by Erin Doane, Curator
Just this past Saturday we held the exhibit opening for That’s Entertainment: the Arts in Chemung County, 1880-1920 here at the Chemung Valley History Museum. The exhibit, funded by the New York Council for the Humanities, will be on display from now through August. The arts were an integral part of everyday life in Chemung County around the turn of the century. Whether it was books read at home or a play at the Opera House, the arts were an important form of entertainment. No matter one’s economic status people had access to the arts through clubs, public performances and Elmira’s first museum, the Arnot Art Gallery. In addition to experiencing the arts, locals created their own art through painting, writing and other creative outlets.
|the new exhibit|
When people think of the arts, many immediately think of paintings and galleries. According to the city directories, 64 artists lived in Chemung County between 1880 and 1920. A majority of the artists were women. Frances Farrar, for instance, painted lantern slides while Elizabeth Banks painted and ran an art supply store. The three most widely remembered artists are cartoonist Eugene “Zim” Zimmerman (1862-1935) and painters Lars Hoftrup (1874-1954) George Waters (1832-1912).
|George Waters in his studio|
The arts also include theatrical and musical performances. Elmira’s first theater, the Opera House (later the Lyceum) opened in 1867. With tickets priced between 50 cents and a dollar, the theater was a regular social event for the wealthy and a special treat for the poor. It offered operas, plays, lectures, concerts, vaudeville and later movies. Around 1900, other, cheaper, movie houses began to appear. At just 10 cents for admission, movies were entertainment for the masses.
|the Lyceum Theatre|
While galleries, concert halls and theaters offered arts to the public, many people also enjoyed the arts within their own homes. Wealthy families, in particular, purchased paintings and sculptures to decorate their halls and parlors. People sang or played the piano. They listened to symphonies on the phonograph and invited musicians into their homes for private recitals. People also read the writings of the great authors and poets of the time.
|Inside the Langdon home|