Not signed or dated; canvas stamp [indistinct and partially obscured] on reverse: PREPARED / BY / EDWD DECHAUX / NEW YORK [top and bottom lines curved so as to form oval]; typed, on red-bordered gum label formerly on an old backing [original in object file]:
The two mountainsides and valley / were purchased by David Woodworth in the 1840s for lumbering. His wife was my great, great Aunt Orilla Clement Woodworth. Bark from the trees was supplied to the tannery which was operated by Colonel. H.D.H. Snyder.
My father learned to swim in this creek about 1883. By that time the tannery had been torn down, but the old Woodworth homestead lasted till 1955.
January, 1957 John H. Ricketson III [signed in ink]
Tannery in the Catskills is remarkable for its fusion of a romantic, mid-19th-century landscape aesthetic with a detailed depiction of industry. Its mountain setting and atmospheric perspective typify the idealized compositions that lured artists and tourists to such destinations as the Catskills and the White Mountains. These regions, however, were also rich in the natural resources necessary to support tanneries, including swift waterways to supply power and large stands of eastern hemlock, the bark of which contained the tannins essential to the tanning process. Although tanneries proliferated throughout the Northeast in the early to mid-19th century, artists rarely depicted them.
Despite this painting’s picturesque background, our eyes are drawn to the crisply rendered buildings that made up Snyder’s tannery in Shandaken, New York. The foreground is littered with abandoned, felled logs, stripped of their bark, suggesting the deforestation that typically resulted from tannery operations. Nonetheless, the artist’s successful integration of the tannery buildings into the mountain setting suggests a harmonious balance between unspoiled nature and the technological progress that in the mid-19th century was also emerging as a source of national pride.
From the 2019 exhibition American Art, Colonial to Modern, curated by Barbara J. MacAdam, Jonathan L. Cohen Curator of American Art
Despite this painting’s picturesque landscape background, our eyes are drawn to the crisply rendered buildings. This painting portrays Snyder’s tannery in Shandaken, New York, which employed over two hundred workers. Instead of portraying a pristine, idealized, and empty landscape, felled logs suggest the deforestation caused by tannery operations.
Tanneries proliferated throughout the Northeast in the early to mid-nineteenth century. Swift waterways supplied power and the bark of eastern hemlocks contained the tannins essential to the process of tanning leather. This pollutive and extractive industry moved westward in the latter part of the century, as cattle supplying most of the hides were increasingly raised out west and railroad transportation made shipping fast and affordable.
The early rise of NIMBY (not in my backyard) ideologies sought to preserve Northeastern landscapes by relocating environmentally destructive industries to other regions. Still today, environmental preservation often relocates these industries to regions inhabited by impoverished populations comprised largely of people of color.
From the 2023 exhibition Liquidity: Art, Commodities, and Water, curated by Michael Hartman, Jonathan Little Cohen Associate Curator of American Art
ARTH 85, Senior Seminar in Theory and Method, Mary Coffey, Fall 2015
ANTH 55.01, Anthropology of Global Health, Anne Sosin, Spring 2022
ANTH 55.01, Anthropology of Global Health, Anne Sosin, Fall 2022
American Art, Colonial to Modern, Israel Sack Gallery and Rush Family Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, January 26, 2019-September 12, 2021.
Liquidity: Art, Commodities, and Water, Israel Sack Gallery and the Rush Family Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, July 29, 2023-June 16, 2024.
Col. H.D.H. Snyder, Woodland, New York; M. Knoedler & Co., New York, New York, 1956; probably sold to John Howland Ricketson, III (1902-1986), Buzzard’s Bay, Massachusetts [he owned it by 1957]; Northeast Auctions, Hampton, New Hampshire, The Collection of John Howland Ricketson III, May 29, 1993, lot 137 [as by James MacDougal Hart, Tannery at Woodland Valley, Ulster County, Pennsylvania [sic], illustrated; Spanierman Gallery, New York, New York; sold to Paul Worman (dealer), New York, New York, 2006; sold to Alexander Gallery, New York, New York, 2006; sold to present collection, 2015.
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