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Utopian idyll: An untitled work from the AIHA’s Byrdcliffe exhibition.
UTOPIAN ARTIFACTS: The concept of utopia doesn’t have the best reputation these days, what with the general discrediting of the whole notion of the “perfectibility of man.” This isn’t really fair, though, is it? So we know we can’t attain perfection—big deal. Dreaming of perfection has a certain nobility in itself. Which brings us to Byrdcliffe, the utopian artists’ colony founded in Woodstock in 1903, and the current exhibit at the Albany Institute of History and Art. Byrdcliffe: An American Arts and Crafts Colony is, according to the AIHA, the “first major traveling show and publication about Byrdcliffe,” and showcases the variety of works created there, including highly decorative ceramics, painted furniture and art. (Pictured: Untitled, 1904, by Lovell Birge Harrison; photo by R. Lorenzson.) This Sunday (Jan. 23) at 2 PM, the AIHA will host a lecture presentation on Byrdcliffe by Nancy E. Green, senior curator at Cornell University’s Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, and the organizer of this exhibit. Following this presentation, there will be a reception from 3-5 PM. The program is free with museum admission. For more info, call 463-4478 or visit www.albanyinstitute.org.

TRAVELING BAGS: Lost Cases, Recovered Lives: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic, the recent exhibit at the New York State Museum [“Out of the Past,” Aug. 19] will soon be going on tour. The Community Consortium, an Albany-based nonprofit organization, has received a $55,000 grant from the van Ameringen Foundation to produce a traveling version of the acclaimed exhibit. As with the original exhibit, this version will use photographs and text to show the lives of the people who owned the suitcases—cases that were salvaged from an attic in a building at the former Willard State Hospital (Willard, N.Y.) before its closing in the mid-1990s. The contents of the cases were often the only items left from the lives of their owners, Willard patients who, in most cases, were lifelong residents of the hospital.

Reached by phone, co-curator Darby Penney said that the idea for a traveling exhibit was formed early on: “We were thinking of it when the exhibit was still up, last spring.” While the traveling version is in the earliest planning stages, Penney explained, there is already significant interest in hosting it: “We’ve heard from as far away as Alaska.”

Certainly, the unique nature of the exhibit is responsible for the widespread interest; mental health, and our treatment of the mentally ill, is still a vital issue. Of course, the powerful impact of the exhibit is central to its appeal. When it was at the NYSM, Penney remembered seeing “people standing in there, crying.” The traveling exhibit will be available for loan to “public libraries, historical societies, human service agencies, schools and community centers.”

 

A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH: In case you missed it, the Court of Appeals tossed New York’s death penalty statute last July, owing to improper sentencing guidelines. This sent the issue back to the state Legislature for a rewrite. The Senate and Assembly are about to hold a joint public hearing to “examine the future of capital punishment in New York state.” To coincide with this, Arts Engine Inc. and New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty will host a screening this Tuesday (Jan. 25) at 6 PM at the Albany Public Library (161 Washington Ave., Albany) of Deadline. This documentary looks at the events surrounding former Illinois Gov. George Ryan’s controversial decision to commute the sentences of all 167 prisoners on the state’s death row. Katy Chevigny, Deadline’s director, will be on hand for a panel discussion along with newsman-author Bill Kurtis of A&E’s American Justice and NYADP executive director David Kaczynski. A large turnout is anticipated; reservations are suggested. To RSVP, call or e-mail Beth Davenport at (646) 230-6228 or beth@bigmouthproductions.

 

IN THE SPIRIT OF ROGER CORMAN: Beginning this Saturday, the New York State Museum (Empire State Plaza, Albany) is hosting the Dead of Winter Free Film Festival in the Museum Theater. This weekend and next, Dead of Winter will showcase independent horror films made right here in New York by Capital Region filmmakers. This Saturday (Jan. 22), beginning at 10 AM, three films by Bruce G. Hallenbeck will be featured, including the world premiere of his latest, London After Midnight. On Sunday (Jan. 23, 10 AM), films by Joe Bagnardi, including last year’s The Edge of Reality, will take the spotlight. The following weekend, directors Jeff Kirkendall (Jan. 29, beginning at noon) and the team of Brandon Bethmann and Eric Szmyr (Jan. 30, 10 AM) will be shown. A panel discussion with all of the filmmakers will be held Jan. 30 at 2 PM. These are horror films intended for an over-17 crowd, so bring Grandma along to keep the kids company over at the Adirondack Park exhibit. For more information, call 474-5877.

 

COME SEE ABOUT US: Beginning in March, the Albany Institute of History and Art will be hosting The Mary Wilson Supreme Legacy Collection. Yep, it’s that Mary Wilson and those Supremes, the great ’60s Motown group who were bigger than anyone else in pop music, save the four Brits with bad hair. More than 50 costumes and rare memorabilia will be on display. To give the show a local flava, AIHA curator of history Doug McCombs is putting out a “call to the community” to create The Supremes: A Community Album. As per the official announcement: “If you have posters, photographs, autographs, collectables and other materials including stories about the Supremes that you would be willing to loan and share for the exhibition from Feb. 1 through June 30,” contact McCombs at 463-4478 ext. 428, or by e-mail at mccombsd@albanyinstitute.org. Hmm . . . maybe I should dig out my old copy of Floy Joy.

—Shawn Stone

 

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