Roosevelt House


Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 88 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned
Roosevelt House, Hunter College
Happy Days Are Here Again Set

This 1934 pitcher and mug set featuring caricatures of FDR and other Democrats, created by the Stangl Pottery Company following the repeal of prohibition. Cheers!Roosevelt House, Hunter College

Roosevelt House on East 65th Street is Hunter College’s public policy institute.  Lots of schools name places after people who gave them money or famous alums (or both!) so you might just think, “Oh the Roosevelts bought naming rights back in the day.”  Or, I mean, it’s Roosevelt, why not name something policy-related after any or all of them?  But all those hypotheses are wrong!

Roosevelt House, Hunter CollegeFor nearly a quarter of a century FDR and Eleanor lived there as their place in New York City.  Actually it’s two houses designed to look like one from the outside. Franklin and Eleanor lived to the right, while FDR’s mom lived to the left.  While few historic furnishings remain, the house’s internal fabric is similar enough that you can get a sense of the space the Roosevelts occupied. And it’s open for public tours on Saturdays.  

For some reason, Hunter keeps this quiet. I stumbled on to the place late; it was not on my initial list of museums.  I think this is the most under-the-radar historic house museum in Manhattan.  And I’ve been to all of them.  At least, I think I have.

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in New York City

When Franklin and Eleanor married in 1905, Sara Delano Roosevelt, FDR’s mom, gave them a drawing of a townhouse as a wedding gift.  It took a while to deliver on the real-world equivalent, and it’s unclear whether she specified she’d be their extremely close neighbor.  But still, pretty neat wedding present.

The Roosevelts moved into the Charles Platt-designed house in 1908.  They already had Anna and James, and had a further three surviving children while living there.  The house feels big by New York standards, though small by modern McMansion ones.  And maybe not so big for a family of 7 plus assorted staff.

Each of the paired houses featured a teensy elevator, installed mainly for staff use initially. They turned out to be extremely important once FDR contracted polio in 1921.  His wheelchair, designed to be as small and discreet as possible, could fit.

Roosevelt House, Hunter College

The Roosevelts’ library is still a library today, and contains an array of interesting Rooseveltiana, including a complete set of travel guides published by a Works Progress Administration program to provide work for unemployed writers.  Today, I guess, the government would just give ’em a blog.

Roosevelt House, Hunter College
WPA Guides

Among other historic events, the Roosevelts were living in the house when FDR won the presidency in 1932.  FDR’s first radio address to the nation (also recorded for newsreel distribution by Fox Movietone News, which I can’t help but find ironic) was broadcast from the drawing room.

The House and Hunter

Roosevelt House, Hunter College
Sara over the fireplace, flanked by FDR and Eleanor

Franklin and Eleanor were living in the White House when Sara Delano Roosevelt died in 1941. By that point, it seemed unlikely that their path would take them back to NYC, and so they decided to put the house/houses on the market.  Hunter approached the family with an offer, and, generously, the Roosevelts both cut their asking price and donated some money to the school.  In exchange, the house was named the “Sara Delano Roosevelt Memorial House for Religious and Racial Tolerance.”

Hunter used the house primarily as a student center,  filling a vital need to build community in what was then an all-girl school that specialized in training teachers.

As a part of a not-very-wealthy academic institution, the house was hard used and ill repaired.  Eventually in the 1990s the school had to close it; conditions inside were becoming downright dangerous.

Fortunately, Hunter admins and donors realized the importance of the house to the college, the city, and the country. The school raised nearly $20 million for a lengthy rehab.  The restoration was bad in terms of the historicity of the place, permanently merging the two houses into a single space.  But it was good in the sense that we might otherwise have lost the house entirely. As happened with Teddy Roosevelt’s torn down then rebuilt birthplace.

Roosevelt House, Hunter College
Sara Roosevelt’s Former Bedroom, now Seminar Room.

Should You Visit Roosevelt House?

Roosevelt House, Hunter CollegeToday if anyone thinks of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s residence at all, they likely think of Hyde Park, the estate north of New York that houses FDR’s presidential library.  That’s absolutely worth a visit; Roosevelt House in Manhattan pales by comparison.

But Hunter’s public policy institute was the Roosevelts’ city home as they were growing their family; as Franklin suffered and recovered from polio; and as FDR and Eleanor plotted out the beginnings of a political career that would lead to arguably America’s greatest presidency.

So what if they don’t have the sofas or the lamps or the bric-a-brac.  They have the place, and places matter.  The guided tour was terrific, too.  Rachel, a doctoral student when not guiding people around Roosevelt House,  told the story with wit, warmth, and intellect, augmented by photos and videos in the various rooms to help bring the Roosevelts back to life.

