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The Capital Region in 50 Objects

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By Ronisha Williams


“Every object tells a story, if you know how to read it.”

This is the first thing one sees upon entering the third floor of the Albany Institute of History and Art to visit one of its current exhibitions, “The Capital Region in 50 Objects.” The Henry Ford quote is on a map highlighting the four counties of Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, and Saratoga.

“The Capital Region in 50 Objects” was planned in partnership with the Times Union more than three years ago. Surveys were sent to nearly 60 museums, cultural organizations and Times Union readers, asking questions such as: How did the capital region get its identity? What events, people, and things represent its character?

That time was also spent on outreach and collaborative efforts with different historical societies and business entities handpicking what would go in the exhibition.

“The exhibition represents the voice of our region – how all of us who live and work here see our own history and identity. And it’s a fantastic way to share that history with others,” said Doug McCombs, Albany Institute’s Chief Curator.

The idea for this exhibition was modeled after a feature in The New York Times called “A History of New York in 50 Objects.” According to the Albany Institute’s Executive Director Tammis Groft, “we wanted to use this very approachable format and organize an exhibition where people could come and see selected objects in person.”

Knowing the objects will be historically representative of Albany, one would expect to see a plethora of time-honored documents and traditional, war-themed artifacts, but there is a diverse range of objects and accompanied images that tell the fascinating story of the Capital Region. There are some significant war relics, like Col. Elmer Ellsworth’s gray double-breasted frock coat from the Civil War which has a wide bullet hole in the chest from when he was shot through the heart while removing a flying Confederate flag, becoming the first Union officer killed in the war. However, there is also a huge butterfly sculpture  made of stainless steel by artists Matt Hart and Chip Fasciana that represents the Albany Pine Bush Preserve and its efforts to conserve the ecosystem.

In addition, there is a crown and cape from the first winner of Tulip Queen from Albany’s annual Tulip Festival, “The Adirondacks” painting by James M. Hart from the Hudson River School, a General Electric monitor-top refrigerator made in Schenectady, N.Y. dated 1930, William Kennedy’s typewriter, and a statue of Nipper, the dog, who has become a landmark as he sits perched on a roof at 991 Broadway in Downtown Albany. With every object there is also an image and short description of how it depicts the four counties allowing the audience to determine and eventually agree on why it is important part of this region’s history.

Some people who view the entire exhibit may be more critical and suggest that important events or objects failed to be mentioned and should have, however the population had plenty of time to fill out surveys and voice their opinion on their experiences and what they value in the Capital Region.

As a student that has been living in Albany for almost five years, I learned more than anticipated after visiting this exhibit. I’m not from here, but I’ve been to Rensselaer and Schenectady a couple of times. Other than that I have no idea what all the different regions have to offer or what their history is. The “50 objects” allowed me to be more appreciative of Albany and view it not just as a college town but what many consider home.

The exhibit opened Sept. 19 and will run through April 3, 2016. Prices for admission are half off until Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015 while the institute is under construction preparing for new exhibitions. Student admission is only $4 with valid student identification. On Thursdays, admission is free for everyone during their extended hours, 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.

(Ronisha Williams / Albany Student Press) The first Tulip Ball during Tulip Festival was in 1949 where the Tulip Queen was awarded this crown.
(Ronisha Williams / Albany Student Press) The first Tulip Ball during Tulip Festival was in 1949 where the Tulip Queen was awarded this crown.
(Ronisha Williams / Albany Student Press) Nipper the dog, a landmark in downtown Albany.
(Ronisha Williams / Albany Student Press) Nipper the dog, a landmark in downtown Albany.

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