Lynne Z. Bassett Explores the Work of Frederic Church

Lynne Z. Bassett gave a lecture on the textile works of Frederic Church.

Lynne Z. Bassett, Massachusetts based independent author and curator explored the findings and sketches of Hudson Valley based artist Frederic Church when he visited the Middle East in the 1860’s. 

Bassett has been working with historical clothing and textiles for the past 35 years, receiving her undergraduate degree at Mount Holyoke College and her masters at the University of Connecticut. 

She came to New Paltz to lecture at the request of Jaclynne Kerner, Associate Professor and Chair of the art history department, who had learned of Bassett’s work at Olana State Historic Site through a colleague.

The lecture consisted of Bassett going through sketches drawn by Church and Church’s collected clothing placed on mannequins from her work at Olana. One thing she focused on was Church’s interpretation of Middle Eastern Culture and how it impacted the West and the Westerners impression of the East, which they found exotic.

“Orientalism is a particular form of exotiscm, which is a frame of mind that views the other in romantic light in extracting from various culture’s images, style, motifs, techniques, colors, patterns and all the elements of design,” Bassett explained. 

She highlighted Church’s illustrations of the Bedouin people, a nomadic, ethnic Arabic group, where he deliberately mismatched their clothes to make them more exotic looking. This included drawing Bedouin men in women’s clothing to sell this image.

Bassett also closely examined Church’s method of creating sketches of Bedouin people. Despite the fact that the sketches were given the appearance that they were created on the spot, Bassett found that Church only did a handful of sketches of real subjects while there. Bassett discovered that the true subject of Church’s other sketches wasn’t even Bedouin, but was in fact someone very close to him.

“So here we see that group of sketches,” Bassett explained. “Where we have that same man, that dark, mustachioed man, that I argue is his friend and neighbor Benjamin Bellows Grant Stone.” 

Bassett pointed to the mismatched clothes on the subject as a giveaway that Church may have had Stone dress up in whatever Middle Eastern clothes that Church had at the time. 

“Church used his pickings of costumes and quick pencil sketches to document the native dress. Once home, he experimented with the costumes combing them in different ensembles without necessarily regarding accuracy,” Bassett said during her closing statements. “Mixing gender and culture specific costume in his depictions of Middle Eastern men satisfied his vision of an ‘Arabian Nights’ enchantment of color.”

Kerner was also pleased to have featured Bassett at New Paltz. “Bassett’s lecture offers new perspective on cross-cultural contact in the second half of the 19th century and the diverse sources of information available to Hudson River School artists like Frederic Church,” she said.

On Feb. 12, the art history department will be hosting an informational session for a Summer 2019 art study abroad program in France. Also, on Feb. 22, they will have SUNY New Paltz art history professor Kerry Carso speak about her exhibition “Mohonk Mountain House at 150” at the Dorsky Museum.