If you’re at all interested in 20th century American history, presidential lives and times, or how wealthy New Yorkers lived in the early 1900s, Roosevelt House is well worth a visit.

For Reference:

Address  47-49 East 65th Street, Manhattan
Cost  General Admission:  $10 suggested donation


Hunter College Art Galleries

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  2/5
Time spent
  • 205 Hudson: 21 minutes
  • Leubsdorf: 12 minutes
  • East Harlem: 17 minutes
  • Artist’s Institute: 3 minutes

Total: 53 minutes

Best thing I saw or learned At 205 Hudson, Dario Robelto’s “I Miss Everyone Who Has Ever Gone Away,” 1997 recreated 2007. 

Hunter College Art Galleries

Little airplanes folded from the wrappers of candies from Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s famous candy-pile artworks memorializing AIDS victims.  It’s artistic appropriation in the most unexpected and literal way.

I discovered early in this project that just about every college in New York City has some kind of public art gallery or museum. Some are extremely impressive, like NYU’s Grey Art Gallery. A few have a specific focus, like the Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art. And some of them are surprisingly impressive and hard to get to, like the Lehman College Art Gallery and the Godwin-Ternbach Museum at Queens College.

Hunter College boasts not one but four art venues, collectively the “Hunter College Art Galleries.” If this were earlier in my museum expedition, I probably would write about each of them separately. At this stage, though, I crave variety in my write-ups, to say nothing of efficiency. And Hunter itself thinks of them in the collective. So my review covers all four spaces in one. It gets four dots on the map, though. Continue reading “Hunter College Art Galleries”

Pratt Manhattan Gallery

Edification value  2/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 21 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Kathryn Fleming’s Ursa Hibernation Station, an idea for a new home appliance:  a portable, pram-sized bear hibernator.  So that you can watch (and possibly envy!) your genetically modified mini bear as it sleeps the winter away.

Pratt Institute, Manhattan Campus

Pratt Institute, Manhattan Campus

The Pratt Institute dates to 1887, when it was founded to give an opportunity for an advanced education to anyone.  Today it is mainly known for programs in architecture, art, and design, so it’s fitting that Pratt’s Manhattan building, a handsome edifice on 14th Street, includes an art gallery on its second floor.

The Pratt Manhattan Gallery is a nice space, long and somewhat narrow, with high ceilings and large windows overlooking 14th Street.  Kind of the usual for a New York art space:  an older space repurposed with white walls, wood floors, periodic columns, exposed duct work and ceiling pipes lending a splash of color.

Pratt Manhattan Gallery

What’s on View

The exhibition when I visited was titled “See Yourself E(x)ist.”  I have seen a lot of contemporary, academic art shows during this project.  I’ve developed a theory that all such exhibits must be about one of four things:

  1. Migration and refugees
  2. Multiculturalism versus assimilation
  3. Gender and identity
  4. Our declining environment

Or I guess, further simplifying, there is only one topic for a contemporary, academic art show:

  1. Riling up conservatives.

This was a Type 4 exhibition, viewed through the lens of technology.  While its theme was different, “The Roaming Eye” at the Shirley Fiterman Art Center featured a number of works that would’ve fit right in here.

I liked it, though I remain somewhat mystified by the typography of the exhibition title.  Anything (x)ist makes me think of the men’s underwear brand, which I’m sure was the curator did not intend.  At least, I think.

Pratt Manhattan Gallery
Jaime Pitarch, “Chernobyl,” 2009

The exhibit offered a good diversity of pieces, including some video and digital art and a rather amusing interactive work that greatly amplified the sound that sand grains make falling in an egg timer.  I like shows that can unite artists in a broad array of media round a common topic.

I also like shows that have at least a little wit or humor in the mix; art that takes itself too seriously tends to lose me.  I enjoyed See Yourself E(x)ist on that front, too.  Jaime Pitarch’s Chernobyl, a mutant matrioshka doll, made me smile.

I felt similarly about a set of pieces by Fantich & Young called Apex Predator | Darwinian Voodoo, that re-envisioned common objects (men’s shoes, a basketball) studded with human teeth.  Eek, creepy and effective. (Lest you worry, the teeth came from dentures.)

Pratt Institute, Manhattan Campus
Fantich & Young, “Alpha Oxfords,” 2010

Should You Go to the Pratt Manhattan Gallery?

