Remember at the start of the school year when there was always that dreaded back to school essay? Well I just gave myself that assignment and I’m here to tell you it’s a lot more fun to do this as an adult who’s not sitting at a 3rd grade desk!
This summer, while taking a vacation I was lucky enough to be able to also take a field trip. Who doesn’t love a summer vacation with a field trip? It’s double the fun. My husband always talks about going to a potato chip factory when he was a little kid in school. In fact when our kids were growing up we referred to all of their school field trips as “going to the potato chip factory”. Although I think he might have made the whole thing up I’m hopeful you get the point – it’s a fun trip of discovery.
So anyway, I went to visit the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute (MWPAI) – it’s in Utica, N.Y and it’s a pretty interesting museum with a great backstory. In the collection at MWPAI is a series of four huge paintings by Thomas Cole that date from 1840, titled The Voyage of Life. As it turns out these paintings have a connection to our Henry Plant!
Henry and Margaret, newlyweds by three years, purchased this series in 1876. Each painting is 65” x 91” with massive ornate gold frames that are almost as stunning as the paintings. The Voyage of Life has a dedicated room in MWPAI. It’s been exhibited there and studied for years. The paintings represent the four stages of life, Childhood, Youth, Manhood and Old Age – all depicting a traveler being ferried down a river. The landscapes are delicately painted yet very powerful and are a wonderful representation of the early Hudson River School style.
Henry was not an amateur collector or dilettante. He was well traveled and named ships in the Plant system after operas. He filled his hotels to the brim with Fine Art. One can only imagine the private collection of the Plants through the years. Which of course makes me curious about the fact that townhomes and apartments in the 1800’s were just not that large. We know that the Victorians really liked a lot of stuff, so it’s hard to imagine where and how the Plants displayed these large paintings in their private home. Did they have a dedicated room? What else was in their collection?
The Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute is very interesting in and of itself. Three generations of one Utica family, all avid collectors endowed the city of Utica in 1919 with funding for a community cultural organization. It has evolved into a cultural complex with a School of Art, Performing Arts Division and two Museums.
The original collection of decorative and fine art is housed in the Proctor’s Victorian home, which is called Fountain Elms. Very much in the way that our Plant Museum represents a Victorian lifestyle, Fountain Elms and the Proctor’s collection also provide a wonderful glimpse into the Victorian era. As the MWPAI collection expanded it outgrew the original home and so they commissioned the architect Phillip Johnson to design an expanded museum. Johnson designed a mid-century modern masterpiece that provides an interesting transition.
Pretty fun summer field trip I must say and don’t knock the potato chip factory experience – get out there and visit one today.