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A Historical Summary

The Museum's First 100 Years
In 1910, Matthias Arnot’s generous bequests of his collection, home and an endowment, created the foundation of today’s Arnot Art Museum. In 1913, the renovated Greek-Revival home built the year of Matthias’ birth,1833, by John Arnot, Sr. opened as the Arnot Art Gallery. Since then it has grown to become one of the leading cultural institutions in the region.
 
Matthias Arnot graduated from Yale in 1856 and returned to Elmira to work at the family-owned Chemung Canal Bank. Mr. Arnot worked his way up to President of the Bank and assumed responsibility of all family business concerns. Although Matthias did not share his siblings’ love of public engagements, he served on the local Board of Education, New York State Reformatory and the Arnot-Ogden Memorial Hospital Board. He also served as President of Arnot Realty Corp., Elmira Lumber Co., Chemung County Gas Co., Junction Canal Co. and Plank Road Company.
 
Between 1869 and 1870, Matthias Arnot made his first fine art purchases, one of which was the commission of a marble bust of John Arnot, Sr., created by Chauncey Bradley Ives, an American artist living in Rome. He purchased work at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876 and, in 1882, Mr. Arnot attended the infamous Hamilton Palace Sale, where his high bids on the collection at auction gained him international fame. A London correspondent for the New York Tribune noted that, “…the general impression is that no formidable competitor from America has had much to do with the bidding prior to Mr. Arnot. Mr. Arnot bought one picture for $10,000…Who is Mr. Arnot?”

Later, Mr. Arnot commissioned the addition of a picture gallery to the family home from Pierce & Bickford in the 1890s to better accommodate his continuously expanding collection. His gallery is typical of the private art galleries found in the homes of many wealthy Americans in the late nineteenth-century. Matthias Arnot issued a standing weekend invitation to his fellow community members to visit his home and collection. Mr. Arnot formed a legacy during his lifetime that has continued to make it possible for generations of area school children and adults to experience, learn and to create art.
 
Matthias Arnot’s bequests upon his death in 1910 not only established a museum of art, but benefited a cross-section of the City of Elmira including organizations such as the Arnot-Ogden Memorial Hospital, Southern Tier Orphan’s Home, Board of Education of the City of Elmira, a multitude of local religious organizations including the Congregation Children of Israel, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Trinity Church, Hedding Methodist Episcopal Church to name a few. His will required his sister Fanny Arnot Haven and her daughter Marian Arnot Wickes to “cause to be created” the Arnot Art Gallery. A memorandum to his executors named seven of the original incorporators of the Museum, directing them to select an additional two. These first trustees were members of the Arnot family, friends and prominent community members who understood his wishes.

  • Judge Frederick Collin became the first President of the Arnot Art Museum. He served as Mayor of Elmira in 1894, as well as, a director and counselor for the Chemung Canal Trust Company.
  • Ray Tompkins assumed the role of Vice President. Mr. Tompkins was an officer and director of over one dozen companies and institutions, including the Chemung Canal Trust Company; the Elmira Water, Light and Railroad Company; Elmira College; and the Arnot-Ogden Memorial Hospital.
  • Casper G. Decker, who founded the Elmira Knitting Mills and was director of Thatcher Manufacturing Company, was announced as Secretary.
  • Burton S. Chamberlain took the role of treasurer, having served a tenure as director of the Chemung Canal Trust Company.
  • James B. Rathbone, husband of Harriet Arnot, became the second President of Chemung Canal Trust Company.
  • Edward J. Dunn was the Manager of Arnot Real Estate; third President of Chemung Canal Trust Company in 1919; President of Eclipse Machine Company; Trustee of the Chemung County Historical Society, President of the Arctic League.
  • Rev. Dr. William T. Henry served as Pastor of the Baptist Church besides in conjunction with his service to the Board of Trustees at the Arnot Art Museum.
  • Eugene Diven, a member of the American LaFrance Fire Engine Company, died prior to the opening of the Gallery and was replaced by Elizabeth Falck.
  • Elizabeth Rathbone Falck was the daughter of James B. and Harriet Arnot Rathbone.
  • Harriet Arnot Whitney, daughter of Stephen Tuttle Arnot, became a member of the original Board of Trustees of the Arnot Art Museum.

In his Memorandum for the Trustees of the Arnot Art Gallery Mr. Arnot advised his selected trustees to, "...remember that the enjoyment and benefit which I hope this community will receive through this corporation will depend to a substantial extent upon the thought and services they shall give it. I have founded, but they must build and administer."

When the Arnot Art Gallery opened to the public in 1913 the building had undergone two years of alternations by the firm of Pierce & Bickford, converting the interior from a family home to an art gallery. While the Gallery’s first president, Judge Murdock Diven, served the Museum until 1936, Jeanette Murdock Diven was the Arnot Art Museum’s first Museum Director, serving in this capacity for 30 years.
 
Alexander Diven Falck was President of the Corning Glass Works from 1920 to 1928, Chairman of the Board from 1929 to 1941 and Honorary Chairman until his death in 1950. Mr. Diven Falck was the President of the Arnot Art Museum’s Board of Trustees from 1936 to 1950 and succeeded by his wife, Elizabeth Rathbone Falck, from 1950 to 1956. Alexander D. Falck, Jr. became President of the Board of Trustees in 1956 and served until 1970. Alexander Jr.’s wife, Natalie B. Falck, served as President of the Board of Trustees from 1976 to 1979 and their son, Alexander D. Falck, III, was President from 1995 to 1998. The Museum’s largest gallery, the Falck Gallery is named in recognition of the family’s dedicated service to the Museum.