Pratt Manhattan GalleryIt’s always hard to judge a museum like the Pratt Manhattan Gallery based on a single show. But it’s conveniently located, and a nice space. I’m pretty comfortable asserting that if you happen to be around West 14th Street and you feel like seeing some contemporary, academic art, whatever’s on view will hew to one of the four themes above, but it’ll likely be interesting and worth the time as well.

For Reference:

Address 144 West 14th Street, 2nd floor, Manhattan
Cost  General Admission:  Free


Shirley Fiterman Art Center, Brooklyn Manhattan Community College

Edification value  2/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 17 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Marc Andre Robinson creates graceful, biological forms out of pieces of cast-off furniture, adapting curves that once graced chair and table legs to more organic purpose. “Flight” looks like a giant jellyfish or cephalopod, drifting through the air on some errand of great importance.

Marc Andre Robinson at BMCC's Shirley Fiterman Art Center
Marc Andre Robinson, “Flight,” 2017, reclaimed wood furniture

Shirley Fiterman Art Gallery BMCC CollegeBefore I started this project, I never realized how many of New York’s city-run and community colleges have a space for art somewhere on their campuses. Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) adds another to that list.  BMCC has had its campus in Lower Manhattan since 1983. Fiterman Hall, the college’s flagship building, was severely damaged on September 11, and needed to be entirely rebuilt.

I can only imagine the challenges of fundraising and working through layers of both academic and civic bureaucracy that entailed. However, the college finally prevailed and rebuilt Fiterman Hall, with the new building opening in 2012. Designed by Pei, Cobb, and Partners, the new Fiterman Hall includes the Shirley Fiterman Art Center, a smallish gallery space. Continue reading “Shirley Fiterman Art Center, Brooklyn Manhattan Community College”

Queens College Art Center

Edification value  2/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  
Time spent 19 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Milanese designer Silvia Giovanardi’s samurai dress. Her work incorporates natural fibers and a lot of Japanese influence.  I don’t recall ever seeing a fashion riff on samurai armor before!

Fabric of Cultures at Queens College Art Center
Silvia Giovanardi, Samurai Dress
Library at Queens College, Flushing
Brutal in its efforts not to be Brutalist

The Queens College Art Center occupies a glassed-in hallway on the sixth floor of the fairly depressing, blocky library building on Queens College’s campus in the far reaches of Flushing.  This building doesn’t want to be Brutalist and standoffish, but its efforts to be welcoming are so forced and artificial that it ultimately feels even less welcoming than if the architects hadn’t tried in the first place.

The guard at the front desk may not exactly know that the library even houses an Art Center on its sixth floor. But based on my experience, if you’re nice about it and confident about where you’re going he will happily wave you on into the library, no need to show an ID or sign a guest register or anything. Continue reading “Queens College Art Center”

Godwin-Ternbach Museum

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 23 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned This picture book of famous men who loved cats.  Beautifully illustrated and funny and reminded me how much I don’t want to be one of those single guys with cats.  

Cat Book at Godwin-Ternbach Museum, Queens College
Sam Kalda, “Of Cats and Men,” 2017

The entry on William S. Burroughs begins, “In a gentlemen’s club such as this, there are bound to be a few scandals.”

Klapper Hall, Queens College, FlushingQueens College started collecting art in the 1950s, and today holds a collection that, according to their website, encompasses over 5,000 objects from across history.  That makes the Queens College art collection more comprehensive than that of the Queens Museum, and the most encyclopedic in the borough.

As that collection grew, the college eventually decided to create a venue to curate and display it. Founded in 1981, the museum takes its name from its founders: art historian Frances Godwin and art restorer Joseph Ternbach. The Godwin-Ternbach Museum today consists of a medium sized space in the very institutional-looking Klapper Hall.  The museum has a flexible, open floorplan, with super high ceilings and a small mezzanine level overlooking it on three sides.  With its pretty parquet floor, the space reminded me oddly of a basketball court for art. Continue reading “Godwin-Ternbach Museum”

Bard Graduate Center Gallery

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 63 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The museum business has always been a tough one.  The 1853 Crystal Palace Exposition lost a ton of money.  They tried bringing in P. T. Barnum to make it more popular. Even the great showman gave up, though, grumbling, “The dead could not be raised.”

Bard Graduate Center Gallery, ManhattanLocated in a pretty but unassuming townhouse on West 86th Street, the Bard Graduate Center Gallery offers a couple of floors converted into spaces for, it seems, whatever Bard Graduate Center folks happen to be working on.  Bard exhibits come in three flavors:  focus projects, traveling exhibits, and artists-in-residence.

