Canajoharie Library and Art Gallery

Canajoharie, NY


William Merrit Chase, In the Studio Corner, 1882


The Canajoharie Library and Art Gallery was founded in 1924 both as the town's public library and a museum of American Art. Most of the funding for the construction of the building and the acquisition of paintings came from Bartlett Arkell, the first president of the Beech-Nut Packing Company and a Canajoharie native. During Mr. Arkell's lifetime, the company had grown from a small, six room meat packing plant, to a company with plants in San Jose, California, Brooklyn, Rochester and Canajoharie, New York and Hamilton, Ontario, making over 80 different food products and candy.

Between 1924 and his death in 1946, Mr. Arkell would acquire over 300 oil paintings, watercolors and works of sculpture for the collection. An avid collector of art he would buy another 200 paintings for his private collection or as gifts for friends and relatives. Today, the art gallery is responsible for a collection of over 600 works of art.

As a collector active during the 1920s, 30s and 40s, Mr. Arkell acquired primarily landscapes, still lifes and portraits by American representational artists. He particularly admired the work of the American Impressionists and Winslow Homer, both of whom are strongly represented in the collection. Among the individual artists represented in Canajoharie are Benjamin West, Gilbert Stuart, George Inness, John Kensett, Childe Hassam, John Twachtman, William Merritt Chase, Edward Gay, John Sloan, Edward Hopper, Maurice Prendergast and Andrew Wyeth.

Winslow Homer, Moonlight, watercolor on paper, 1874


Many of the landscapes are of New York and New England areas where the collector had lived, had visited or went to school. A number of these paintings portray the Hudson and Mohawk River Valleys, Southern Vermont, the Massachusetts Coast and Connecticut River Valley. Mr. Arkell had attended school and graduated from Canajoharie High School. He then entered two Massachusetts Private schools, prior to entering Yale, class of 1888. He also frequently visited Northern France and the Low Countries, where many of the landscapes he bought were painted.

In terms of portraits, he would acquire paintings of famous men and attractive women, typical of many of the collectors of the 1920s. Most of the portraits of women he acquired had both dark hair and brown eyes. These traits appear to have met his ideal of female beauty, as all three of his wives had both dark hair and eyes.

A third strength of the collection are watercolor paintings, Mr. Arkell bought works by many of the 19th Century watercolorists, including La Farge, Homer, Weir and Inness and continued to acquire excellent 20th century watercolors as well. Today, the museum owns works on paper by Hopper, Davies, DeMuth, Burchfield, Marsh, Andrew Wyeth, Mark Adams and William Thon.

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Text and images courtesy of the Canajoharie Library and Art Gallery.

This page was originally published in 1997 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 11/8/11

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