Connecting Word and Image
A wall that invites additions and contemplation
By Bruce McKinney
This article is in two parts. The written portion is three pages. The second part is a video. Links to the video are provided here and at the end of the article.
AE Youtube Video
Fifty years of book collecting has brought me to this. I collect books as avidly as ever but these days collect subjects rather than books and do so with a precision and efficiency that was, until ten years ago, unimaginable. I still buy books but today see them as one thread in a tapestry of images, paintings, pamphlets, ephemera, documents and manuscripts that, taken together bring knowledge, insight and abiding satisfaction. Since 1990 I have increasingly added paintings, photographs, maps and broadsides to what was previously a collection of books and have found, in the changing mix, a collecting metier. This month I write about a single wall of material that, framed, hung together and always changing, give my collection of the Hudson River and the Hudson River Valley a vitality that books do not by themselves achieve.
Note that the numbers following descriptions refer to the attached diagram of my living room east wall.
Connecting Word and Image
In the early 1990s, when I encountered a random image I was interested but not particularly motivated. I was then still following my long established interest in books, simply aiming higher and therefore after "bigger" books, mainly early material relating to the discovery, exploration and development of the new world. The thinness and increasing prices of that market led me to consider other things. By luck, having subscribed by the year to a broad cross-section of Sotheby's catalogues, I encountered the first painting I acquired. It's a scene of Glens Falls by Henry A. Ferguson. It's not dated but appears to be from the 1850's. It was simply attractive, an apparently accurate representation of this industrial community on the Hudson River well north of Albany. It was about $20,000 and I have never regretted its purchase. In the following five years I increasingly looked for books with images and seemed to pay less attention to pure content. In 2000 I bought a second painting; this one by Paul Weber of the "Catskill Mountain House in the far distance" from a dealer in Boston. I paid $30,000 and suspected I was overpaying but it too has proven to fit well into my collection. A few years earlier I considered a very large late 1840's Thomas Cole painting of the Catskill Mountain House I did not purchase. Later I would wish I had. Then, when the Paul Weber came up I simply wrote the check: the consolation prize that has turned out to be the lynchpin of my evolving collector focus on the Hudson Valley with Catskill as its epicenter. This sleepy town was in the mid 19th century the emotional heart of the Hudson River region and many painters of note have left their canvases to memorialize the era. In the Weber painting the Mountain House faces west to the unseen Hudson. In fact, the Hudson, seen or not, looms over every aspect of Hudson valley life in the 19th century.
Gradually I became aware of other ways that images of the Hudson Valley have been preserved. Photographs, lithographs, maps and broadsides it turns out have always lingered in the shadows of books. Simply by adjusting my thinking I began to see what had always been present but what I had mostly ignored. My Swann [Auction House] subscription for more than ten years, had included photography and lithographs. I simply started to pay more attention. In truth I had to see the flow of material for several years to understand it. Museums often have great material but the idea I could develop a collection of images built on personal themes was beyond my expectation. Bill Reese, the exceptional book dealer, in this period began to issue occasional catalogues of
paintings so I received further innoculations. Visits to library exhibitions also informed my perspective. The Rosenbach Musuem's permanent exhibitions then took my expectation of the relationship between books, objects and paintings to a higher level. Then in 2005 I interviewed Jay Snider of Pennsylvania about his upcoming auction of selected books at Christies and saw first hand his exceptional collection of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania images. I came away thinking he was achieving something remarkable and decided to intensify my concentration on images. This single wall is some evidence of the progress I've since made.
So between the Ferguson and the Weber there is a photograph and receipt, two small broadsides, an early lithograph and a larger broadside, all purchased on eBay over the past three years for less than a thousand dollars. An early map of Albany and Schenectady [to the left of the Weber] and another earlier map of Dutchess and Putnam Counties hang on the right. Completing the section is a painting of the Hudson [probably from the 1860's] by Anna Young of Marlborough.
Several other items have yet to be hung: three small mid-1850's lithographs [by Charles Magnus] of Buffalo, Albany and Troy, "The Roundhouse," a lithograph by Roland Mousseau of Rondout  and a very interesting painting by Nicholas Luisi of the Railroad Bridge at Rondout . In an adjoining room are another 25 paintings, documents, maps, lithographs and broadsides.
Connecting Word and Image
Glens Falls 150 years ago
Here is some further detail on the living room east wall.
 Glens Falls. A painting by Henry A. Ferguson painted around 1865;
 A photograph of the Reuben Clark, that ran aground at Marlborough in 1882;
 Two small broadsides. One captures that fleeting moment when the railroad reaches only as far as Poughkeepsie and the onward leg is yet by steamboat . The other small broadside is an 1856 flyer for the Independent Day Boat. The railroad is now cutting into the trade and this broadside includes this statement:
"Passengers by taking this boat, enjoy the delightful scenery that flanks the Hudson, and escape the annoyance, confusion and dust incident to Railroad traveling."
 Three lithographs from the presses of Charles Magnus of New York. All are thought to date from the mid 1850's. Two are cities plans for Albany and Buffalo, the third is a city view of Troy as the town looked ten years after the Swallow [see 5] set out on its final voyage;
 A broadside of the Loss of the Swallow in 1845.
 A broadside advertisement for a sailing of the Swallow on Wednesday May 25th, 1844. This ship exploded while making the same trip on April 7th, 1845, just 318 days later.
 Map of Albany and Schenectady  by Stone & Clark;
 "The Roundhouse," an engraving by Roland Mousseau of Rondout ;
 An unidentified painting. It seems to be a Hudson River scene. The colors don't seem quite right but as an after thought, set above and out of the way, it seems to fit well enough.
 The Catskill Mountain House in the far distance, a painting by Paul Weber, 1855;
 A Map of Dutchess and Putnam Counties by David Burr, 1829;
 A painting by Anna Young of Marlborough. She is a distant relative of F. B. Morse who lived on the east side of the Hudson about 7 miles north. The scene seems to be the Hudson, from the Marlborough side looking east. It feels right. In the 1950's my father bought Desotos from Young's Motors and on the 4th of July, we and hundreds of other patriotics, assembled on their farm to relive the "rockets' red glare."
[13-14] Off to the right are two Currier & Ives images of ships that plied the Hudson in its golden era;
All these many years later, as I begin to do yoga in the living room at 6:00 am, I turn to face this Hudson wall, look deeply in the scene of the Catskill Mountain House on which the sun is always shining late into the day. I glance right and left, and am once again in the embrace of history, slipping back in time, glad to be alive, and privileged to have learned to appreciate and uncover such extraordinary material. What a love of books has began only time will tell what the outcome of all this may be.
A video accompanies this article. To view it click here. AE Youtube video