The two shows on the day I went were both “focus projects.” Bard Graduate Center defines these as “small-scale academically rigorous exhibitions and publications that are developed and executed by Bard Graduate Center faculty and postdoctoral fellows in collaboration with students in our MA and PhD programs.” (Bard website; longer description here.)

Design by the Book

“Design by the Book” discusses the Sanli tu, a Chinese text from 961 meant to help reconstruct important ritual objects from even longer ago. Confucian China was full of rites and rituals, requiring very specific objects to complete.  However, as dynasties waxed and waned, the nature of those objects was sometimes lost.  In the mid-900s, a scholar named Nie Chongyi studied ancient writings about these objects, and set out to formally describe and picture them.

It was a good idea, and for a while an influential book.  However, what we’d think of as archaeology eventually disproved many of Nie’s ideas when people  dug up ruins and found actual examples of the ritual items in question.

Bard Graduate Center Gallery, Manhattan

The show introduced these ideas via a quick run-down of Confucianism and a look at a copy of the Sanli tu itself. It then showed  examples of the kinds of objects it described, like bronze bells, cups, and ceremonial robes.  It also included an interactive element inviting visitors to sketch three objects based on their written descriptions.  It shows how your artwork compares with Nie’s conception and previous visitors’ attempts.  Anyone up for Confucian Pictionary?

New York Crystal Palace 1853

Crystal Palace Show, Bard Graduate Center, ManhattanThe Crystal Palace show tells the story of the first World’s Fair in the United States, and the tremendous glass and steel building constructed to house it — an epitome of high technology of the time.  It’s a bit of a jumble, trying to pack a lot of things into a space too small for it.  Somewhat like the Crystal Palace Exposition itself, I suppose. The show defines world’s fairs and outlines the 19th century vogue for them. It describes the Crystal Palace itself and the myriads of exhibits and displays of art, science, and technology that existed within.  Guns!  Hats!  Sculpture! Furniture! Vases!  Not much of it to my taste, but they ate it up in 19th century New York.

Crystal Palace, Bard Graduate CenterFor a small show, it surprisingly offered not one but three audio tour options: one featuring recorded quotations from Walt Whitman, the other two from imagined perspectives of fictional fairgoers. I’m not so sanguine about the fictional  accounts.  Plenty of actual people, famous and not famous, visited the Crystal Palace and wrote about their experiences.  For instance, the show includes a wall-text quote from a teenage Sam Clemens, who called it “a perfect fairy palace, beautiful beyond description.”  It feels like the group that put this exhibit together couldn’t find the contemporary perspectives they wanted, so decided to just make some up.

Better, the exhibit also featured a touchscreen panorama of the fair, enabling a visitor to pan around and zoom in on the cavalcade of wonders.

Crystal Palace Shard, Bard Graduate Center Gallery
Crystal Palace Shard

It even had a shard of the Crystal Palace itself. Following the fire that destroyed the amazing building in 1858, bits of glass served as souvenirs.

Overall, I liked this show.  Given my obsession with museums, museum shows about museums very much appeal to me (see my review of the Bernard Museum‘s meta-exhibit).  But they did have more story they wanted to tell than Bard Graduate Center had space to contain it.

Other Things to Know

Bard’s spaces are indeed pretty tiny.  Each show occupied the footprint of the front room and hallway of a floor of the townhouse.  It maximizes wall space by blocking windows (at the cost of creating gloomy rooms).

Small installations of contemporary art accompanied both shows in the “back room” space:  a video piece about a hunt for a mysterious book in New York for the Crystal Palace, and a performance+light installation for the Design by the Book show.  In theory I think having an art piece that riffs on the ideas in the adjoining exhibit can be illuminating.  However, given Bard’s lack of space, I would’ve preferred to see more depth from the exhibits themselves.

The Bottom Line

I like the eclectic programming of the Bard Graduate Center Gallery. Lack of a topical mission or a focus can be a negative. But they seem focused on telling unexpected, interesting stories.  That stretch of the Upper West Side is an art museum desert, so I like knowing it is there.  If you’re going to Zabar’s, or happen to be across Central Park on Museum Mile, consider making a quick detour.

Bard Graduate Center Gallery, Lobby
Bard Graduate Center Gallery Lobby

For Reference:

Address 18 West 86th Street, Manhattan
Cost  General Admission:  $7 (suggested; free on Wednesday)
Other Relevant Links


Center for Jewish History

Edification value  4/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  4/5
Time spent 95 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned John Rainolds, president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, suggested the idea of an English Bible to King James.  The King James Bible, published in 1611, is maybe the most important book in English.

