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American Paintings Gallery

Stephen Carlton Clark (1882-1960) was an important philanthropist and art collector who was instrumental in the revitalization of Cooperstown in the early and mid-20th century. In 1939, Clark enticed the New York State Historical Association to locate in Cooperstown by offering his late brother Edward’s home, Fenimore House, as a headquarters and museum. Fenimore House opened in 1945 to the public and was renamed the Fenimore Art Museum in 1996.
 
Clark’s art collecting was adventurous for his time; he was among the first Americans to acquire works by Henri Matisse, and assembled a major collection that included paintings by Monet, Rembrandt, Picasso, and Cezanne. His American paintings were also highly regarded, and included works by Edward Hopper, Thomas Eakins, and Winslow Homer.
 
Once he convinced the New York State Historical Association to move to Cooperstown, Clark began collecting 19th-century American genre paintings, landscapes, and portraits that celebrated rural life in New York. Selections from those works are in this gallery, and they illustrate how Clark collected particular scenes reflecting life in a rural village: a general store and post office; a blacksmith shop; a young girl in a schoolhouse. Collecting these works likely gave Clark the idea of creating a living history museum with historical trades and crafts represented in period buildings.
 
Clark did just that in 1943, when he transformed his brother Edward’s stone barn and farmland into The Farmers’ Museum, which is directly across the street from Fenimore Art Museum. Visitors to Cooperstown, then and now, see the art and experience the life of 19th-century America. The painting labels in this gallery show the direct ties between art and life in the mind of Stephen Clark, and how they shaped our two-museum campus.