1812-1868). This exciting news comes, auspiciously, at the same time that the OHA Museum is formally unveiling its latest acquisition - a portrait of Syracusan George Comstock Pratt painted by Elliott in the 1850s.

Elliott was born near Aurora , New York and moved with his family to Syracuse as a teenager. He began his career as an artist in Central New York but eventually relocated to New York City where he became one of the nation's leading portrait painters by the 1850s.

The subjects of his over 200 surviving portraits represent a rich cross section of Americans. They include several leading citizens of Syracuse and Onondaga County . As well, Elliott captured the image of many national figures. He painted Hudson River School artists who were his friends, men such as Frederic Church and Asher Durand. His portrait of industrialist John Ericsson, father of the Civil War ironclad Monitor , now resides in the London Science Museum in Great Britain . His almost life-size, grand portrait of Samuel Colt, inventor of the famous handgun, hangs in the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford , Connecticut . The artist's monumental canvas of Matthew Vassar occupies an honored place at the college that bears his name. And Elliott's likeness of Mathew Brady is found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York .

Other prized portraits are now located in the collections of museums throughout the United States, such as the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The Everson Museum in Syracuse also owns paintings by Elliott, including an early self-portrait. The Onondaga Historical Association's holdings contain 20 portraits by Elliott, however, which comprise the largest single collection of his work in the nation.

OHA has long believed that Elliott is deserving of a national exhibition for this native son of Central New York . It has been laying the groundwork for this project since 2004 when it received an initial study grant from the New York State Council on the Arts via the Upstate History Alliance (UHA). The UHA grant allowed OHA to assemble a group of advisors to explore this concept and for OHA historian Dennis Connors to travel to New York City to meet with curators from several institutions that own paintings by Elliott. The advisors included David Tatham, emeritus professor of art history at Syracuse University , Paul Schweizer, director of the Munson William Proctor Institute in Utica , Debora Ryan, curator at the Everson Museum and Roger Sharp, professor of 19 th century American history at SU. There was a general consensus from several museum authorities, as well as the advisory committee, that such an exhibit was overdue and would be an important contribution to the study of American art history.

This most recent grant will allow OHA to engage eminent American art historian Professor John Davis of Smith College to prepare an outline of content for the exhibit. It will also provide for the re-cataloging of OHA's research materials on Elliott (considered the most extensive in the nation), for the selection of initial material and designs for a catalog, and for establishing preliminary arrangements with several museums for the loan of various paintings by Elliott. The exhibit is currently projected to open in late 2009 or early 2010 in Syracuse at the Everson Museum of Art and then travel to museums in New York City and Albany .

OHA was also successful this year in acquiring a previously unknown work by Elliott, a portrait of George Comstock Pratt (1842-1853). The boy died in 1853, at the age of 11, of inflammatory rheumatism and it is believed that the portrait may have been commissioned by the family as a memorial. After George died, he was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery , but later moved to Oakwood after it opened in 1859. The portrait was discovered in Florida and purchased from a dealer in the Atlanta area.

George was the young son of Daniel Pratt of Syracuse . Daniel served as an Onondaga County and New York Supreme Court judge, plus a 2-year term as the state's Attorney General. The family lived on Fayette Park in a house located just one block from where the portrait now resides. Judge Pratt was a law partner of George F. Comstock, who served as chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals in the 1850s. Comstock also was a close friend, whom Pratt honored by naming his son after him.

The painting was purchased with dedicated funds and sent to Westlake Conservators in Skaneateles for cleaning and minor repairs. Members of the OHA Board's Collections Committee provided valuable advice to staff during the acquisition process. And OHA wishes to thank the local chapter of the Quarry Questers, a study club for the appreciation of antiques, for their generous $400 donation toward the painting's conservation.

Neighborhood Documenting Project - Latinos in Syracuse

The project determined the scope and content of materials that comprised documentary evidence of the various Latino /Hispanic cultures, groups, and neighborhoods of Syracuse and Onondaga County. It became increasingly obvious that it is impossible to comprehend a culture without understanding the activities and nature of those at the margins of that culture. Contemporary analysis and appreciation revealed a wealth of subject materials and information that had not been noticed at the time the materials were collected. Similarly, Latino community folk art, religious customs, social groups, political organizations, and festival of music and art revealed the vital importance of family, faith and language. The chief goal of this project was to close gaps in the historical record by identifying and preserving records of a large and important group of citizens in Syracuse and Onondaga County that had been regarded as marginal by historical societies and local historians.

This project was funded by three consecutive grants from the New York State Documentary Heritage Program.

SU Students Commemorate the Historic Tipperary Hill Neighborhood

(Syracuse, NY, February 3, 2006) – A group of eager students from the Museum Studies Program at Syracuse University are organizing an event which will celebrate Syracuse's Irish Heritage by documenting the history of the Tipperary Hill neighborhood.  “Tipperary Hill: Syracuse’s Emerald Isle,” will take place on Saturday, March 18 th  starting at 12:00 noon.

The event will feature an exhibition of historic photographs from the Onondaga Historical Association Museum & Research Center and the Erie Canal Museum. The Syracuse University student-organizers are hoping to include an oral history component to the event as well. Visitors will have the opportunity to record their stories and memories of the Tipperary Hill neighborhood. The neighborhood memories will then become a permanent part of the OHA collection.  

A memory book, which will provide an historic overview of the neighborhood with maps, photographs and the shared memories of residents past and present will be available for sale.  The book will be dedicated to St. Patrick’s School in recognition of more than 95 years of excellence in education and will feature a cover design by one of the school's current students. 

The SU students are directing proceeds from this event to the Onondaga Historical Association Museum & Research Center to aid in its ongoing clean up effort following a recent water main break which seriously compromised the facility and its operations.

Any questions can be directed to Jennifer Reich, 443 4098 or Erin Smith, (215) 680-7790.

Onondaga Historical Association Museum & Research Center
321 Montgomery St.,  Syracuse, NY. 13202
Phone 315-428-1864, Fax: 315-471-2133