Yeshiva’s Oxford show has one of only four surviving notebooks from the committee that fretted and deliberated over the translation, responsible for its majestic, enduring poetry.  Who says nothing good ever comes from committees?

King James Bible Notes, Yeshiva University Museum, New York
William Fulman copy of John Bois’s notes on the King James Bible, 17th C.

Center for Jewish History, New York

The Center for Jewish History comprises five institutions under a single, Greek Revival, roof:

  • American Jewish Historical Society
  • American Sephardi Federation
  • Leo Baeck Institute
  • Yeshiva University Museum
  • YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

It’s like a food hall for Jewish culture and history.  Kosher food hall, anyway.

Accordingly, at any given time the exhibits going on there will be diverse. And there are a lot of them, spread across two floors of assorted spaces of differing sizes, shapes, and capacities, all arranged around a central atrium. During my visit I saw:

  • A tremendous show of rare books on loan from Oxford’s Corpus Christi College.
  • The work of George Salter, midcentury book designer extraordinaire
  • Impressions of Jerusalem in pictures, video, sculpture, and words
  • A brief overview of the German origins of Zionism in the early twentieth century.
  • The story of a Portuguese diplomat who defied his superiors and eventually lost his job in his effort to give exit visas to as many people fleeing the Nazis as possible.
  • A group show of art by current students at Abby Belkin Stern College.

Dusty Old Books

Oxford Show, Yeshiva University MusuemThe rare book show, billed as “Five Hundred Years of Treasures from Oxford,” blew me away.  According to the wall text, many of the books on view have never left Corpus Christi College before. I can’t imagine the relationship that led to this exhibit happening.  The title misleads, though: although it’s Corpus Christi’s 500th anniversary, several of the works on display are way older than that. Indeed, at least two date to the tenth century.  I mean seriously.  Here there be books over a thousand years old.

Oxford Rare Books Show, Center for Jewish History
St. Basil the Great, “Commentary on the Psalms & Other Works,” 10th Century(!), Greek manuscript

Jewish-Adjacent Programming

I found it particularly interesting that although the show had a Hebrew section, it wasn’t really, well, super-Jewish.  I mean, who would expect Corpus Christi to come to Yeshiva. However, in the college’s early days, its founder emphasized the “new learning” of reading holy books in their original languages –so Hebrew and Greek alongside the more usual Latin. 

But it’s not purely Biblical, either. The show also features a copy of the Iliad, and numerous significant scientific works.  In terms of Hebrew, it featured some beautiful examples of dual Hebrew/Latin manuscripts. It also had a book of Jewish daily prayers, written in Arabic but using the Hebrew alphabet, that somehow made its way to England before the 1200s.

On the science front, they had a copy of Vesalius’s Anatomy from 1555.  It’s amazingly important, the first medical book based on contemporary dissections, not just received wisdom from the Classical world.  And even better were the tons of annotations from some harried medical student.  I love margin notes.  Even if I can’t read them, I can empathize with this long-gone person striving to learn and absorb all this new, revolutionary knowledge. Try doing that on an eReader.

Andreas Vesalius, “De Humani Corporis Fabrica,” printed in Basel, 1555.

While a small show, it went incredibly deep. If it was at the Morgan, I reckon there would be a line to see it.  It was hard to tear myself away to check out the rest of the Center for Jewish History exhibits.  But tear I did, eventually.Rare books from oxford, Yeshiva University Museum

More Books!

George Salter, Center for Jewish History, New York
Atlas Shrugged, Salter Designed

The George Salter show was fascinating, too.  Once you see some examples of his work, you realize that he did tons of midcentury classics.  And while  you can’t judge a book by its cover, his distinctive way with typography and design must’ve helped sell at least some copies of the books he worked on.

The show speaks to Salter’s philosophy of design, from pure typographical covers to ones, like Atlas Shrugged, that capture some resonant idea of the book in simplified, graphical form.

Rare Book Library, Center for Jewish History

Other Things at the Center for Jewish History

The Jerusalem show provided glimpses and views of the city by a whole variety of artists and writers.  It included a tremendous, handmade model of old Jerusalem. 

Jerusalem, Center for Jewish History
Moses Kernoosh, “Model of Jerusalem,” ca 1880. Wood, cardboard, tin, wire, paint, rice paper

As with the Oxford show, I found it interesting (and welcome) that the perspectives on the city weren’t purely Jewish ones.  Mark Twain gets a quote, as does grumpy Herman Melville, who had much to say on the quantity and quality of the stones of Judea.  But my favorite quote came from a poem by Yehuda Amichai, “Jerusalem is a Port City,” where he builds an amazing metaphor.  I’ll just quote the first and last lines here:

Jerusalem is a port city on the shore of the ages of ages./Jerusalem is the Venice of God.

