Monday, February 16, 2015

Lesser-known trivia and tidbits about Hastings' famed painter Jasper Francis Cropsey

Artist and Architect

The popularity of the Hudson River School came during a time of tension between nature and industry. While Hudson River School painters found their inspiration from the unaltered and natural beauty of the land and the river, life along the Hudson was changing. The Hudson River Valley was a focal point of the industrial revolution, from the invention of the steamboat to railroad construction.
Cropsey was the unique Hudson River School student who found ways to both preserve and embrace the nature through his art and to contribute to the rise of industrial development.

As a child, the noted artist and Hastings resident Jasper Cropsey was “something of a prodigy.”
with “both an artistic and a mechanical bent,” writes William Nathaniel Banks, in Ever Rest, Jasper Francis Cropsey’s house in Hastings-on-Hudson New York.

At the age of 13, Cropsey won a diploma from the Mechanics Institute for a model house he had designed.

While Cropsey’s tranquil canvases of Hastings-on-Hudson in the mid to late 1800s are well-known, lesser known is the fact he also designed the stations of 14 elevated railway stations built in Manhattan, as well as a blueprint for the Seventh Regiment Armory, also in Manhattan.
Cropsey's sizable collection of architectural drawings have been displayed at the Newington Cropsey Foundation.

An Interior of the Newington-Cropsey Foundation's Art Center.
Photograph, winter 1990.

Views on “The View at Hastings”

In 1987, a custodian discovered an original Cropsey painting in a furnace room of the Hastings High School.  “The View at Hastings on Hudson,” in which Cropsey painted what he saw from his Washington Avenue studio to the river in subtle greens and reds, was estimated to be valued at $1 million.  (See this Society blog post).

The painting’s donor, a man named Sherman Thursby, wished for the painting to go to “the village,” as he had indicated on the back of the canvas. Village residents debated the implications of this inscription.

The Hastings School Board believed that as “View” was found on school property, and because at the time of the gift the school district effectively pulled the community together, that Cropsey’s work should remain in the hands of school officials. The Board added that the sale of the painting would be an asset for the school system's fiscal crisis at that time. 

"View at Hastings on Hudson," Jasper F. Cropsey ca. 1891

Representatives from both the Historical Society and the Hudson River Museum agreed on the importance of the public display of the painting and jointly brought a lawsuit against the Hastings School District in order to prevent the sale of “View at Hastings.” Meanwhile, the lengthy debate over the nearly 100-year old artwork received notable media coverage.

The Newington-Cropsey organization itself took no official position, while the Foundation’s administrator and trustee Adelia C. Rasines told a New York Times interviewer “It’s too bad that the legitimate ownership cannot be established.” New York Supreme Court justice John DiBlasi ruled that the painting remained school property, but that it be publicly displayed. The Hudson River Museum in Yonkers was chosen as the best nearby public location for its safety and visibility, and there it has remained ever since.

Beatrice and Barbara

Jasper Cropsey's granddaughter Isabel Wack and her husband William Steinschneider, who became the mayor of Hastings, lived in the Cropsey residence on Washington Avenue during the 1920s and 30s. Determined to preserve her grandfather's legacy, Wack held parties and social gatherings and instilled in her daughters Barbara and Beatrice an appreciation for art.

In the early 1960s, Cropsey made the silver screen. While giving a tour of the White House, Jackie Kennedy pointed out a Cropsey original to the TV audience. Beatrice and Barbara both saw the program and were inspired by the longevity of their great-grandfather and his work. This, said Barbara, was "when the slow reawakening of interest in Cropsey began."

Thanks to Cropsey's great-granddaughters, the Newington Cropsey Foundation was established in 1978. The goal of the Foundation, said Barbara in a New York Times article, was to preserve the "moral and artistic values" of her great-grandfather.

Photo of a reception for a Cropsey exhibition the Hastings Municipal Building, February 1979.
From left to right: Mayor Julius Chemka, Village Manager Jim Mulcare, Barbara Newington,
and Beatrice Ellsworth

The Role of the Foundation

Adelia Rasines, executive director of the Newington Cropsey Foundation, describes the Foundation as a "little pocket, [a] little bonfire." Indeed the establishment of the Foundation came out of the personal passion of Barbara and Beatrice, adamant about their aims to preserve the art and artistic values that ran in their family's history.

In the decades since its inception the cultural center has had often tenuous relations with the Village of Hastings on Hudson. An article in the January, 2000 issue of the Enterprise describes how "some [Hastings] residents assumed the Foundation would function like other museums."

The article goes on to mention that the directors of the Foundation wanted to build a security fence on the eastern side of the Warburton Avenue Bridge after receiving complaints of trash being thrown over the bridge. The Hastings Planning Board refused to grant this request, citing the importance of maintaining visibility of the Foundation's property from the Bridge.

Warburton overlookers can still sneak birds-eye views of the Foundation's expansive property, with its gardens and fountains and stunning architecture. And the Foundation holds community events from from art exhibits and concerts to high school reunions and garden parties. The Foundation itself, however, remains privately funded, and tours are granted by appointment only.

In spring of 1979, the artistic legacy of Jasper Cropsey and the cultural past and present of Hastings-on-Hudson intertwined seamlessly for an event called "Jasper Cropsey, A Hastings on Hudson Centennial Celebration." An informational brochure for the event discussed "the link between the artistic and public domains in Hastings," stating that Barbara and Beatrice "have been in a unique position" reconciling the two.

Photograph of the building on the Newington-Cropsey foundation property.
Photograph, June 1994.

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