Frowning Cliff, Watkins Glen New York

Frowning Cliff Watkins GlenIthacaFL

The Rockwell Museum is proud to present a beautiful painting from the Arnot Art Museum in Elmira, New York. This is a great opportunity to see an iconic painting of an area in Watkins Glen State known as Frowning Cliff. Now that the Park is closed for the season, come see what you are missing. Below I’ve provided some information and pictures related to the artist, the painting, and the park!  ~James Peck, Curator of Collections

The Artist

James Hope was born in Scotland in 1818. At age 13, following the death of his mother, he and his father moved to Canada. A few years later, Hope moved to Fairhaven, Vermont, to begin a five-year apprenticeship to a wagon-maker. After his apprenticeship, Hope studied for a year at Castleton Seminary, and soon after took up portraiture. By 1843, Hope was established as a professional artist in nearby West Rutland, VT. Hope settled in Rutland, built a house, taught painting and drawing at the Castleton Seminary, married, and had four children.

James Hope

In 1849, Frederic Church, one of America’ preeminent landscape painters, visited the spa town of Castleton, where he made studies of the local area and almost certainly met James Hope. Under Church’s influence, Hope took a studio in New York City in the hope of meeting other artists and exhibiting his works. For the next twenty years, he painted in New York during the winter and returned to Castleton in the summer. During the 1850s, 1860s, and 1870s, Hope had many paintings exhibited in New York City at the American Art Union, National Academy of Design, Brooklyn Art Association, and even had paintings exhibited in Philadelphia, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Detroit, Utica, Chicago, and St. Louis. Hope was one of only a handful of artists to see active duty during the Civil War. He was a Captain in the Second Vermont Regiment in the Union Army, and participated in eleven battles. While in service, Hope made on-the-spot sketches which he later developed into paintings of famous battles. His paintings of the battle of Antietam are now owned by the Antietam National Battlefield, Sharpsburg, MD.

Many of Hope’s landscapes from the 1850s were of Clarendon Springs, a spa town and bustling tourist attraction. It was to a large extent Clarendon’s tourist industry that directly and indirectly supported Hope’s art career. Many of the visitors to Clarendon Springs came from the Southern states, and after Civil War, tourism fell off sharply. In response, in 1872, Hope moved to Watkins Glen, New York, and built a studio and art gallery. In the 1870s, Watkins Glen was booming tourist town, and Hope was confident that he would revive his fortunes there. He also felt a strong connection to the Glen, which he thought looked similar to his childhood home in Scotland. He painted hundreds of scenes in what is today Watkins Glen State Park, and had a special affinity for Rainbow Falls.

The Painting
Frowning Cliff, Watkins Glen, 1873
Oil on canvas
On Loan from the Arnot Art Museum, Elmira, NY


Hope focuses his painting on an area of Watkins Glen known today as Frowning Cliff. At the time, the area was also colloquially known as Glen Arcadia and Artist’s Dream. These names hint at the appeal of the locale, an ideal place for painters or photographers to capture a picturesque scene. Indeed, even before Hope set up his easel, photographers started making stereoscopic views and postcards of the area.

For those familiar with Watkins Glen State Park, Frowning Cliff is upstream from Rainbow Falls and just down from Mile Point Bridge. The area is one of the narrowest and shadiest places in Watkins Glen. The artist, Hope, gets a good sense of the place through his tight view, which focuses on and emphasizes the sense of being inside, within a place of refuge. This is a place of subtle lighting and quiet, reverent sounds – birds chirp, insects trill, and water gently bubbles below. In the 1800s, such a place would be a perfect get away from the hustle of everyday life, a place suitable for reverie or creative pursuits like painting or poetry.

Hope pays great attention to the natural phenomena of the Glen, especially the trees criss-crossing the gorge. One tree traverses the top of the Glen, providing a visual connection from one side of the gorge to the other. Two other trees likewise are shown in precarious states of near-disaster – on the right, a tree grows in a fantastic, gravity-defying shape out from the cliff side; to the left; another tree stands, dead, fallen into the gorge near the center of the picture. The trees act as reminders of the cycles of nature – life, death and rebirth – and further insulate the scene from the outside world. On the left side in the mid distance two tourists are visible walking toward a footbridge. They provide scale for the viewer, and serve as surrogates through which viewers can imagine and recreate their own travels through this tranquil scene.

While scenes like this celebrate solitude and separation from the modern world, the well-worn footpath and the footbridge suggest that while this was an idyllic place, it was also a place frequented by tourists. In fact, Watkins Glen opened to the public in 1863, almost ten years before Hope arrived, and was privately run as a tourist resort until 1906, when it was purchased by New York State. Watkins Glen was part of a wider tourist industry that began to flourish and explode in the 1800s. People started to flock to Niagara Falls as early as the 1770s, and by the 1860s, sites like Niagara, Watkins Glen, and even Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii had sophisticated tourist hotels and other accommodations built up around them, and collectively drew hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. As American’s grew richer and as travel, especially by railroad, became easier, more and more people went in search of sites both picturesque and sublime.

For more on the park:

Frowning cliff Today


Sherman Alexie: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Rockwell Museum supports all facets of Western-inspired art, including written pursuits. The Museum is currently highlighting the work of Sherman Alexie, a prolific Native American author, named one of The New Yorker’s Top 20 Writers of the 21st Century. Alexie will be presenting live at The Corning Museum of Glass Auditorium as part of a partnership between the Rockwell Museum and Corning Community College on Wednesday, February 5, at 7:30pm (details below).

A Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian, Alexie grew up in Wellpinit, Washington, on the Spokane Indian Reservation, and has been an urban Indian since 1994 (he lives in Seattle with his family).

His path to become a New York Times best-selling author and screenwriter has provided Alexie with a unique perspective, which he is reflected in his expressive stories.