The student art show was a student art show.  A couple of clever things, a couple not-so-clever.  And “Portugal the Last Hope: Sousa-Mendes’ Visas for Freedom” and “Zionismus: The German Roots of Zionism” shows both had interesting things to teach, though both went heavy on wall texts and quotes, lighter on art and artifacts.Zionism in Germany at the Center for Jewish History

The Bottom Line

Center for Jewish History, New YorkWith its diverse institutions all pursuing their different missions, the exhibits the Center for Jewish History cumulatively deliver a comprehensive and diverse look at Jewish concerns and interests.  The Jewish Museum, by contrast, has a more narrowly artistic focus.  Which absolutely isn’t a bad thing, and puts it on equal footing with many of the other specific-culture-focused institutions in the city.  But I got  more out of visiting the Center for Jewish History. 

If the Yeshiva Museum does even one show every couple of years as deep as the Oxford Library show, I really need to make it part of my regular museum rotation.

Whatever your interests, it’s likely that something on view at the Center for Jewish History will align. Woe unto you if your interests are diverse, you’ll likely spend more time there than you intended.  I mean, woe in a good way, of course.  Seeing and learning more than you expected must count as among the best of all possible woes.

For Reference:

Address 15 West 16th Street, Manhattan
Cost  Yeshiva University Museum General Admission:  $8.  Other exhibition spaces free.
Other Relevant Links


Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  2/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 44 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The Fordham Museum’s ancient coin collection came from a literal buried treasure. While serving in Italy during World War II, Thomas Marrone stumbled on a trove of ancient Roman coins in a shell-hole. After the war, rather than keeping them or selling them off he gave them to Fordham.

Fordham Museum's Coin CollectionThe wall text observes that since the 1954 Hague Convention, walking off the battlefield with lost coin collections is no longer Kosher. So it’s lucky Fordham acquired its when it did.

Fordham Museum of Greek Etruscan and Roman ArtTucked away in the main library at Fordham University’s Bronx campus is an  unexpected little museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman art, which opened in 2007.  William and Jane Walsh donated their collection of about 270 objects to the school, the thought being that having a small museum of classical antiquity close at hand might inspire students pursuing a liberal arts education.

Walsh Library, Fordham UniversityAs a Columbia alum, I’m slightly jealous. I can imagine the resonance of reading  Sophocles, Thucydides, or Cicero in the presence of objects from the cultures that shaped those works.  Then again, our library is a neoclassical masterpiece by McKim, Mead, and White, whereas Fordham kids get a thoroughly style-less late 1990s building.  Just sayin’.

Library architecture notwithstanding, Fordham did a fine job crafting its museum space.  From the design and library layout, I suspect that it took over one of the reading rooms to do so.  If so, then undergrads’ loss during finals prep is art’s gain. The Fordham Museum has ample windows opening onto the campus, which I like a lot. It makes you constantly aware of the academic environment, providing a distinctive context for the art.

Fordham Museum, Bronx, New York

The Collection

The Fordham Museum’s collection is diverse and well curated. It includes a lovely Venus (Roman copy of Greek original, from the third century AD), bits and pieces of other statuary, and a wide array of pottery.  The ceramics span a wide variety of styles, not just the typical red-black-and-white painted Greek wine jars. And it includes some impressively large and distinctive pieces.

Fordham Museum, Bronx, New York
Child-Sized Sarcophagus

It also has a poignant child’s casket, whose former occupant was the two-year old son of an early Roman policeman.

And a single small but nice vitrine full of Roman glass.


Roman Glass at the Fordham Museum

As seems to be the case whenever I see ancient Greek art, I learned some new words, among them:

  • thymiaterion: incense burner
  • strigilated: decorated with curves in the shape of a strigil, and
  • Gnathian: of or originating from…Gnathia?

The museum sets aside an alcove for special interpretations. This offers a way for the curators to take parts of the collection and temporarily do a deeper dive, or look at them differently. When I visited it examined Etruscan terra cotta votive heads and a couple of feet.  Interesting and well described. People purchased these votive sculptures to invoke the gods’ aid in the case of injury or illness.  Perhaps an idea whose time has come again given the state of U.S. healthcare regulation.

Votive Heads, Fordham Museum, Bronx New York
Votive Heads (and Feet)

Two Criticisms

I admire the Walshes for picking an unconventional place to gift their collection, and the museum for organizing the collection a logical and educational way. At the same time, it misses an opportunity to discuss the Walshes as collectors and connoisseurs.  It left me curious why they acquired what they did — what caught their eye, what they liked and didn’t. 

