Category Archives: Creative Connections

Top Ten Facts About The North Country

Our upcoming exhibit, Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East, explores a different side – an Eastern side – of this iconic Western artist. Although Remington traveled throughout the American West on assignment for many of the popular magazines for which he worked, most of his compositions were completed in his New York-based studio.

One of his favorite places to paint was in his beloved North Country in the northern-most tip of New York state, where Remington spent most of his summers. The North Country could be defined as the forested region stretching from the Adirondack Mountains across the St. Lawrence River into Canada.

The North Country region is the highlighted upper portion of New York state.

What else defines the North Country? Below is a list of the top ten facts about the North Country:

  • The North Country is geographically the largest region in New York State. Having said that, it is also the most sparsely populated, consisting mostly of rural areas of low population density.
  • The North Country is home to the Adirondack Mountains, which boasts forty-three mountain peaks over 4,000 feet high, more than 1,500 miles of rivers, more than 30,000 miles of streams and brooks, as well as 2,759 lakes and ponds.

    The Adirondack Mountains

  • The North Country is the birthplace of the American Vacation. In 1869, a Boston preacher published one of the first wilderness guidebooks. His descriptions of the Adirondacks resulted in crowds of people looking for the first time to “vacate” their homes of the newly industrialized cities.
  • In 1901, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as President of the United States at North Creek Station, a historic railroad station located in the North Country.

    North Creek Railroad Station Complex

  • The North Country is historically home to the Iroquois (or Haudenosaunee) American Indian confederacy, which today is referred to simply as the Six Nations. The Iroquois historically followed a matriarchal system, with their leaders being chosen by the clan mothers of each tribe.
  • The North Country shares with Ontario the Thousand Islands, one of four archipelagoes in the St. Lawrence River. One notable island of this archipelago is Just Room Enough Island, the smallest inhabited island in the US. Purchased by the Sizeland family in the 1950s, the 3,300 square foot island has a house, a tree, shrubs, and a small beach.

    Just Room Enough Island

  • Speaking of Canada, being that it is literally across the St. Lawrence River, the North Country’s regional economy is heavily integrated with our neighbors to the north. Local residents often enjoy an easy drive across the border for a meal, and some even have a second home in Canada.
  • North Country is also known as Dairy Country. New York is the third-highest milk producing state in the country, and many of those dairy farms are located in the North Country.
  • And speaking of dairy, when traveling to the North Country, prepare your sweet tooth for some ice cream. The local news station recently mapped a few of the popular spots (over 80!), and that’s just the tip of the ice cream cone. 
  • And of course, the North Country includes the city of Ogdensburg, which is home to the art museum of the iconic American artist, Frederic Remington. The Frederic Remington Art Museum holds the largest collection of Remington items. And the Sid Richardson Museum is fortunate to partner with the FRAM in an unprecedented exchange of artworks to host some of their collection in Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East, which opens September 14, 2018.

    Frederic Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg, New York

Auasini: The Place That Feeds You

Charles M. Russell, When Blackfeet and Sioux Meet, 1908, Oil on canvas, 20 1/2 x 29 7/8 inches

In our ongoing efforts to learn more about the various American Indian cultures represented in our collection – like the Blackfeet depicted in many of Charlie Russell’s paintings – The Sid recently hosted a training for our docent volunteers led by Dr. Michael Wise, an Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Texas, where he specializes in the history of the American West.

Dr. Wise has studied many aspects of the food histories and cultural environments of the American West, including the 2016 publication Producing Predators: Wolves, Work, and Conquest in the Northern Rockies, a book about the history of wolf eradication and the cattle industry. In addition, he is the editor of the recently completed volume, The Routledge History of American Foodways, a twenty-five-chapter compendium on the environmental and cultural histories of food in the United States. Dr. Wise is currently working on a historical account of food and colonialism in Native North America spanning the last five centuries. More specific to our collection is his chapter, “The Place that Feeds You: Allotment and the Struggle for Blackfeet Food Sovereignty,” in the 2017 book titled Food Across Borders. During our training, Dr. Wise talked with us about the Blackfeet and their evolving relationship with food.

The Blackfoot Confederacy is the collective name for the four bands that make up the Blackfeet (or Blackfoot) people. Three of the four bands live in Canada, but our discussion centered primarily on the Southern Piegan/Blackfeet (or Amskapi Pikuni) who reside in Montana. Historically, the Blackfeet are frequently represented as “hunters” in Euro-American art and literature. However, they subsisted on more than just bison, trading a substantial amount of meat for corn, squash, and other agricultural products with the neighboring Mandan, Crow, and other indigenous people. Likewise, the Blackfeet followed their own form of horticultural practices, though these practices may not resemble our traditional ideas of agricultural systems.

