hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Arts & Culture August 2017


‘A collection of ideas’

New gallery adds modern dimension at The Hyde Collection


The new Feibes & Schmitt Gallery opened in June at The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls. The gallery is the result of a donation by Werner Feibes of Schenectady, who with his late partner William Schmitt amassed a large collection of modern and contemporary art over four decades. Feibes has now donated that collection to the Hyde. Photo courtesy of The Hyde Collection

The new Feibes & Schmitt Gallery opened in June at The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls. The gallery is the result of a donation by Werner Feibes of Schenectady, who with his late partner James Schmitt amassed a large collection of modern and contemporary art over four decades. Feibes has now donated that collection to the Hyde. Photo courtesy of The Hyde Collection



Contributing writer



The Hyde Collection has always been something of a diamond in the rough: a top-shelf quality grouping of art in a small venue off the beaten path, often described as a hidden gem.

In the last couple of years, however, the museum has taken on a new aura as a result of a major gift of modern art and the financial backing to help house it. The result is a recently completed expansion that is expected to open the Hyde to new waves of visitors.

The museum’s good fortune came at the hands of Werner Feibes of Schenectady, an art collector and architect who has donated artwork and cash totaling more than $11 million in value. The donation included a $1 million leadership gift toward establishment of a gallery to exhibit the donated works.

With backing from the gift, the Hyde spent the past year building a new 1,500-square-foot gallery dedicated to the display of modern and contemporary art. The Feibes & Schmitt Gallery, named in honor of the donor and his late partner, James Schmitt, opened to the public on June 10.
Feibes said the gift was not just about art, but also about the mindfulness surrounding such creations.

“Jim Schmitt and I always considered art as ideas expressed through a visual medium,” he explained. “So a collection of art is a collection of ideas. Therefore, an exhibition of art is actually an exhibition of ideas.”

The couple spent more than four decades collecting these ideas, and now Feibes said he has the reward of being able to share them with the public.

Museum officials say the Feibes & Schmitt collection fits well with the Hyde’s long-term mission as well as its own historical evolution. The new collection includes paintings, drawings and sculpture and features such artists as Josef Albers, Jean Arp, Grace Hartigan, Keith Haring, Ellsworth Kelly, Sol LeWitt, Robert Motherwell, George Rickey, Louise Nevelson, Bridget Riley, Robert Rauschenberg, David Smith and Andy Warhol.

Karl Seitz, the museum’s board of trustees chairman, called the donation “a vote of confidence” in the Hyde’s direction and future.

“It is a testament to the energy, excitement and momentum the museum is experiencing,” Seitz said. “The Hyde isn’t just a hidden gem, it’s a cultural hub. And the future is bright.”


Building on a legacy
The Hyde’s director of curatorial affairs and curator of collections, Jonathan Canning, said he was attracted to coming to work at the museum last year because of “the strength of its permanent collection,” which Feibes’ gift has enhanced.

Canning said he arrived at his new job in time to be involved in details of the new gallery’s design as well as back-of-house aspects involving museum logistics that had to be settled before the construction could begin.

But beyond such details, Canning stressed that the Feibes gift and the gallery’s recent opening signal a new stage of the Hyde’s regional impact on the arts world, one that builds on his first impression of the museum.

“The gift was significant in scope given the attraction we have found amongst younger generations for modern and contemporary art,” Canning said. “I came here in early 2016 because the Hyde’s holdings were world-class.”

The museum opened in 1963 and is housed in the former home of Charlotte Hyde, an heir one of the Glens Falls area’s leading industrialists. Hyde had created a trust to preserve the substantial art collection she had amassed with her husband, Louis, through the first half of the 20th century. The museum has continued to grow its collection and expanded its gallery space in 1989 and 2004.

Canning predicted that the Feibes & Schmitt gift and the new gallery will “help attract the next wave of art lovers through our doors.”

The legacy Feibes and his late partner are leaving to the Hyde represents a lifetime’s passion. For more than 40 years, Schmitt and Feibes assembled their collection by pursuing their particular interest in pop art, abstract art, minimalism and non-objective art.

Canning said that previously, in 2015, Feibes had donated 55 modern and contemporary works to the Hyde. The recent gift, after Schmitt’s death, added another 105 pieces from those genres to the Hyde’s permanent collection.