Also, considering the times, the Fordham Museum should discuss  provenance.  The coin collection origin story touches on the subject, but the museum says nothing else.  I hope the Walshes got all their stuff on the up-and-up. But if so, the wall texts should say something about that.

Venus, Fordham Museum, Bronx, New York
Venus was her name…but where did she come from?

Who Should Visit?

Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art, Bronx New YorkThe Fordham Museum offers a quiet, competent display of an interesting collection in a beautiful academic setting.  It’s great if you like communing with art solo: a kid studying was the only other person when I went.  And a guard popped in briefly to make sure I wasn’t pilfering votive objects.

Who should visit? Students of antiquity, or even just fans, will find it worth their time. If you live closer to Fordham than to the Met or the Onassis Center, you should definitely consider visiting for a Greco-Etrusco-Roman art fix.  And Fordham students have no excuses about going.

More general audiences may wisely hesitate about making the journey just to see the Fordham Museum.  But you could combine it with something else.

  • The Fordham campus happens to be conveniently close to the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage — he walked over to visit the Jesuits when St. John’s College was new. Following in Poe’s footsteps after visiting his humble abode would offer a nice double bill. 
  • It would also pair well with the nearby New-York Botanical Garden.
  • Finally, Fordham is close to the Bronx’s Belmont neighborhood, also known as Arthur Avenue.  Combining Classical art at the Fordham Museum with shopping and a meal there creates a mini Italian vacation.

For Reference:

Address Walsh Library, Fordham Rose Hill Campus, 441 East Fordham Road, The Bronx
Cost Free
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Maritime Industry Museum

Edification value  4/5
Entertainment value  
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 76 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Brooklyn Navy Yard Model, Maritime Industry MuseumA scale model of the Brooklyn Navy Yard in full swing during World War II.  I can only imagine the hours and focus and attention it required YNC Leo J. Spiegel USN (Ret.) to build it. Scaled at 1 inch = 50 feet, it depicts 46 naval vessels (all called out by name on a sign below), 273 shipyard buildings, 8 piers, 6 drydocks, and 659 homes in the surrounding area.  BLDG 92, eat your heart out!

A Visit to Fort Schuyler

Throg’s Neck is a peninsula in the Bronx just at the point where the East River becomes Long Island Sound.  In the Age of Sail, the extreme currents of Hell Gate and the general narrowness of the narrows afforded New York natural protection from naval attacks from the Sound.  With the advent of steam power, however, that changed, and so in the 1830s the government acquired a good chunk of Throg’s Neck and built Fort Schuyler there. And a few decades later Fort Totten across the narrows in Queens.

Fort Schuyler, SUNY Maritime, Bronx New YorkThat’s Schuyler as in General Philip Schuyler, father of the Angelica, Elizabeth, and Peggy Schuyler and so Alexander Hamilton’s father-in-law.  It’s a tenuous Hamilton connection, but I’ll take it.

Fort Schuyler today is home to the State University of New York’s Maritime College, where you study if you want to join the merchant marine.  It’s also home to the Throg’s Neck Bridge, which flies right over the school.  And SUNY Maritime also houses the Maritime Industry Museum, which provided me with one of my oddest museum experiences on this project.

The Post-Apocalyptic Museum

I drove out to SUNY Maritime on a lovely June Saturday. The gate at the head of the campus opened for me, and I proceeded in.  I didn’t see a soul.

The Maritime Industry Museum is located within the old defensive bastion of Fort Schuyler, which also contains SUNY Maritime classrooms and administrative buildings.  It’s fantastic that the old fort is still so intact, and so open for exploration.  The museum is large, and yet they make it surprisingly hard to find.  I wandered around the fort for a while, discovering things like a tiny drawbridge and the Bouchard Tugboat Simulation Center.  I did not, however, see any people.

Fort Schuyler, Bronx, New York
Tiny Drawbridge
SUNY Maritime, Bronx New York
Bouchard Tug & Barge Simulation Center

I feel pretty sure that on weekdays during the term, the campus buzzes with life.  But on summer weekends, wow.  It’s post-apocalyptic.

Maritime Industry Museum, SUNY Maritime, Bronx, New YorkFinally, I discovered a door with a small brass plate.  This may be the most stealthy museum I’ve yet visited.  I tried the door, and it opened. So in I went.

“Maritime Industry Museum at Fort Schuyler”

And…no one.  Not an elderly volunteer greeter.  Not a guard.  Not a docent.  Definitely no other visitors.  I was all alone in the heart of Fort Schuyler, in the midst of an amazing assortment of maritime memorabilia.