Blackfoot Season Round from Dr. Michael Wise

Prior to life on reservations, the Blackfeet based their foodways on a seasonal round, with families traveling 1-2,000 miles annually to as many as 15 campsites across an approximately 10,000 square-mile area. Despite moving to various locations throughout the year, the term nomad is not wholly accurate in describing the Blackfeet, as they never wandered, but instead knew to where they were traveling, often returning to the same place. (The Blackfoot word for “home” is auasini, which translates to “the place that feeds you.”) At some of these locations, the Blackfeet would remove non-edible plants to allow for the growth of selective wild vegetables in that area. Likewise, they practiced seasonal burning of plains grasses to better direct bison near buffalo jumps, or pishkun (a practice in which the hunters would drive a herd of bison over a cliff).

Alfred Jacob Miller, Hunting Buffalo, 1858-60, The Walters Art Museum, 37.1940.190

The Blackfeet didn’t just survive off the land; they thrived! They developed specifics tastes, knowing which season produced the bison meat they preferred, for example. And with that bison, they created ingenious ways to use every part of the animal. The Blackfeet also discovered how to make food that was long lasting and calorically dense. A food product like pemmican – made from bison flesh, Saskatoon berries, and tallow – was a necessity for their intense, calorie-burning travelling lifestyle.

By the 1870s, most of the Blackfeet had moved onto a reservation, the boundaries from which they were not allowed leave in order to hunt. Instead, the federal government allocated herds of cattle turning the Blackfeet Reservation into a ranch that would feed into the national industrial meat system. A slaughterhouse was erected and employed Blackfeet men, paying them not in cash but ration tickets. Prior to reservation life, it was traditionally the role of the Blackfeet women to slaughter and butcher the bison. On The Blackfeet Reservation, the women transformed from butchers into bakers, whose products helped feed the reservation agents.

Eventually, tribal ranchers adapted traditional cooperative livestock raising practices with the creation of the Piegan Farming and Livestock Affiliation (PFLA) in order to fend off the ongoing redistribution of land since the implementation of the Dawes Act, which had divided tribal land into allotments for individual Blackfeet. PFLA recast the individualizing imperatives of allotment with communal farming, which allowed the Blackfeet to regain a bit of control over their foodways once again.

Bronze Or Bust

If you took an art class in school or just for fun, you’ve probably had the opportunity to make some kind of sculpture, whether with clay, plaster, play-doh, or other materials. But how many of us have experienced casting a sculpture out of bronze?

Bronze is the most popular metal for casting sculptures, and was a material with which both Charlie Russell and Frederic Remington cast their many bronze pieces, including those currently on display in our galleries. How does one cast a bronze sculpture?

Photo credit: OKFoundryCompany

When casting metal, there are a lot of challenges you must overcome. First of all, you’re working at very high temperatures. Bronze melts at around 950 °C (1,742 °F). You must choose a material to make your mold that can handle the heat. Some common mold making materials include sand, plaster, or silicone. Also, metal shrinks as it cools. If your object is too thick, it is going to cool unevenly, and you could have cracks.

Photo credit: Nic McPhee

When Remington first began working in bronze, he worked with the Henry-Bonnard Bronze Co., a foundry that used the sand casting method. At the time, Henry-Bonnard was likely the finest sand casting foundry in the US during the late 19th century. The establishment of the company coincided with an influx in production of public monuments during that period to memorialize the early leaders of the nation. Because sand casting results in a denser metal, it was the preferred method for casting outdoor monuments that didn’t involve complicated surface details.

George Washington statue in the Boston Public Garden, Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Sculptor: Thomas Ball.

When Remington switched to the little known foundry Roman Bronze Works in 1900, he began working with the lost wax casting method. (Fun Fact: SRM artist Charles Schreyvogel also cast his sculptures at Roman Bronze Works.) Lost wax casting is as versatile as sand casting is limited. The possibilities seem almost endless by comparison. Remington took advantage of the lost wax process in such works as Dragoons 1850. Remington was a stickler for detail and perfect, writing Riccardo Bertelli, founder of Roman Bronze Works, that he, “better not put Dragoons in fire until I see it again…Those big groups have got to be just so…”[1] A bronze of such complexity required Remington to oversee its production to guarantee quality of the casting.

Frederic Remington | Dragoons 1850 | 1917 | Bronze | Private Collection

Likewise, the lost wax method allowed more diversity in detailing with works like The Cheyenne. In addition, the lost wax method enabled Remington to make significant changes to the sculpture. After the first eight castings of The Cheyenne, the artist lowered the warrior’s shield, adding feathers to it, as well as adorning the warrior with earrings. Remington also turned the Cheyenne’s face slightly to the left. This bronze was Remington’s first model to be cast in one piece.

Frederic Remington | The Cheyenne | ca. 1904 | Bronze | Private Collection

There are many steps to the lost wax casting method. The basic steps of lost wax casting are to take your original sculpture and first make a mold of this, which will be cast in wax with a solid core. A second mold will be made around the wax. The wax will be melted out, hence lost, and then molten metal will be poured in. For a more in-depth outline of the entire process, check out this silent animated video produced by the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2LTsD8IE_s

 

 

[1] Undated letter, Owen D. Young Collection, St. Lawrence University