“Sailing Through History,” a Splashy Event to benefit the Skaneateles Historical Society museum

glen-haven-water-cure‘Sailing Through History’ Fund-Raiser Sept. 25 Will Benefit Creamery Museum Expansion in SkaneatelesOn display—for the first time ever—will be ‘The Glen Haven Water Cure,’ a historically important 19th-century oil painting


The Event

“Sailing Through History,” a Splashy Event to benefit the Skaneateles Historical Society museum expansion at The Creamery, will take place Sept. 25 from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Skaneateles Country Club. The event will feature carving and pasta stations and passed hors d’oeuvres, silent and live auctions, historical displays, and entertainment by the Barrigar Brothers. Background music will be provided by pianist Harvyn Tarkmeel.Items up for bid in the silent auction will include gift certificates from local restaurants, signed prints, lacrosse and golf lessons, antiques, items from local merchants, architectural consultations, overnight lodging and lake cruises.

A surprise element of the silent auction is “What’s in Your Box,” in which a limited number of $30 chances will be sold for sealed boxes, each  containing hints about its contents and with a value of $30- $50. Once the silent auction ends, those who purchased a chance will select a box, and then all boxes will be opened at the same time.     

The live auction, emceed by Steve White of White & White Antiques, will feature such items as a membership to the Skaneateles Community Center, vacations in Vermont and Arizona, a Sinclair chair, Borrow a Barrow, furniture and a sailboat.

Sponsors of the event are WRVO-FM, Group M Communications, The Lynn Law Firm, Rosalind Schwartz, Joan Thomsen/The Office Associate, Linda Roche Realty, Apple Acres, Beak & Skiff, Bob DeWitt/Lakeview Auto & Marine LLC and Wegman’s.

“To work on the museum expansion and further the display and preservation of historical artifacts and information has been a learning experience that has provided me with a great appreciation for this region,” says Ros Schwartz, chair of the event. “I hope the community-at-large will come to understand the value of this expansion and what it can provide for the future.”

A highlight of the Splashy Event will be the first-ever public viewing of “The Glen Haven Water Cure,” by Luthera Rogers Converse (1820-1902), circa 1850. Descendants of the artist will be in attendance.



The Painting, The Artist, The Cure

The 29-inch by 49-inch oil on canvas depicts the Glen Haven Water Cure, which operated at the south end of Skaneateles Lake for many years. The painting, which once hung in the dining room of the Glen Haven, was rediscovered in 1972 in the attic of a family farmhouse in Grand Rapids, Mich.Water cures were all the rage in the late 19th century, and Converse had visited the Glen Haven Water Cure—a popular resort for health, rest and recreation—to recover from consumption after being told she didn’t have long to live. Along with its storied water treatments—which  included wet linen sheet packs, plunge baths, footbaths and exercise—the Cure required patients to follow a special diet and dress code. All wore moist skullcaps, and women wore bloomers.

In May 1859, a letter by Converse was published in The Letter Box detailing her recovery at the Glen Haven and subsequent good health as she finished building her new home.

“In just a year from the time I left you I pronounced myself cured,” she wrote in an open letter to the doctor who had treated her. “I lived strictly on the Glen Haven plan, and ate no butter, salt or spices, meat or pastry, drank neither tea or coffee.”

She goes on to detail how the regimen enabled her to paint and paper her entire house; do all her housework, including washing and baking; make tapestry carpeting and rag carpeting; and regularly milk eight cows. “I am well,” she wrote. “I can now tire out all the neighboring women at day’s works.”

 “From an early age, Luthera demonstrated both artistic and literary talents,” says her great-great-great niece Deborah Rogers Hamilton. “She appears to be self-taught, though her works display a mastery of color and technique that transcend the caliber of folk art.”

Converse also was a weaver and an accomplished quilter, with one of her quilts slated for auction at Sotheby’s in the 1990s. Another of her quilts earned her a letter of commendation from the Philadelphia World’s Fair in 1876.

Along with several oil paintings and quilts, Converse left behind a hooked rug, drawings, an abbreviated autobiography, trunks of her clothes, a number of letters and journals, and other assorted crafts.

“Her most ambitious painted work was surely ‘The Glen Haven Water Cure,’” says Hamilton. “After its restoration in the early 1970s, the painting hung in our parents’ homes and was often the subject of much discussion: Where was the river or lake in the picture? Why were the figures in the paintings shown with crutches and canes? And why were so many of the women dressed in short dresses and pantaloons? It wasn’t until our family toured upstate New York in 1977 looking for clues that the pieces started to come together.”

Their journey started in Ellisburg, N.H., site of the family cemetery monument that Converse had designed; continued on to Watertown, where they visited an ancestral home; and then on to Skaneateles. “We felt a tremendous thrill standing on the site of the Cure and proceeding further around the lake to take in the vantage point where Luthera must have sat to capture the distinctive hulking mountain behind the Cure, driving past several buildings that were recorded in the painting,” says Hamilton.

In October 2007, after Hamilton and her sister, Melanie Rogers, had inherited the painting, they brought it to West Lake Conservators, which specializes in the preservation of art and artifacts.

“We immediately recognized the subject’s exceedingly rare historic importance,” says Susan Blakney chief conservator at West Lake Conservators. “Our excitement increased as we studied the artist’s amazing attention to details, depicting a forgotten life and times in the 19th century, and specifically the heyday of the water cure movement, emerging women’s rights and the bloomer movement, steam transportation on the lake, and historic architecture.

“I was thrilled to be able to connect the owners of the painting and the Skaneateles Historical Society, to share this treasure with our community and regional historians and arrange its first public viewing as a teaser for the museum fund-raiser,” says Blakney. ”I believe this painting will become nationally known for its artistic and historical importance.”


The Expansion

The expansion of the Skaneateles Historical Society museum, which has been under way since May 2008, incorporates the former boiler plant to create a Boat/Transportation Museum. The fund-raising goal for the project is $700,000. To date, more than $578,000 has been raised in cash and pledges.According to Bent Thomsen, a member of the Museum Expansion Committee who has been working with the construction manager, David Secor of Secor Building Solutions, Savannah, N.Y., the archival addition at the northeast corner of the existing Creamery is complete, with occupancy scheduled for late August.

Restoration of the old boiler plant has been completed on the outside, but lacks most interior work; similarly, the new connecting wing has been completed but lacks such interior work as plumbing, heating and air conditioning. About $50,000 is needed to complete the boiler plant, and about $75,000 is required to complete the connecting wing, says Thomsen, noting that just $30,000 is currently available.

Still to be started are stabilization work on the creek-bank behind the boiler plant, a lean-to south of the boiler plant, a few renovations within The Creamery, and all paving and landscaping work.

“If we had the funds in hand, we would be able to complete all work before the end of 2009,” says Thomsen. “However, since the Skaneateles Historical Society does not want to borrow funds to complete the work, the finish date will depend on the results of all fund-raising efforts under way.”

“’Sailing Through History’ will raise some of the funding to finish this project, which will provide space for important artifacts relating to Skaneateles history,” says Karlene Miller, president of the Skaneateles Historical Society board. “Please plan to join us Sept. 25 for an enjoyable evening to support this worthy cause.”

Tickets are $75 each/$125 for two. Checks should be sent to the Skaneateles Historical Society, 28 Hannum St., Skaneateles, NY 13152. For more information, go to http://www.skaneateleshistoricalsociety.org or call 315-685-3394.