This museum is sort of what I expected the Noble Maritime Collection would be like:  bunches of forgotten nautical knicknacks, tons of didactic explanations in verbose wall texts from 30 or more years ago.  But its scale and scope impress.  And there are treasures galore for those who explore here.

The Floor Plan

Maritime Industry Museum Floor Plan
Floor Plan

Sprawling across two floors (or A Deck and B Deck) and a good arc of the fort, the museum covers:

  • SUNY Maritime’s history and its training ships
  • Famous alumni, and memorials to those lost at sea
  • A very brief history of sailing in the ancient world
  • A history of the U.S. merchant marine that ends in the 1980s
  • A lot about World War II
  • A section on famous ship disasters (General Slocum, Andrea Doria, Titanic…)
  • Information about the evolution of shipping, including containerization and supertankers
  • Ocean liners of the past and present (mostly past)
  • Lighthouses and lightships
Maritime Industry Museum, Bronx, New York
Maritime History Unfurls

I feel certain I have omitted things.  The philosophy here diverges sharply from the minimalist, less-is-more aesthetic of some contemporary museum curators.  I can’t possibly tell relate everything I saw that made me smile. So here are just some highlights.

Just Some of The Things I Saw

Egyptian Funerary Barge Model

A model of an Egyptian Funerary Barge, all decked out with oars and a mummy.  I’m not sure Funerary Barge Pilot on the Nile is really a going merchant marine career path these days, but you never know.

This crazy pentagonal gizmo, which showed a map of New York Harbor and all the key ways the region contributed to the war effort during World War II, color coded to differentiate logistics from training from wartime industry from defense installations.  Touch a button for a place and the relevant spot or spots light up.  I can’t conceive who would’ve made this or where it was originally. It’s an amazing piece of pre-touchsceen museum interactivity.

WWII Interactive Harbor Map, Maritime Industry Museum

Gershenoff’s Locker, a “replica of a circa 1940s cadet’s locker stowed with care.”

A deck chair from the S. S. United States.

A large-scale model aircraft carrier.  (If you’d like a bigger aircraft carrier, I recommend the Intrepid.)  Models of just about every type of seagoing vessel you can imagine, actually.

Model Aircraft Carrier, Maritime Industry Museum

And an entire place setting from the Queen Elizabeth 2’s 30th anniversary “maritime enthusiasts cruise.”

And a model of and story about the Savannah, the first nuclear merchant ship.  Do they still have those?  I feel like I’d know if there were nuclear powered container ships buzzing about on the seas.  I feel like people would be worried about it.

My Own Private Maritime Museum

The museum’s space actually forms the hallway between the SUNY Maritime classrooms that occupy Fort Schuyler.  If I were studying there, I’m not sure how I’d feel having all this historic stuff cluttering up my hall.  On the one hand, it’s a link to maritime tradition going back centuries.  On the other hand, it’s a bunch of cases of stuff you’re unlikely to be tested on.

SUNY Maritime Classroom
Classroom space in Fort Schuyler

As a non-student, I loved this museum.  I loved historic Fort Schuyler, I loved the “lost treasures in the attic” aesthetic, and the exciting, “what’s around the next corner?” feeling.  And I especially loved being all alone in it.  I have never had that experience before.  My own private maritime museum.

Maritime Industry Museum, Bronx, New York

But Should You Visit?

Despite my strong enthusiasm, I’m not going to insist that everyone rent a car or hire a Lyft and get themselves out to Fort Schuyler.  The Maritime Industry Museum is a diamond in the rough. The collection has grown through gifts from alumni and others. For example, many of the ship models come from the collection of Frank W. Cronican, a bequest to the museum in 1993. It feels like the museum has accreted over time like a coral reef, with only periodic thought to editing or curation.  

Whatever the topic, “accretion” style museums can intimidate. And they can frankly be really boring if you don’t have a metaphorical chart to navigate by.  And even though the maritime industry is worth $14 billion annually in New York State alone–guess where I learned that–most people won’t care enough about it to justify the effort or the drive. 

However. If you love boats or ships of any sort, or if you’re interested in maritime history, then, obviously, you must go. And if you like museum-ology, that would also make this place a must-see.

The Maritime Industry Museum has vast potential. I hope they unlock it someday, though it’ll take a passionate curatorial voice and direction, and a very large grant, to make it happen.

Merchant Marine Poster, Maritime Industry Museum

For Reference:

Address 6 Pennyfield Avenue, Bronx