 

A 1913 photo of Matthias H. Arnot's Picture Gallery.

The Arnot Art Gallery began to acquire, through purchase and gift, a collection of nineteenth- and twentieth-century American two and three-dimensional works of art. In 1970 the Arnot Art Gallery was renamed as the Arnot Art Museum; recognizing its growth in stature and the connotation of greater importance and permanence behind the term museum. At the time, the term museum implied an educational institution in contrast to the more private sense of gallery. Arts education, both internally and as community outreach, became a prominent facet of the Museum’s programming. By 1976 the American Association of Museums had granted accreditation to the Arnot Art Museum. 

The Picture Gallery, which had been modernized, was returned to its original configuration by John Waite of the Preservation/Design Group in Albany and with major financial support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corning Glass Works Foundation (now the Corning Inc. Foundation). The restoration of Matthias Arnot’s 1880s Picture Gallery utilized period photographs that detailed the arrangement of paintings and designers referenced samples of wood, tile and moldings that had remained in storage. The restored Picture Gallery is a rare example of a late nineteenth-century American private picture gallery that still houses its original collection within the original setting.
 
Since 1943 the Museum has sponsored student art exhibitions, most notably Scholastic Art Awards; a national competition for junior and senior high school students. The Arnot Art Museum is the regional sponsor for over 500 schools in the New York counties of Broome, Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben and Tompkins, as well as Bradford, Sullivan, and Tioga counties in Pennsylvania. Our regional winners are consistently recognized from over 50,000 students competing at the national level.

In 1982 the Museum re-acquired the original Arnot Carriage House and chose the firm of Cassetti/Klein to remodel the Carriage House for use as an education center. Early education programs included arts-oriented preschool and studio classes in a variety of disciplines and the intent of holding community events and hosting artists-in-residence later was voiced. In May of 1982, the Arnot Art Museum formed a contract with Graham Gund Associates to initiate the construction of a three-story addition to accommodate additional gallery, storage and support spaces.

In 1993 the Museum was forced to end the Carriage House studio art programming.  Concurrently, the Museum redirected its focus towards the acquisition of notable drawings, paintings and sculptures by contemporary, representational artists. This year also marked the initiation of a celebrated biannual exhibition at the Arnot Art Museum; Re-presenting Representation.

The Chemung River School Project launched in 1994 as a nine-month, cross-disciplinary, collaborative program on the history, art and ecology of the Chemung River. Partners include the Tanglewood Nature Center, Chemung County Historical Society and Cornell University’s Cooperative Extension. The IMLS, who funded a study coordinated by the Museum on collaborations, recognized the Chemung River School Project as a model for museum and school collaboration. This program continues to receive local and state support and remains an important part of the 4th grade curriculum in area schools.
 
In 2000 the Board of Trustees explored paths to streamline Museum operations, while reassessing Museum goals and the future direction of the Arnot Art Museum. An identified need for the development of arts resources in an aging downtown Elmira became a catalyst for a revitalization of the Museum. The Arnot Art Museum’s increased activity and capital renovations continue to shape the identity of Elmira and have created an enduring cultural destination in the Finger Lakes Region.
 
In 2006 collaborative efforts between the Arnot Art Museum and Elmira City School District sought to identify and develop links between the Museum’s collections and the district’s curricula. The Museum continues to provide hands-on museum-based programs for every district student in grades 3, 6 and 9-12. In 2007 an expanded collaborative partnership between the Museum and Elmira City School District led to the year-long formation of a strategic planning project. Supported by an Empire State Partnership School-Wide Arts Planning Grant, this project was implemented to identify specific learning needs and set educational goals at Riverside Elementary School. Four key priorities and an action plan to meet these goals were established: (1) enhance the museum’s school-focused educational programming; (2) increase student learning through systematic exposure to a variety of artistic disciplines (3) increase effective arts integration through targeted professional development; and (4) increase family engagement in students’ school and community-based arts experiences.

One program designed as a result of the Riverside Planning Project was a Literacy Through the Arts program. The launch of Literacy Through the Arts engaged 384 students and over thirty teachers, allowing students to work with an artist-in-residence and led to the development of a comprehensive integration of the visual arts with oral and written lessons. This initiative proved a powerful teaching tool—credited for a 15% increase in success on the 4th Grade NYS ELA exam and a decrease of nearly 50% among students ranked in the lowest placement category. In addition to student focused programming, the Museum has provided teacher in-services for over 15 years. Recently, a 2008 fall in-service included art and social studies teachers from three districts—Waverly, Elmira, and Watkins Glen.

In 2007 an ambitious renovation to the original 1833 building and the 1983 addition was undertaken. The full scope of this overhaul accounted for further upgrades in security, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, along with updates to the exterior of the Museum. The Museum was able to remain open for a majority of the work, closing briefly late in in the spring of 2007 to allow contracted workers the full range of the building to make their final adjustments. In October of 2007, this major project was completed and ready to be unveiled to the public.

Each year the Arnot Art Museum continues to develop fresh ideas and increase involvement from the surrounding community. Through the addition of the Regional Art Show, Heart’s Desire fundraiser and Gallery Gala Exhibition to the Museum’s distinct event line-up, the Museum consistently proves a desire to follow in the vein of Matthias Arnot’s interest in seeking the best contemporary realist art of the day as well as working with the community to expand their knowledge and interest in the visual arts.

 

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