“In one very generous gesture, the Hyde grew in an important way,” Canning said. “We already have a very solid collection with traditional masterpieces of American and European art. Now, having added the new gallery and its related gift, we can share dozens of fine examples of modern and contemporary art we didn’t have before.

“If this summer’s attendance is an indication, we’re heading in the right direction,” he added.
The new gallery’s purpose will be to exhibit pieces from the new collection, while further exhibitions as well as related shows will rotate in the museum’s other galleries.


Warhol, Picasso attract fans
The new gallery’s inaugural exhibition, “To Distribute and Multiply: The Feibes & Schmitt Gift” includes 40 works from the Feibes & Schmitt collection.

Warhol’s iconic lithograph portrait “Liz” (1964), one of several he created in his well-known obsession with celebrity, is a modernist tribute to the actress Elizabeth Taylor and has a prominent spot in the show.

“We are not sure how and when Werner and Jim acquired the Warhol, but yes, these are pieces that attract the public,” Canning said. “The Hyde has shown pieces from this collection in the past, so this was not about rehashing certain themes. What we are doing instead is thinking in terms of what we can tell the audience about the nature of Jim and Werner’s collecting throughout the years, and some of the artists that they actually got to know.”

“Liz” offers viewers an easily identifiable work by one of the best-known artists represented in the show. Along with others, such as the Pablo Picasso engraving “Carmen: One Plate” (1949), it helps to “anchor the nature of the collection in the visitor’s mind,” Canning explained.

An example of the broad artistic connections of the Feibes & Schmitt gift is in the concurrent show of art by Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015).

“Ellsworth Kelly: Slow Curve” in the museum’s Charles R. Wood Gallery, features more than 70 of Kelly’s prints. It explores the artist’s experimentation with curved fields of color, from tight ellipses and shapes with rounded corners to broad arcs and segments. Many of these geometric shapes derived from his simple line-drawn images of nature.

Canning said the Hyde chose to highlight Kelly with his own show for a number of reasons. Both Feibes and Schmitt were personal friends of Kelly, for one.

“Kelly hired Feibes and Schmitt to help design his studio,” Canning said. “So the summer show is a display of Kelly’s prints. Werner and Jim were paid for their work by Kelly with a painting, the ‘Blue Curve.’ It was actually designed for a specific wall in their house, in the dining room.”
Another Kelly piece featured in the show is “Black Wave” (1980), which the artist presented to Feibes and Schmitt as a gift.

“Werner called it ‘Slow Curve,’ and that is how we got to the theme for our summer exhibition of looking at the art of the curve in Kelly’s prints,” Canning explained. “It wasn’t until this summer, when we were preparing the work for exhibition, that we found Kelly had called this piece by another name. We found the other name on the back, which is the kind of discovery curators love to make.”

These kinds of discoveries are not limited to scholars of art history, said Jenny Hutchinson, the Hyde’s education director, who was part of the wave of new hires last year that also brought Canning to the museum.


Growing an audience
Hutchinson said the good fortune of the Feibes & Schmitt gift ties into the museum’s ongoing push to connect with a wider audience and community.

“We create programming that anyone can be part of, because art is a world that not everyone feels they can operate in,” Hutchinson said. “Some think they must have a particular education or qualifications, but that’s not the case. All of these beautiful works at the Hyde, the new Feibes & Schmitt gallery -- we want these things to be accessible to everyone on their terms, yet still remain in context.”

Scholars will always provide gravity to maintain that perspective, Hutchinson said, but institutions like the Hyde are trying to break through barriers and stereotypes.

“Our three tenets to pass along to the public are to learn, create and discover,” Hutchinson said. “We work with audiences of all ages who come through our doors, from toddlers all the way up to senior citizens in their 80s and 90s.”

Hutchinson, who is an artist in her own right and taught art at SUNY Adirondack for four years, said it is vital to have to have a conversation with the community about the purpose of art.
“Art history is so relevant to what is going on in the world,” Hutchinson said. “Picasso didn’t just create cubism out of nowhere. World War I had something to do with it. At the Hyde, our efforts will always be to make these connections for the public, and to do so with accessibility. We have a significant collection, recently made ever stronger, and this is our responsibility.”
The Hyde Collection is located at 161 Warren St. in Glens Falls. For more information on its exhibitions and programs, visit hydecollection.org or call (518) 792-1761.