He wrote and co-produced Smoke Signals, a 1998 Sundance Film Festival award-winner and has written 24 books of poetry and fiction.

Alexie’s first novel, Reservation Blues, won Booklist’s Editors Choice Award for Fiction. His second, Indian Killer, was a New York Times Notable Book. The Toughest Indian in the World won the 2001 PEN/Malamud Award, honoring excellence in the art of storytelling. Ten Little Indians was a national bestseller and Publishers Weekly Book of the Year.

His recent books include The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian—a 2007 National Book Award winner in Young People’s Literature; the novel Flight; and Face, a collection of poems.

Alexie wrote and produced the film, Smoke Signals, based on his book, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, which won the Audience Award and Filmmakers Trophy at the 1998 Sundance Film festival. In 2002, he made his directorial debut with The Business of Fancydancing. He is currently working on a sequel to The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven titled Fire with Fire and a sequel to True Diary called The Magic and Tragic Year of My Broken Thumb.

His 24th book, What I’ve Stolen, What I’ve Earned, a collection of poems, was released in November 2013.


Event Details
Enjoy a unique opportunity to enjoy a live lecture by Alexie (sponsored by Corning Community College the Rockwell Museum) at The Corning Museum of Glass Auditorium on Wednesday, February 5, at 7:30pm. This event is sponsored in part by Elmira Savings Bank.

Reservations are requested (Adults $20; Students $15). Submit advance questions for Sherman on Twitter @RMWestArt using the hashtag #AskSherman

The Horse as an Icon of the Old West

Horses have been a time honored subject of paintings and other artistic mediums. The stateliness of the horse has been used as an allegory for war heroes, symbols of a country, and religious iconography. Art of the American west captures not only the allegory but also the reality. Horses represented freedom, and they were necessary for hunting, travel, and escape. These beasts took on an almost deity level to those that depended on them. Both Native Americans and American settlers looked to these strong animals to help them survive.

By Deborah Butterfield

Deborah Butterfield
Unique bronze, 45″ x 56″ x 16″
Deborah Butterfield has devoted her entire career to sculpting horses. She uses mud and organic fibers in the works. In addition, she includes what she calls “junk” — items like rusting wire, corrugated metal, chicken wire, and wood fencing.

While the horse has made an important place for itself in the history of the West, it was not always roaming the plains. Before the 1500s, you would not have seen a horse in the West, or anywhere else on the lands that would become the United States of America. Explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado introduced the horse to North America while continuing his hunt for gold with the rest of the conquistadors. He is said to have had up to 1,000 horses with his crew.

Moving forward to the early 1900s, sculptor Cyrus Dallin was the first to make a name for himself as a sculptor of Native American and equestrian figures. Most of the equestrian sculptures of that time honored United States Army war heroes.

Cyrus Dallin

Cyrus Dallin
On the Warpath
Bronze, 41 3/4″ x 411/2″ x 13″

The culture of the horse that inspired many artists ended quickly with the introduction of automobiles and trains as more convenient means of transportation. While the lifestyle may have changed, the images that are drawn in one’s head reading about the Old West remain. Artists still influenced by this time in American life keep relevant the visual reminders of a time gone by.

Celebrate Holiday Traditions at the Rockwell!

Imagine a giant Christmas tree adorned with hundreds of precious ornaments, the perfect Santa scene and a holiday vintage toy display. Now stop imagining it and come experience it at the Rockwell!

Throughout the holiday season, we feature drop-in craft activities for all ages, a charming winter woodland tree (that you can decorate!), and much more. Become a detective along the holiday art hunt trail, have your photo taken with Cowboy Santa, attend the magical The Polar Express® Move Night, and travel back in time through the Vintage Toy Display.

To support the spirit of the season, we even play a special arrangement of holiday music selected by WSKG Classical Music Director, Bill Schneider.

Watch the transformation of the Rockwell, as we get ready for the holiday season.

Upcoming Holiday Activities

Vintage Toy Display at The Rockwell
Through January 3, 2014
Travel back through time to see children’s vintage toys and memorabilia from the Victorian Era, as well as toys from the 1920’s through the 1950’s. The toys on display are drawn from the Rockwell Toy Collection that Bob and Hertha Rockwell collected during their lifetime. The toys are set atop cases painted like wrapped presents and the special hand-painted cases are placed throughout the Museum. From baby dolls to cap guns to toy trains, these are toys Americans have grown up with and still love today, toys that evoke the classic holiday spirit of bygone times. The toys are part of a special art hunt, and each toy features a few fun facts and questions that will encourage children of all ages to think about these classic toys in new ways.

Family Sparkle
Saturday, December 7, 2013
3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Make your own Sparkle snowflake ornament! Bring your family to enjoy holiday music performed by local students, play Bison Bingo, and complete a holiday art hunt.

Silver Jewelry Trunk Sale
Saturday, December 7, 2013
9:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Mata Ortiz to You combines fine art from two small villages in Mexico – Mata Ortiz, the center of fine ceramics, and Taxco, the center of fine silver. Blend the two, and you have completely hand formed, one-of-a-kind pieces. We are excited to host Russ and Jan Diers, founders of the Arizona-based Mata Ortiz To You gallery, to explain each piece and the significance of this craft. Discover the most unique and high quality gifts of the season at the Museum Store at The Rockwell!

Photos with Cowboy Santa
Sunday, December 8, 2013
1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Have your photo taken with Cowboy Santa near the western fireplace in The Museum Lodge. A holiday tree – lit and decorated with antlers, feathers, pine cones and berries – alongside a Southwestern Santa chair, and an authentic cowhide rug is the perfect photo op!  Visit the Education Center and design your own photo frame to create the perfect Museum memento.