The John L Wehle Gallery has always been extraordinary. But following its opening in August 2012 after a two-year, $2.7 million renovation, it is even more so.
From the day it opened in May 1976, the gallery was filled the finest works in the sporting and wildlife art world, all collected by museum founder John L. “Jack” Wehle (1917-93), a sportsman and avid conservationist. Its collection of sporting art paintings, prints and sculptures came to be considered the most excellent in the country.
Now the gallery is home to still another remarkable collection—the Susan Greene Costume Collection—perhaps the finest collection of historic clothing in the country. With the renovation, the museum can finally put a portion of the nearly 3,000 rare, mostly 19th-century garments and accessories, on display.
Purchased in 2010 from Greene, a well-known authority in costume study, Karen Augusta, appraiser for the Antiques Roadshow, calls the collection “a gem” that “stands alone as one of the finest collections of its kind in North America.”
The new open-storage exhibit features some 300 articles. Some costumes are displayed on mannequins. Other garments and accessories can be accessed in pull-out archival drawers, permitting close-up study, while still protecting the fragile fabrics.
Gallery curator Patricia Tice says that rotating exhibits from the collection will be used to illustrate changing views on gender, class and technology in the 1800s.
Most of the clothing dates from between 1800 and 1860 and was acquired or has a history in Upstate New York or New England, including an unusual number of items belonging to Quakers.
Among the very earliest are lace edgings that date to 1650.
Although there is some formal attire, the focus is on items once worn by ordinary people in everyday situations; clothing that rarely survives.
Unusual, too, is the large representation of men’s, children’s and adolescent wear, found far less often then women’s clothing. All of it is in very good condition and with excellent provenance.
Items not on display are housed in two new climate-controlled rooms that feature an efficient mobile storage system of racks, shelving and drawers, easily adjustable to accommodate the variety of contents.
New temperature and humidity controls and a high-tech lighting system that produces little heat and no ultraviolet rays, also protect the vulnerable art works. An energy-efficient geothermal heating and air-conditioning system utilizes the earth’s natural heating and cooling properties.
Nearby computers allows the serious and the casual browser access to the Greene Collection data base.
Meanwhile, three richly painted gallery rooms remain devoted to the sporting art, while children are drawn to the remodeled log room—with real log walls—and bins of building toys.
The museum and Wehle gallery are now open 10 am-4 pm Tues-Sun and May 26 & Oct. 13. Nature center trails are open 10 am-4 pm weekends.